Manchester not capital? The Answer here

Keiran Matthews, a students at Manchester University, asked, ’Why the vibrant hub of the red rose county, Manchester, is not the capital city of Lancashire’? The answer to this type of query requires an understanding of how locations and politics are intertwined and often alter over time and an answer, of some description, will take us on a short historical journey if we are to offer a short form of explanation.

In the early medieval period, it was the geographical location of Lancaster, and not Manchester, that made the town on the River Lune the focus for political development. Lancaster Castle has around a thousand years of rich history and this fortress focussed politics and power in the north west corner of the county. Lancaster was involved in several conflicts. It was attacked by Robert Bruce and besieged by Royalists in the English Civil War and on more than one occasion these conflicts gave the town a strategic and political significance as did the many lords and barons who made Lancaster their home.

King John actually owned the castle in 1193, when he was Earl of Mortain. It was a present from his brother, Richard l, but improvements had to wait until after his accession in 1199. At the same time, the burgesses of Lancaster were confirmed in their rights as laid out in the charter issued previously. As John was to make similar provisions to what was then the small fishing village of Liverpool. John’s namesake, John of Gaunt, 2nd Duke of Lancaster, owned the castle between 1362 and 1399, but in complete contrast to King John, spent no money on the property and paid only fleeting visits.

In contrast to Lancaster, Manchester’s rise to prominence came much later. Though Manchester became a market town in 1301 when it received its Charter on 1 November 1315, it was in the nineteenth century when the town really bloomed. After 1789 the use of steam power increased, and large-scale exploitation of the coalfield took place. Industrial development led to the rapid growth of manufacturing towns such as Manchester, Burnley, Bolton, and Blackburn and Liverpool thrived as the main port for Lancashire’s growing industrial exports. The opening of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894, creating the Port of Manchester and linking the city to the Irish Sea, 36 miles (58 km) to the west, was undoubtely a significant development in projecting Manchester into a major political and industrial connurbation.

This industrial revolution saw Manchester’s population grow unabated, doubling between 1801 and the 1820s and then doubling again between then and 1851, to 400,000 souls. This was phenomenal growth transforming Manchester into Britain's second city and hence the urban centre that is still Manchester today with a population of approximately 2.7 million.

However, the 1974 administrative local government ’county changes created confusion as Greater Manchester and Merseyside were created and ’ordinary folk’ were left wondering what or where Lancashire was anymore!? Fortunately, activist group ’Friends of Real Lancashire’ came into being and is still with us today, to promote the understanding that the Lancashire of pre-1974 still exists and that the capital of the red rose county is still Lancaster. A city with a mere population of 52,234 but one which is the traditional seat of The House of Lancaster. Its long history marked by Lancaster Castle, Lancaster Priory Church and Lancaster Cathedral.

Not quite a Dickensen tale of two cities Keiran but more a tale of two urban connurbations being important and developing and changing in their roles, for very different reasons over time.

Put kettle on mum!

Peter John Fyles



Message: Hi Peter, I am a student at Manchester University and I wonder why Manchester, the vibrant hub of Lancashire, is not the capital of the county? Many thanks Keiran

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