19 ways Manchester changed the world
Mural outside Afflecks Manchester LRT

Manchester has always been an inventive city.

The University of Manchester boasts 25 Nobel Prize winners amongst former and current staff and students. A Moss Side vicar invented the submarine. The Pill was invented, and the atom split. The Beefsteak Chapel was the unlikely home of vegetarianism.

And a Manchester-made jacket was worn by Elvis, Steve McQueen, Frank Sinatra and James Bond.

Here are 19 ways Manchester changed the world!

1. The most influential gig of all time

The Sex Pistols gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976 is often referred to as the most influential gig of all time. Only a handful of people attended – 35 or 40, maybe – but the legendary status of the gig has inspired thousands to since claim “I was there”. The people who were there went on to form legendary Manchester bands such as Joy Division, The Smiths, The Fall, and The Buzzcocks. I was there, too. (Okay, I wasn’t really).

2. The first programmable computer

The Small-Scale Experimental Machine, known as SSEM, or the “Baby”, was designed and built at The University of Manchester in 1948. Created by Professor Tom Kilburn and Professor Sir Freddie Williams, the Baby – which weighed half a ton and took up most of a large room – was the world’s first stored-program computer, where changing a program would take minutes rather than days.

3. Vegetarianism

A tiny chapel in Salford was the British birthplace of the meat-free diet over 200 years ago, with the unlikely named Reverend William Cowherd preaching the moral virtues of a vegetarian diet. Cowherd’s followers – the Cowherdites – went on to form the Vegetarian Society. The name of the church? The Beefsteak Chapel.

4. Dangermouse

Danger Mouse – which apparently drew a record 21 million viewers in 1983 –  was created by Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall, with the Cosgrove Hall Films studio based in Chorlton. The studio also created Count Duckula and an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG. It is now Cosgrove Hall Court retirement flats.

Crumbs! Danger Mouse and Penfold are returning to our TV screens

5. The Pill

In 1961, whilst a lecturer in organic chemistry at the University of Manchester, Herchel Smith developed an inexpensive way of producing chemicals that can stop women ovulating during their monthly menstrual cycle, and the contraceptive pill was born. Arguably one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century, and instrumental in women’s liberation, it is estimated that around 70% of women in the UK have taken The Pill at some stage.

6. The Baracuta G9 Harrington

Steve McQueen
Pic: classicenglishstyle.com

Designed and made in Manchester in 1937, initially as a work wear jacket, the Baracuta G9 was adopted as the jacket of choice for Mods and Scooter boys in the 1960s and remains a classic staple of the Mod wardrobe. Worn by Elvis Presley in King Creole, Steve McQueen, Frank Sinatra, and Daniel Craig as James Bond, the name Harrington became synonymous with Baracuta in 1964 when Ryan O’Neill played Rodney Harrington in Peyton Place wearing a Baracuta G9.

7. Madchester

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the Manchester music scene had a huge impact on Britain’s cultural landscape. The Hacienda (funded by Joy Division/New Order/Factory Records) became the epicentre of the scene, with New Order, The Smiths, the Stones Roses, the Happy Mondays and other incredible homegrown bands dominating the charts. Madchester wasn’t just a period of music, it was a lifestyle.

8. Graphene

In 2010 Professors Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, based at the University of Manchester, were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for their ground-breaking work on graphene. The world’s thinnest and strongest material – 200 times stronger than steel – graphene is also the world’s first 2D material. From clean drinking water for millions, to flexible, durable, semi-transparent mobile phones and wearable technology, the potential is limitless.

9. Vimto

In 1908 (John) Noel Nichols, who ran a small wholesale druggist and herbalist business in Central Manchester, created the drink we all know and love. Originally launched as a herbal tonic that gave the drinker ‘Vim & Vigour’, Vimtonic (as it was known then) soon became known simply as Vimto. In 1912 the drink was registered as a medicine. Vimto is so revered in Manchester we have a statue dedicated to it, behind the University of Manchester’s Sackville Street Building.

10. Splitting the atom

A leading nuclear physicist of the twentieth century, New Zealander Ernest Rutherford became chair of physics at the University of Manchester in 1907. Rutherford won the 1908 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on radiation – the youngest person ever to do so – and is widely credited with first “splitting the atom” in 1919. The University of Manchester named their physics lab The Rutherford Building in his honour.

11. The first submarine

Reverend George Garrett, brought up in Moss Side, launched the first mechanically powered submarine in 1880. He is the only man to earn the titles of English Reverend, US Corporal and Turkish Lord, and for that we salute him.

12. The world’s first passenger railway

When the Liverpool & Manchester Railway opened in 1830 it became the world’s first purpose-built passenger railway, in which all services were hauled by timetabled steam locomotives. Now, the Museum of Science and Industry Museum site contains the oldest surviving passenger railway station in the world – the terminus, Manchester Liverpool Road railway station – and the world’s first railway warehouse, both of which are Grade 1 listed.

13. Rolls Royce

Rolls-Royce Limited was created over a famous lunch in May 1904, when car salesman Charles Rolls met engineer Henry Royce at The Midland Hotel. The Silver Ghost, launched in 1907, was a car of legendary smoothness that completed a 14,371 mile virtually non-stop run, earning it the title ‘the best car in the world’.

14. The Guardian

The Manchester Guardian was launched on May 5, 1821, founded by founded by John Edward Taylor in the aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre. It was published weekly at a cover price of 7d (old pence), before becoming a daily publication at the reduced price of 2d when stamp duty was abolished in 1855. The Guardian Media Group bought the world’s oldest Sunday newspaper The Observer in 1993, but in 2010 GMG sold its regional media business to Trinity Mirror, bringing to an end more than 80 years of common ownership of the Guardian and the Manchester Evening News.

15. Competitive football

Football League plaque c Simon Harriyott Flickr CC
Photo c Simon Harriyott/ Flickr/ CC

The city is world famous for its football these days, but you may not know that the first professional football league was formally created and named in Manchester’s Royal Hotel on 17 April 1888. The official name The Football League was proposed by Major William Sudell, the first chairman of Preston North End. The Royal Hotel has long gone, but you can see a commemorative red plaque on the Royal Buildings, 124-130 Market Street.

16. The Suffragettes, and votes for women

62 Nelson Street, Manchester, the birthplace of the Suffragette movement, is now the Pankhurst Centre. Emmeline Pankhurst, who worked with the Manchester Women’s Suffrage Committee and founded the Women’s Social and Political Union, was instrumental in winning the right for women to vote.

17. The first M&S store

Although originally started on a market stall in Leeds, when Michael Marks went into partnership with Tom Spencer in 1894 they opened their first shop in Manchester. In 1901, Marks & Spencer built a warehouse at Derby Street, Manchester, which became the Company’s first registered address and headquarters.

18. Socialism – where Marx met Engels

The German industrialist and Marxist philosopher Friedrich Engels lived in Manchester in the early 1840s, where he met Karl Marx who was a frequent visitor to the city.  In the summer of 1845, Marx and Engels studied together at the table in the alcove of the Reading Room at Chetham’s Library (the oldest public library in the English-speaking world), where they began to write The Communist Manifesto.

19. Joe Bloggs

It wasn’t just the music that was ‘baggy’ during the Madchester era – loose-fitting clothes, taking inspiration from rave, retro, hippie and more casual football style fashion – dominated the scene. The brand Joe Bloggs quickly became a household name, netting millions for its owner Shami Ahmed (although he lost most of it some years later).