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Apply during September 2021 and enjoy 30 days of free membership


From September 2021, we will be offering four types of membership: Member; Joint Member; Student Member; and Digital (only) Member.

Any NEW members applying during September 2021 will now be offered 30 days of free membership!

The application process is really straightforward and you’ll have the opportunity to start enjoying your membership benefits right away.  So, what are you waiting for?  Apply today!


Join as a Member

Join as Joint Members (two people)

Join as a Student Member

Join as a Digital Member


*Please note that former members are not eligible for discounted subscription fees.  If you wish to reactivate a lapsed membership please contact the Office by email or on 07312 090503.

Looking back at 2020 - 2021

21st July, 2021


Manchester to Mars…

During the last programme year, we have not only travelled across Manchester—from Deansgate to our new home in Ancoats—but we have planet hopped in search of Dark Energy, travelled across the Arctic, and taken a trip down the Manchester Ship Canal.

We have travelled back in time to the Stuart period, to a Manchester divided by the Civil War. We visited Lucian Blaga’s Romania, and George Orwell’s Catalonia.

We also rewound the clock to 1781, as we told the stories of some of our most iconic members to coincide with the 240th birthday of the Manchester Lit & Phil!

Our events have explored a myriad of themes. From questions of health and living well in older age, as populations continue to get increasingly older, with Professor George Leeson. To the fin de siècle decadence of the 5th Marquis of Anglesey with Professor Vivien Gardner.

Unlikely connections were analysed, too. Professor Chris Griffiths analysed the relationship between art history and dermatology, and Paul Vallely compared the philanthropic perspectives of Aristotle, to those of modern hyper-wealthy public figures.

We also busted myths, as world-leading experts joined us to set the record straight on subjects they’re passionate about. ‘Cold weather makes arthritis worse!’ ‘It’s not that simple’, replied Professor Will Dixon. ‘Maths isn’t fun!’ ‘Not if you think about numbers like this!’, said Dr James Grime.

From Professors to Painters…

Though we looked to the past, we also looked to the future. In June, we were joined by Professor Helen Gleeson to explore the possibilities of liquid crystal elastomers, and how the possible applications can make technology only before seen in science fiction a future reality. And, for the annual Percival Lecture, Professor Karl Dayson analysed the tensions that higher education will have to navigate in the near future…

Over the last programme year, the Manchester Lit & Phil didn’t just offer a platform for academics and Professors, but we also hosted creatives, artists and musicians. The painter Brian Healey led us on a 16th Century thriller, uncovering the secrets behind Hans Holbein’s painting ‘The Ambassadors’. Tour guide and storyteller Mike Higginbottom joined the dots between architectural and social history, and sound artist Caro C traced her artistic lineage to Delia Derbyshire.

…We helped to continue the debate

What have we learnt? Considering the majority of us have been consigned to our homes over the past year—libraries have been shut, universities have been closed, and travel restrictions have been tight—last programme year left no stone unturned. From STEAM events to historical trysts and tales, the last programme year offered something for everyone.

Do you have a specific highlight from last year? Is there a particular speaker or event that really inspired you? Please feel free to share your views with the office, or post on the Member’s Forum.


Call for new members of the Social Philosophy Committee


Interested in Social Sciences?  Do you have ideas about subjects you would like to hear about and about which you feel other members of the Lit & Phil would like to hear? If so, the Social Philosophy Committee would like to hear from you as it looks to welcome new members to join the Committee.

Meetings are friendly and invigorating; held presently on-line we hope to revert soon to meeting in person.

If you are interested please get in touch with the Office, with your contact details, and a staff member or one of the committee members will respond.


Peter Barnes - Chair, Social Philosophy Committee

Sheila Whitaker - In-coming Chair, Social Philosophy Committee




Our first event of the 2021-2022 season

Our 2021-22 season kicks off with a Cathedral Lecture by Professor Hannah Barker -


Life in a city of business, noise and strangers: work, family and faith in industrial revolution Manchester


A visit to Manchester two hundred years ago would have been an assault on the senses. It was not until the extensive street-widening schemes of the nineteenth century that most central thoroughfares were anything other than narrow and dark.  The buildings were tightly packed together and their upper levels often jutted out over the streets below. Those wishing to navigate their way around would have often found mud and waste underfoot where pavements had yet to appear.  The streets would have been bustling with a population hurrying about their business.  The air filled with both the shouts of market and itinerant sellers; and the types of odours one might expect to encounter in the days before municipal sanitation schemes and systematic curbs on air pollution...


Professor Hannah Barker is a historian of industrial revolution England, and the north of England in particular. Her past research has explored issues of gender and work in towns and has assessed the impact of industrialisation on women’s employment, and specifically the degree to which the advent of modern capitalism marginalised women workers. Her last book built upon this work and examined the concept of ‘family strategy’ in terms of small family businesses, as well as exploring the emotional life of families and their use of domestic space. She currently leads another research project, Faith in the Town project’ which explores ordinary people’s experiences of religion in urban areas in the North of England, between 1740 and 1830. She is Professor of British History at the University of Manchester and Director of the John Rylands Research Institute. She also Chairs Manchester Histories, a charity that works with people and communities across Greater Manchester and is Chair of Chetham’s Library committee.


This much-anticipated event is scheduled to take place on Wednesday 15th September at 7.00 pm, hopefully as our first 'live in-person' event of Autumn 2021, at Manchester Cathedral (we are all crossing our fingers!).

We are delighted to be collaborating with Manchester Cathedral in 2021, as they celebrate 600 years since the granting of a licence from King Henry V and Pope Martin V to establish a collegiate church in Manchester in 1421.  The college was established by royal charter, with a warden, eight fellows, four singing clerks and eight choristers.  The Cathedral is holding many special events, including a series of lectures in collaboration with the Manchester Lit and Phil, commemorating successive centuries.

Join our mailing list to keep up to date with our planned events for Autumn 2021 and beyond!



Message from Susan Hilton, President - I was very sad to hear of the recent death of Peter Donnelly, who has been, with his wife Ailsa, a member of the Lit & Phil since 2006. I have sent condolences on behalf of the Society, and here is the email received from Ailsa, which she wanted to share with other members -

It is with great sadness that I’m writing to tell you that Peter Donnelly died peacefully in Wythenshawe Hospital, surrounded by his family, on 15 June.

He was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer since 2017 but thanks to modern medicine continued all his activities and retained an excellent quality of life (he certainly never let it get in the way of anything he really wanted to do!).

The cancer stopped responding to treatment earlier this year and he deteriorated very rapidly. His death came much more quickly than anyone anticipated but although it has left us all in shock we are all agreed that it was absolutely right for Peter, who would have hated long slow physical and mental decline.

Ailsa Donnelly

You can access the death and funeral notice by clicking here.




Online Theatre Group


The next play for the L & P Theatre group is the National Theatre's 2016 production of Terrence Rattigan's play, The Deep Blue Sea starring the late, great Helen McCrory in the title role of Hester Collyer.

On Thursday July 1st at 4.00pm, Council members — Tony Jackson and Joanna Lavelle — will present an introduction to the play covering Rattigan's life, the historical and social context of the play and the key themes.

Theatre-goers should watch the performance at a time of their choosing over the next three days.

The AfterWords discussion will be on Monday July 5th at 4.00pm.  The performance is available to rent from the NT at home for £7.99, National Theatre at Home.

You can read Michael Billington's review in The Guardian by clicking here.


To register for the Lit and Phil discussions taking place before and after watching the performance, please send an email and you will be sent the Zoom information.


Main Image: Kilyan Sockalingum on Unsplash





We are saddened to report the passing of one of our members — Mrs Grace Irvine, from Didsbury.

Grace and her late husband — Professor Maxwell Irvine — were very well known and highly regarded both here and in the USA, through Professor Irvine's work as a theoretical physicist. 

A lecturer and Dean of Science at Manchester University, Professor Irvine had been Vice Chancellor of the Universities of Aberdeen, and then Birmingham.

Grace, an exceptional hostess, was involved with many local societies. Though Scottish-born, Manchester — and especially Didsbury, where she was a much-loved and valued member of the community — were close to her heart.


Patricia McWilliam-Fowler

Chair - Arts Section


Climate Change Seminar

Continuing its practice of recent years, the Science and Technology Committee has arranged an afternoon seminar on Wednesday 16th June starting at 2 pm. The topic this year is Climate Change. It will be an online meeting and will have the format of previous years, with two short presentations followed by questions and contributions from the audience.

Dr Brian Tyler has prepared a discussion paper entitled, Climate change 2020 – looking back and looking forward summarising the present position, recent changes and UK plans. This paper will be circulated in advance of the meeting and Brian will speak to it. Dr Clair Gough, Senior Research Fellow at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, will then give a presentation on greenhouse gas removal (GGR) – which is an essential part of most plans for limiting the global temperature rise. Clair has carried out work for the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC) including as co-chair of a GGR Policy Options Roundtable discussion.

Participation will be through the BlueJeans Meetings App. Unlike the BlueJeans Events software, which is used for our lectures, BlueJeans Meetings allows all participants to be seen and heard and so everyone will have the opportunity to take part in the discussions. For this reason, the number of registrants will be limited and will be allocated on a first-come basis. Registrants will be given advice on how to download and use the link to the BlueJeans Meetings software and will be sent more information about the seminar itself.

Please note: This is a member's only event. We offer discounted membership rates to new members so if you want to guarantee your place at any of our events, we recommend that you join the society and book as a member.

To register for the seminar please contact and we will send you a personal invitation with further information.


Event Image: 'ONE WORLD. Global climate change protest demonstration strike - No Planet B - 09-20-2019' by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Summer 2021

22nd March, 2021


We are thrilled to share our Summer term programme online today!  There are so many interesting online lectures planned, and we have a stellar line-up of speakers who are all looking forward to sharing their expertise with you - directly to your homes!


Coming up

In partnership with the Institute of Physics, multi award-winning physicist Professor Isobel Hook will explore the wonders of the universe in Supernovae and the search for Dark Energy.

Professor Barbara Sahakian, Professor of Neuropsychology at the Department of Psychiatry and Medical Research Council will examine the technique of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) in Sex, Lies and Brain Scans.

And in Sensation, Sensation, Sensation, the extraordinary collecting habits of the 5th Marquis of Angelsey, Henry Cyril Paget, in the late nineteenth century will be illuminated by Professor Vivien Gardner; a theatre and performance historian and Professor Emerita at the University of Manchester.


We hope to welcome you online soon!


On Wednesday 24th March, the Spring 2021 programme officially comes to an end. James Cordiner will be delivering the final lecture of the semester: 'The Past, Present and Future of the Manchester Ship Canal'.

For further information about the event itself - and information on how to register - click here

We had a chance to ask Jim a few questions about the history of the Manchester Ship Canal. His answers are very detailed and touch on everything from the inception of the waterway, to the origins of the Manchester-Liverpool rivalry, and Jim's documentary work. We also gave Jim a chance to plug his book, too.

As always, after Jim's talk, there will be a Q&A session. If there's a question you feel we may have missed, then you can ask him on Wednesday.

Q: What were some of the main objections to the constructions of the Manchester Ship Canal (MSC) – both politically and socially?

A: The main objections to the construction of the Ship Canal were driven by financial considerations. The main objectors were the Mersey Dock & Harbour Board, the Liverpool Council, the Bridgewater Navigation Company and the Railway companies. All of these had been benefitting from the trade destined to or from the Manchester region.

It also sparked the rivalry between Manchester and Liverpool. There is a 30 minute televised film available on YouTube, ‘A Tale of Two Rival Cities’ which describes the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester. I assisted in the production and took part in a brief interview towards the end of the film. You can watch the documentary on Youtube by clicking here.

Q: By the time construction of the MSC was completed, Manchester was already referred to as ‘Cottonpolis’. However, what goods did the construction of the MSC allow for the North West to import and export?

A: In the nineteenth century Manchester and neighbouring towns were prominent in the production of cotton goods. The American Civil War (1861 - 65) affected the imports of cotton and this was followed by the world wide Long Depression (1873 - 79). Manchester district was in economic decline and traders complained bitterly about the expensive rates demanded by Liverpool. Shipowners using Liverpool had to pay dock charges and dues were levied on all merchandise passing through the port. If it were possible for ocean-going ships to sail directly to Manchester, these costs would be avoided. A secondary source of irritation for Manchester’s civic leaders was the belief that only a small proportion of Liverpool’s port dues was spent on providing dock facilities. The rest was spent on improving the city. 

Liverpool was charging high rates for importing raw cotton and the railway companies were taking advantage of their monopoly to charge high rates for the transport of goods to and from the cotton towns. Oldham spinners could buy cotton in Germany or France, pay the costs of importing via Hull, add the railway charges for transport across the Pennines, and still make a saving on the price paid for the same cotton through Liverpool. On the export side, over half the cost of sending cotton goods to India was absorbed in railway and dock charges at Liverpool. Oil and later chemical imports became a major traffic for the Ship Canal. At Stanlow by 1922, no.1 Oil Dock had been constructed followed by no.2 Oil Dock opened in 1933.

The Oil Docks are connected to the oil refineries by pipelines through subways under the Canal. Petrochemical products have been a major traffic for the past century and today liquid cargo tonnages represent the largest type of commodity handled in the Port. In the year 2019 the tonnage handled at Stanlow was more than 3.5 million tonnes.  

Q: When did the MSC reach its peak in terms of traffic? What benefits did this bring to the North West and Manchester?

A: Traffic on the Ship Canal peaked in between 1955 (18,563,376 tonnes) and 1959 (18,558,210 tonnes). This before the decline in traffic due to containerization and changes in world shipping, such as supertankers for liquid traffic.

The construction of the QE2 Dock, officially opened in January 1954, was another major engineering project. The entrance Lock gives direct access to the Dock from the River Mersey and was constructed to accommodate larger oil tankers than could enter the Ship Canal. The Suez crisis in 1956 and closure of the Suez Canal led to the building of supertankers.  There is an on-going project including the purchase of a new caisson and replacement upgraded hauling machinery. In 2019 the tonnage handled in QE2 Dock (including the Sheerlegs Berth which is on the Ship Canal) was 2.06 million tonnes.

Total tonnages for the Ship Canal in 2019 was 7,477,497 tonnes.

Warehousing and silo storage has been provided at Ellesmere Port, Runcorn and Salford over the decades, along with the provision of mechanical handling equipment such as quayside and shed overhead cranes, straddle carriers, Roll-on/Roll-off tractors and trailers and forklift trucks. The first British owned/operated deep-sea container service was launched from Salford Docks (to Montreal) in November 1968.  Container operations continue at the Irlam Container Terminal, the restored former steelworks wharf.

Using the synergy now available through Peel Ports incorporating MSC as part of Mersey Ports, this includes Liverpool and Birkenhead Docks, there are plans for potentially developing cargo handling facilities at Ellesmere Port, Port Ince, Port Warrington at Acton Grange and Port Salford at Barton.

Transporting cargo by ship helps to reduce our carbon footprint. This method of transport is thriving on the continent of Europe and it is foreseen that climate change pressures will ultimately bring about changes in policy and taxation that will encourage businesses to use water borne transport.

Q: You recently released a book entitled My Journey From Bengal. Did your travel abroad inform your career in mechanical engineering?

A: After serving an engineering apprenticeship (1961 - 66) I wanted to widen my experience and applied to Voluntary Services Overseas for an engineering post in a developing country.

My voluntary service in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was as an engineering adviser to a Co-operative run workshop producing agricultural equipment, maintaining tractors and irrigation pumps. At the end of my term of service (1966 - 68) I travelled back to the UK overland. My journey home took three months and the self-published book, My Journey Home From Bengal is mainly about this once in a lifetime experience and has many photographs and illustrations. Chapter 22 is dedicated to recollections of my term of VSO.

Thanks again to Jim for joining us. You can purchase a copy of My Journey Home From Bengal here