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Professor Alastair Christopher Rose Innes and his wife Barbara joined the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society in 1966. Sadly, Barbara passed away in January 2021. In August 2021 Christopher resigned from the Society due to health reasons, and then fairly suddenly passed away himself on 24 July. They were both very regular attenders of Society events and retained a lively interest in life and learning. Christopher was a professor of Physics and Electrical Engineering at UMIST from 1964 – 1989, having previously joined the Royal Navy in 1944, then subsequently graduating from Oxford, followed by a PhD at Manchester.

Retirement gave Christopher a chance to follow his artistic interests, obtaining a BA in Fine Arts in 1993 from MMU, and becoming a nationally acclaimed sculptor and artist. A quote from the widow of one of his tutors (Janina McKinlay Cerbetowicz, herself an accomplished professional artist) reads ‘He had an insatiable curiosity, attending talks and visiting art galleries and museums wherever he went.’ He also spent time teaching and enjoyed the company of enthusiastic young people with lively minds. His curiosity did not dim with age and only last year had set up a new studio in his house.

The Lit & Phil extends all our sympathy to his three surviving children and their families, and his artistic legacies will form lasting memories for them and his many friends.


Susan Hilton

Samuel Gregg (L) cotton entrepreneur, owner of Quarry Bank Mill and slave plantations in Dominica and St Vincent

Thomas Percival (R), physician and health reformer with anti-slavery views, and founder member of the Lit & Phil


UCLan researchers share findings of project commissioned by Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society


Prominent and influential Mancunians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries benefitted directly or indirectly from wealth generated from slavery, according to research conducted by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

In a public lecture at the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society (Manchester Lit and Phil) on Wednesday, 1 June, UCLan researchers will explain how notable Society members of the time, such as the Peel, Greg, Hibbert, Heywood and Philips families, benefitted directly or indirectly from wealth generated from slavery and slave-produced goods.

The findings come from a six month project commissioned by the Society to explore its historical links with the transatlantic slave trade.

"The transatlantic slave trade is part of the Society’s history and we felt it was important to openly acknowledge this and take a close look at how it impacted Manchester at the time."

— Tony Jackson, Vice President of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society

Tony Jackson, Vice President of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, said: “The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society was founded in 1781, when the city’s rapidly mechanising textile industry placed it at the centre of global trade networks fuelled by slave-produced cotton from Caribbean and American plantations.

“The transatlantic slave trade is part of the Society’s history and we felt it was important to openly acknowledge this and take a close look at how it impacted Manchester at the time.”

Professor Alan Rice, Dr Andrea Sillis and Drahoslava Máchová from UCLan’s Institute for Black Atlantic Research (IBAR) have investigated numerous members of the Society from 1781 until 1865. They have used the Legacy of British Slave Ownership database, which was developed by University College London, and the online database of the transatlantic slave-trade, among multiple other sources.

Although many Society members did have links to slavery, many others, including one of the founders Thomas Percival, were actively engaged in anti-slavery campaigning. For example, physician and poet John Ferriar published an anti-slavery play in 1788; merchant and political radical Thomas Walker was chairman of a Manchester anti-slavery committee; and clockmaker Peter Clare was a secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society.

"Our findings highlight the political and intellectual complexities of this period of the Lit and Phil’s history, in which members with radically opposing views on slavery and abolition collaborated as friends in running the Society."

— Professor Alan Rice, co-director of the UCLan Institute for Black Atlantic Research

Professor Rice said: “Our findings highlight the political and intellectual complexities of this period of the Lit and Phil’s history, in which members with radically opposing views on slavery and abolition collaborated as friends in running the Society. An example of this is that George Philips, who was known as ‘King Cotton’, served as co-Vice-President of the Lit and Phil with the abolitionist John Ferriar in 1792.

“In addition, there were close family relationships among members of the Society that cut across opinions about slavery and abolition. For example, the daughter of the abolitionist Thomas Percival was married to Nathaniel Heywood from the family of bankers whose money had come from investments in at least 133 slaving voyages.”

The lecture, Who do we think we were? Slavery, Abolition and the Manchester Lit and Phil, will take place between 6.00pm – 8.00pm on Wednesday, 1 June, at Main Hall, Friends' Meeting House, 6 Mount Street, Manchester.


Lit & Phil: Walks - 'How places of worship have left a legacy in Manchester city centre'

Are you interested in exploring Manchester's built environment on a social city walk?  Perhaps you joined us last Summer for the walking tour of Manchester's industrial past and, now that the weather is warming up, you would like to venture out again with fellow members.  Well, we have some good news for you -

This Friday 13th May, member George Baker will be leading a walk through Manchester that investigates the traces of a past urban religious landscape, once dominated by church towers and spires as evidence of a prosperous, expanding late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century town.  Interested in joining the walk?  Then read on for the finer details and booking information.

Key details

Meeting point: Deansgate Metrolink station on the platform near the glass lift at 10.45am, on Friday the 13th of May

Walk length: The walk is between one and two miles, lasting between 1 – 2 hours. Once we leave the station every part of the walk is on city-centre streets.

Refreshments: There is no refreshment break planned but please let the walk leader, George Baker, know if you would like to pause.  At the end of the walk, there are a few places where we can get a coffee and toilet break such as the Royal Exchange café and Barton Arcade.

Good to know: Numbers are limited to twelve participants.  Please choose your own suitable footwear.

Book your place

Please email George Baker at to reserve a place.


More information about the route

The walk will follow a route devised by the Manchester Geological Society, that covers the architecture of religious buildings in the city centre. The walk will appeal to anyone interested in religious buildings, or buildings in general, city architecture, building materials, Manchester's city development and, of course, local history.

A PDF of the Manchester Geological Society's walking route can be viewed here.

NB: The route will start at Knott Mill, and end at St Ann's Square. The planned Lit & Phil walk is from Number 1 to Number 13 on the map (missing out 11 & 12). 

Q&A - Dr John Roberts

We're very excited to be joined by Dr John Roberts at the Cross Street Chapel and online on 11th May. As we look ahead to his talk, Dr Roberts took the time to answer some of our questions...


Q: To begin this Q&A, what attracted you to study the history of free speech debates?

A: My father used to be a regular speaker at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, London. He started going there in the mid-1970s and then went almost every Sunday for probably nearly 30 years. He would speak on a whole variety of topics, but his main focus was politics and religion (or mysticism). He also enjoyed heckling other speakers! He was very well-known there. I used to sometimes go there with him as a child from the late 1970s, and then at various points after that. So, I am very familiar with the culture of that iconic place.


Q: Are debates over free speech relatively new – or have these debates just moved from Speakers’ Corner to Twitter?

A: Debates about free speech have been around for years and years. Britain has a rich history of people discussing the merits of free speech and using the media of the day to promote different opinions in the public sphere. But free speech is also about how people enter public spaces, like parks in cities, to practise free speech. And again, Britain has a rich history of people and groups doing this.


Q: Could you please highlight some of the key historical battlegrounds surrounding free speech in British history?

A: There’s lots of key historical moments, but many are relatively unknown to people. Often, there’s a typical narrative that’s promoted about how governments suddenly accepted the ‘right’ for people to enjoy free speech. In reality, free speech rights were won when social and political movements demanded them through their activism. However, this activism often gets lost in history. But I think one of the great advances for free speech in Britain is associated with the rise of Chartism, which began in the late 1830s and declined by the 1850s.

Chartism is arguably one of the first nationally organised left-wing social and political movements in Britain. And why Chartism is important in terms of free speech is because Chartist activists developed their own inclusive culture and styles of freedom of expression. For example, they produced their own popular newspapers, they held numerous speeches in public spaces, they organised many large-scale demonstrations in cities, they organised leisure activities for their supporters, and so on. And they did all of this to expand and develop social, political and economic rights for ordinary people. Free speech for Chartists was therefore more than just a single right – it was, instead, part and parcel of a whole host of actions and campaigns to improve ordinary people’s lives.


Q: Looking at contemporary debates, is free speech really under threat, or is so-called ‘cancel culture’ exaggerated?

A: I think the important point here is to analyse and understand the historically specific emergence of so-called ‘cancel culture’ and ideas attached to it. Why, for example, are we now seeing lots of articles in the mainstream media about ‘cancel culture’? I’ll try and provide some answers in my talk!


Q: How do you suggest we rethink free speech debates?

A: In my view, we need to get away from the idea there is a universal meaning to free speech, and to think instead how ‘free speech’ is used by social and political groups to promote certain agendas and interests in society. It might also help if school kids, and the public generally, were taught about the rich history of free speech struggles in Britain.


Q: Are you currently working on any exciting projects that you’d like to tell us about?

A: At present, I’m still completing some articles from a funded project on Speakers’ Corner and free speech, 1945 to 2017. It’s based on historical archival research and some interviews I conducted with past speakers, regulars and hecklers. Away from speech, a project I'm working on at present explores the everyday experiences of people in the Momentum campaign group located in the Labour Party.

Looking to the future, I also hope to start a new project on park volunteers and also another historical project on monuments near Hyde Park, London, and their impact on the surrounding identity of public space in this part of the city.


Thank you to Dr Roberts for taking the time to answer our questions. 

'Are we losing the ability to practice free speech?' takes place at 7:00pm, Wednesday 11th May, at the Cross Street Chapel and online. More information about the event — including how to book tickets — can be found here

Q&A - Michael Williams

Ahead of his talk at the RNCM on 3rd May,  Michael Williams took the time to answer some of our questions. Michael opens up on his achievements as a novelist and composer and his work as the CEO of the Buxton International Festival.

To find out more about the upcoming talk with Michael Williams, click here.

Q: Hello Michael! We’re really looking forward to welcoming you for your talk at the RNCM on the 3rd May.

To begin this Q&A, what was the point at which you realised you wanted to pursue a career working in the arts?  

A: My grandmother encouraged me to attend auditions for the Brickhill/Burke production of The Sound of Music at His Majesty’s Theatre in Johannesburg in 1976. Lo and behold I was chosen to play the role of Frederick, the eldest son of Captain Von Trapp. 250 performances later, a national tour to the theatres in Cape Town, Durban, Bloemfontein, and I was convinced I had found my calling.  However, in my second year at Drama School at the University of Cape Town I was in for a rude awakening: if I didn’t improve, I would fail the year. Fortunately, I came to the realization that I had no future as an actor, but knew that if I couldn’t act, I could write and direct.


Q: Could you open up on some of your biggest influences? Is there a work by a particular artist – musical, or literary – that continues to inspire you? 

A: I read Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children on a truck travelling along the ‘Hippy Trail’ from Jordan to Kathmandu and was fascinated by his narrative ability, the unique voice of the central character and the sprinkling of magic realism.

Years later I read John Irving and envied the sprawling, multi-faceted world he created and tried to emulate him in an earlier (thankfully unpublished) novel. Benjamin Brittain’s Peter Grimes inspired the libretto for my first two-act symphonic opera, Enoch, Prophet of God, music by Roelof Temmingh. A preacher, obsessed with the end of the world and despised by the local government, sets up a church of Israelites in the semi-desert close to Queenstown and causes his male congregation to be massacred by British soldiers and the women and children to be imprisoned. 


Q: How do you think the work of Rushdie, Brittain, and Irving informs your own work?

A: The musical exploration of a character convinced he knows the truth and will not be swayed from his ideological/religious beliefs; the power of Brittain’s orchestral writing never leaves one unmoved.  A piece of theatre that depicts a remote community easily influenced and brought to life in exquisite detail.

John Irving and Salman Rushdie know how to weave a story into your soul, so that you forget all around you until the last page has been read.  


Q: What do you consider to be your proudest professional achievement?

A: Can I have three?

Touring Cape Town Opera productions to major theatres in Argentina, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Israel, Kenya, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Dubai, Hong Kong, Holland, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

When Mandela Trilogy received a standing ovation at a packed Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre in London.

Winning the American Library Association Award and the UKLA Book Award for Now is the Time for Running and attending a ceremony at a school in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, that had prescribed and taught the novel for ten straight years. 


Q: How did you get involved with the Buxton International Festival?

A: I received an invitation from the Chairman, Felicity Goodey, to apply for the post of CEO. I applied, did several long-distance interviews, and then travelled to Buxton for the interview in February 2018 and was offered the job!


Q: What do you currently have planned for the future? Is there anything that you would recommend attending at the 2022 Buxton International Festival?

A: We all very excited that, finally, after a two-year hiatus, we are able to mount the oratorio Our Future In Your Hands (music by Kate Whitley, text by Laura Attridge) on climate change, with 100-strong choir, 3 soloists and the Northern Chamber Orchestra at the 2022 festival. This was a work that the festival commissioned in 2019 and, due to the pandemic, we had to postpone for two years. 


Thank you to Michael for taking the time to answer our questions. You can browse the 2022 Buxton International Festival programme here.

'The Creative Space' takes place at 7:00pm, Tuesday 3rd May 2022, at the Royal Northern College of Music and online. More information about the event — including how to book tickets — can be found here

Q&A - Professor Jess Edwards

On April 26th, the 2022 Percival Lecture is set to take place.

This year, our members-only flagship event is presented in collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan University.

Ahead of his talk, we had a chance to ask Professor Edwards — Head of the English Department at MMU — some questions about Manchester's literary output, as well as his own research. To find out more about the event, please click here.

Please note: Booking closes on the 19th April. If you're interested in joining the Lit & Phil, you can browse our membership options here


Q: Hello Professor Edwards. We’re really looking forward to the 2022 Percival Lecture in collaboration with MMU.

Your lecture will be focusing on the new Poetry Library at MMU, and Manchester’s bid in 2017 to be recognised as a UNESCO ‘City of Literature’.

In your opinion, why did Manchester deserve this prestigous title? What do you believe makes Manchester a cut above other cities in terms of its literary output?

A: Well, this will be the subject of the first part of my presentation, so I’ll try not to give too much away! But the case that we made to UNESCO focused as you’d expect on literary heritage, from Gaskell and Burgess to the great writers living and working in the City today, including Man Met’s own Carol Ann Duffy. It also focused on the literary assets of the City: the ecosystem of organisations, from libraries and theatres to publishers and festivals, that support literary activity here. And it celebrated the sheer volume and diversity of this activity, across forms, cultures and languages, the written word and performance. UNESCO were convinced!


Q: How did plans to develop the Manchester Poetry Library develop? Could you tell us about some of the content that the library houses, and perhaps even your personal favourite asset that the library contains?

A: The idea of a Public Poetry Library for Manchester was first suggested to me around six years ago by our Professor of Poetry Michael Symmons Roberts, who pointed out the gap in the Northwest between Poetry Libraries in London, the Northeast and Scotland. I pitched the idea to our Vice Chancellor Malcolm Press (as he often reminds me, at a chance meeting on Oxford Road) and he encouraged me to work up a proposal for the new building which was then under development. We convinced the University to invest, building on the strong foundations of poetry in the Writing School here, under the leadership of former Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, and the rest is history!

The Poetry Library core collection features modern and contemporary poetry in English, but also features specialist collections of poetry for children, poetry in recording and poetry in a number of the major languages spoken in Manchester. The languages collections are unusual in being co-curated with poets who speak and write in those languages and we will continue to develop them with the input of users of our library.

My favourite asset has to be The Manchester Poem: a digital ‘living’ poem displayed in our foyer featuring verses written by Manchester residents in over 70 languages and still growing.


Q: Why do you believe literature to be so important when considering the identity of a particular place? In asking this question, I’m thinking of Tony Walsh’s reading of ‘This is the Place’ from 2017 following the Manchester arena attack.

A: Lovely question, and very much an interest of mine! I think literature has long played a major role in creating what gains wider acceptance as a location’s ‘sense of place’. I would argue, by the way, that it creates, rather than simply evoking an inherent sense of place, as the idea of ‘genius loci’ implies.

A while ago, when the Portico Library relaunched its famous prize, colleagues in the Centre for Place Writing, based in my Department, worked with them to curate a series of talks titled ‘Rewriting the North’, and the reborn Portico Prize celebrates writing which creates not just one spirit of the North but many. Part of the project of Manchester City of Literature, and indeed the Manchester Poetry Library, is not just to reflect back to us the City we already know, but to help us to discover new versions of that City.


Q:  What do you believe to be Manchester’s best kept literary secret?

A: This question leads nicely from the last. I think there are many secrets here waiting to be discovered. One of my favourites, that I’ll use as an example, is that the poet Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska (1891-1945), a legendary figure in her native land, known as the ‘Polish Sappho’, is buried in Manchester’s Southern cemetery.


Q: What does the future look like for Manchester’s literary scene? 

A: I think the future looks very bright indeed. Everyone we consulted when we wrote the UNESCO bid talked about the richness of the literary scene, and also the challenge of realising its potential given how fragmented it all was, and how challenging to grasp and represent. The UNESCO project has given us the opportunity to connect, communicate and coordinate with one another, and we’re at the beginning of realising what we can do together.


Q: Aside from teaching at MMU, what exciting projects are you currently working on?

A: My life at present is pretty dominated by my managerial work as a Head of Department, and any spare capacity I have tends to go into supporting colleagues with City of Literature and Poetry Library-related projects. I’m planning to take some time over the next two years to write about some of these, and the Percival Lecture is an opportunity to take a step back from all of this activity and reflect on the journey we’ve taken, and where we might go next.


Thank you to Professor Edwards for taking the time to answer our questions!

'Manchester, UNESCO City of Literature: Culture and the Sustainable City' takes place at 6:30pm on Tuesday 26th April, at the Grosvenor East Building, Manchester Metropolitan University. More information about the event can be found here

Professor Iain Gillespie

The Society has received the sad news of the death of a former President of the Manchester Lit & Phil, Professor Iain Gillespie. Iain passed away on 4 April, aged 90.

Professor Gillespie was President from 1991 to 2001 and was an active member of the Society over many years. He joined the Manchester Lit & Phil in 1986, and resigned from the Society in 2017.

Iain was Professor of Surgery at the University of Manchester from 1970 until his retirement in 1992, and Dean of the Medical School from 1983 – 86. He also held other senior roles in the University and in the wider community of medical science.

In 1976, Professor Gillespie gave a talk on gastrointestinal hormones to the University of London Audio-Visual Centre. The lecture is available to watch via the Wellcome Collection by clicking here.

A service to celebrate his life will be held on Friday 22nd April at 11.15am at Bramhall United Reformed Church at Robins Lane, Bramhall SK7 2PE, and members who wish to attend would be very welcome. Directions to the venue can be found here.


Dr Susan Hilton

Immediate Past President


Image credit: Professor Iain Gillespie 1993/94 via Manchester Medical Society

Q&A - Professor Alice Larkin

On Wednesday 23rd March, Professor Alice Larkin will be joining us for 'We Can Choose Our Future'.

Is enough being done to tackle the climate crisis — and what can you do to help?


Q: Hello, Alice. You’ll soon be joining us at the MMU Business School and online, and we hope you’re as excited as we are…

Firstly, could you briefly describe your motivations behind entering climate science?

A: I was a keen star gazer as a child, and enjoyed maths, so ended up studying physics with astrophysics. I always also had a great passion for the outdoors. So, when thinking about future careers, I was keen to apply my skills to focus on this planet, rather than the ones I would star gaze as a child. I chose to do a PhD in climate modelling, which linked up my two interests, as the study was about the sun’s natural variability – how the solar cycles influenced the composition and circulation of the atmosphere. 


Q: Starting at home, what do you believe are the day-to-day changes people can make to help combat the climate crisis?

A: Firstly having a think about the kinds of things you typically do. We are all different – some people will spend more time travelling either at home or abroad than others; some may find they like their home to be a very warm environment, others cooler; others may be fans of shopping, always wanting the latest gizmo. Different people’s lives will have different amounts of greenhouse gases associated with them, so using one of the available online carbon calculator to firstly understand which elements of your life might be making the biggest contribution is a useful start. It is also the case that on average, the more disposable income you have, the higher your emissions will be. For example, most people don’t fly much, but some fly a lot. Flying is the most carbon intensive thing most of us do as individuals, so if this is you, then the quickest way to make a big dint in your emissions is to reduce the number of times you fly, and/or the distance you travel.

Finally, it isn’t all about individual action. We all live and work in communities and wider society. We influence each other’s choices and decisions – this might be through inviting someone to a hen party overseas, or simply having a chat about how you travel to work. It might also be that you have influence in your job – so teachers can influence pupils, I can influence students and staff etc. If you are in a position that has influence within an organisation, you may also be able to develop or support policies that cut emissions. This can be very powerful – not just thinking of ourselves as individuals is key to radically cutting emissions on a large scale.


Q: Do you feel enough is being done to combat the damaging effects that flying has on the climate? Is the industry evolving – or is it the responsibility of the consumer?

A: No, not enough is being done. We are practically still in the position we were in when I started researching this in 2003. Technologies to cut CO2 in aviation are few and far between, and with aircraft lasting 20-30 years, progress and change will always be slow. Consumer pressure is very important. Not just in relation to reducing our own flying activities, but also influencing policymakers to make difficult decisions, such as stopping the expansion of our airports, or bringing in prices such that the pollution that is produced by aircraft is taxed more fairly – at the moment there are exemptions on fuel used for international flights.

Writing to your local MP shouldn’t be underestimated. Matters that voters contact MPs about do have traction, and it doesn’t take many letters on the same topic to prompt further discussion in parliament.


Q: What are some of the more shocking statistics that you think people should be aware of in terms of the damaging effect that flying has on the environment?

A: Travelling on a long-haul first-class flight can be over 130 times worse in terms of CO2 emissions than travelling by international rail. Most people compare sources of emissions in terms of CO2, but aircraft cause more warming than other modes due to other emissions released at altitude. Estimates vary on how much more damaging this is, but estimates are that 3 times more warming has been caused by aircraft than would have happened if the only emission was CO2.


Q: The damage flying has on the climate is widely publicised – whereas the effects of shipping perhaps less so. How do the two industries differ in relation to negative impact on the environemnt, and which industry is making greater progress in terms of safeguarding our future?

A: This is a difficult question – I could write an long essay here!

They both have quite a similar impact globally in terms of CO2, but one is principally used for leisure and by a small proportion of the population, whereas the other is principally used for freight, and serves people all over the world with food, energy, manufactured goods and raw materials. In terms of options to cut emissions, shipping has many more options available, including slowing down, which may sound odd, but actually with just modest speed reductions, CO2 emissions drop significantly. Shipping now has a target to cut CO2 by 50% by 2050, which isn’t sufficient to align the sector with the Paris Climate Agreement but is more ambitious that the aviation sector, which continues to rely on offsetting schemes and action by industry but without a sector-wide agreed target.


Q: What are you currently researching and working on? Are there any exciting projects you’d like to alert us to?

I’m current focused on shipping more than aviation.  We are quantifying some of the impacts of fuel changes on ship patterns, as well as further work on how to decarbonise ships using wind propulsion with route optimisation. Another project I’m involved with is trying to see what role ammonia or hydrogen might have as a shipping fuel, and whether or not connections between fuel supply chains for aviation and shipping might influence each other.  I’d like to be working on more projects but unfortunately, most of my job is focused on more managerial tasks as the moment – as Head of the Engineering School. As such I rely heavily on a great team of researchers in the Tyndall Centre in Manchester to keep me up to date.


Thank you to Alice for taking the time to answer our questions!

'We Can Choose Our Future' takes place at 6:30pm on Wednesday 23rd March, at the MMU Business School and online. 

More information about the event — including how to book tickets — can be found here



Q&A - Dr Rob Drummond

On Tuesday 15th March, Dr Rob Drummond will be joining us to tell us about the Manchester Voices project.

How did the research team initially develop, what were his original expectations – and how did they change?


Q: Hello, Rob. Not long to go until your talk with us at the Manchester Conference Centre – we’re really looking forward to it.

Firstly, you’re one of the directors of the ‘Manchester Voices’ project. How did the research team initially develop, and what were your original expectations – and how did they change?

A: My colleague, Dr Erin Carrie and I originally had the idea for Manchester Voices back in 2016. We ran a pilot study that summer, which is when we trialled the idea of The Accent Van – a mobile recording studio that could travel around the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester. We applied for funding to carry out the project on a larger scale (still within Greater Manchester) in 2018, and then we started this version of the project in 2019. We have had three postdoctoral Research Associates working with us: Dr Sadie Ryan, Dr Holly Dann and Dr Sarah Tasker, and they have helped shape the direction of our research.


Q: Through your research, have you discovered any accents and dialects that are disappearing within Greater Manchester. If so, is there a specific reason for this, or is it more nuanced?

A: It’s complicated. On the one hand, yes, it’s clearly the case that some dialect words and phrases will likely die out with older generations. However, this doesn’t mean that the different accents and dialects are disappearing. Like all language varieties, they are changing. Young people in Wigan still sound different from young people in Stockport, or young people in Salford. So the differences are still there, it’s just that they might be different differences!


Q: Conversely, are we seeing new dialects and accents emerging in pockets across Manchester? What do you think is influencing their emergence?

A: People will always use language as a way of expressing their various identities. Throughout the project we have come across many people expressing their pride in being from Rochdale, or Oldham, or Manchester. As language naturally changes, people will still find ways of expressing that they are different from their neighbours in different boroughs.


Q: From John Cooper Clarke’s sharp Salfordian accent, to the broad Bury accent. It’s impossible to define a singular accent as being ‘Mancunian’ – but why are accents so valuable to our conception of identity?

A: No, I don’t think it is. But the same is true for any accent. For someone from well outside Greater Manchester, they might think everyone shares an accent. But of course, when you start actually listening to people, you soon realise there is a lot of variation. Our accent is a way of saying ‘I belong to this group. I don’t belong to that group’.


Q: ‘Is it a barm of a muffin?’ – often a hotly contested question among Mancunians (and northerners!), is there a sociolinguistic reason for this? (I reckon it’s a muffin, for the record, and I’m from Tameside!)

A: This is a classic question when investigating dialect differences! It’s a nice example of people using the vocabulary they were brought up with, and keeping traditional dialect differences going. I hope it continues.


Q: Are you looking to work on anything new – or will the Accent Van be reappearing in Manchester anytime soon?

A: Although the Manchester Voices project officially finishes in October this year, we have enough data to keep us busy for years to come! But I would like to see The Accent Van go out again. Maybe we can take the project to a different region of the country and use it as a way of comparing accents. I’m very proud of The Accent Van – it was a lovely way to get people interested in the project and encourage them to think about how they speak and what it means to them. And it looked amazing!


Thank you to Rob for taking the time to answer our questions.


'Manchester Voices - exploring the accents, dialects and identities of people in Greater Manchester' takes place at 7:00pm, Tuesday 15th March 2022, at the Manchester Conference Centre and online.

More information about the event — including how to book tickets — can be found here

Interview with Janet Warr

2nd March, 2022

Q&A - Janet Warr

On Monday 7th March, Janet Warr — member of the Tameside Local History Forum, and tour guide of the Fairfield Moravian Settlement — will be joining us at the RNCM. We had a chance to ask Janet a few questions about her work with the Settlement, as well as a look at the future of the hidden hamlet...

For more information about the talk, please click here.


Q: We’re looking forward to you joining us for your talk at the RNCM!

Firstly, how did you get involved in the Fairfield Moravian Church?

A: I was Christened at the Church and from there went to Sunday School and later became a member and eventually a tour guide. It had always been the goal of the congregation to set up a museum and in 2009, it happened. I was centrally involved in its realisation.


Q: From Droylsden, dubbed by some as the ‘Silly Country’, through to the Blue Pig in Audenshaw, and extending over to Hartshead Pike near Mossley… Tameside is a very diverse area, both geographically and culturally. What is your favourite piece of historical trivia relating to the area?

A: I suppose the one that has a connection to my family. My husband's great, great Grandfather, Amos Armitage, was involved with the Chartist movement in Hyde and ended up in prison for 18 months for ringing a bell around the streets of Hyde that called people to their meetings.

The Chartist movement had a huge following in Hyde and the surrounding area. The bell is now in Portland Basin Museum and was selected as one of the most important museum objects in the North West.


Q: Could you tell us about your work with the Your History Group, and the exhibitions that you have produced?

A: I was involved with the 'Tameside Smile Project' which involved the archiving and recording of the ‘Reporters’ photographs which is now at Ashton Local Studies and Archives Centre. We produced an exhibition, booklet and banners in connection with the 200th anniversary of Peterloo Massacre, in 2019, from a Tameside point of view. This exhibition toured Tameside.

Last year we produced another exhibition, displayed at Portland Basin,  for the 21st Anniversary of the Forum telling of the work the forum has done. As we have been having to meet on Zoom this past couple of years, we are working individually on 'A House Through Time' — inspired by the TV programme of the same name. We have all taken a house from each of the boroughs to investigate.


Q: You also give tours of the Moravian settlement, too. What is one of the highlights of the tour, and where can people sign up?

A: The definite highlight when taking school children round the settlement is showing them the mechanism that works the clock found in the cupola, and then allowing them to ring the bell.  For the adults, it is probably the peace and quiet of the Settlement and although it has changed it is still relatively intact considering it is so near to the centre of Manchester! One question asked of all the tour guides is what are the crosses on the York stone pathways for. I am afraid it is a rather dull answer: 'it is to stop them being stolen'...

We offer tours for 20 people or more. If you wish to book one, please contact Mrs Joyce James on 0161 370 5199.

These are at a cost £5.00 per person (including light refreshments).

If you are an individual, then free tours are available at the Heritage Weekend in September (please see Heritage Open Days website for more details). It is also intended to open the museum again on Saturday Afternoons from the 14 May to 27 August 2022.

If you have any enquires, you’re welcome to contact me via email -


Q: What does the future look like for the Fairfield Moravian Community? Have there been any recent developments to the community – for better, or worse?

A: I think there is real concern by the people who live in the Settlement at the deterioration of the cobbled areas. Also some houses have been left empty for a good many years by Unitas Estates the commercial arm of the Moravian Church (most of the properties are owned by them and not the local church). Another concern is there is a proposal to sell off the woodland at the east of the Settlement for houses which at present is used by a scout group and would in my opinion completely alter the character of the Square.


Thank you to Janet for taking the time to answer our questions.

'The Fairfield Moravian Settlement - Architecture and History' takes place at 7:00pm, Monday 7th March 2022, at the RNCM and online.

More information about the event — including how to book tickets — can be found here