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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

New Online Theatre Group

11th March, 2021


New Online Theatre Group


Here's a message from Arts Committee and Council Member, Joanna Lavelle - 


Dear all,

One of the popular activities we enjoyed when we were able to meet together in person was the opportunity to see a play together and discuss the issues raised during the play.  We have had a suggestion from member Manju Ghosh that we set something similar in our new virtual world.  So what is proposed below is a trial to see how much interest there is in such an idea.  If it proves to be popular we can extend this to include the National Theatre productions (Uncle Vanya is CURRENTLY available FREE on BBC iPlayer) and/or we could include films.


The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde



The Octagon, Bolton, has announced a new and modern production of The Picture of Dorian Grey based on the novel by Oscar Wilde.  The book caused great controversy at the time it was written.  Wilde wrote that, There is no such thing as an immoral book.  Books are well written or badly written that is all”.  Despite Wilde’s confident assertions the book scandalised Victorian England and was used as evidence against him when he was tried and convicted in 1895 on charges related to homosexuality. (ref

This production has a “stellar” cast including: Stephen Fry; Joanna Lumley and Russell Tovey. Tickets cost £12.00.


How to join the Manchester Lit and Phil Online Theatre Group

  1.  Book your ticket directly with the Octagon.  Watch the play between Saturday 20th March and Monday 22nd March. 
  2. Reserve a place in the Lit and Phil AfterWords discussion group on Tuesday 23rd March at 3.00 pm.  To book a place send an email to


If you have questions please contact Joanna or John on (not the Manchester Lit and Phil office).


We hope to see you there,
Joanna Lavelle on behalf of the Arts Theatre Group


Main Image: Kilyan Sockalingum on Unsplash


The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society asks UCLan researchers to uncover transatlantic slave trade connections


The first and oldest literary and philosophical society in the world has enlisted the help of researchers from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) to explore its historical links with the transatlantic slave trade.

The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society (Manchester Lit and Phil), which was established in 1781, has a long history of advancing education and knowledge in literature, science, arts and public affairs. Previous high-profile members include the ‘founder of modern chemistry’ John Dalton, engineer and philanthropist Joseph Whitworth and fine arts advocate Margaret Pilkington.       

Now the Society, which has just celebrated its 240th anniversary, is working with UCLan Professor Alan Rice, an expert in Black Atlantic culture, and his team to explore what links its earliest members may have had with the transatlantic slave trade and the influences this had on the Society at the time.

Between 10 and 12 million enslaved Africans were transported across the Atlantic Ocean from the 16th to the 19th century as part of the so-called triangular trade route that brought cotton, coffee and sugar to Europe.

The researchers will investigate more than 900 members from 1781 until around 1860; using the Society’s own archives, the Legacy of British Slave Ownership database developed by University College London and the online database of the transatlantic slave-trade as well as multiple other sources. They will examine who benefitted from the slave trade, including links with cotton plantations in the United States, as well as notable abolitionist members who stood against the slave trade.


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

“The transatlantic slave trade is part of the Society’s history and one we can’t ignore, even if what we learn may make us feel uncomfortable.

“The slave trade connections of our earliest members might have influenced the direction of the Society and certainly did impact Manchester as a whole, for example with the establishment of cotton processing factories, such as Quarry Bank Mill in Styal, which was built in 1784 by Society member Samuel Greg and employed many hundreds at its peak.

“Just as the modern Manchester Lit and Phil recognises the need to be more diverse and works hard to attract a wide range of speakers and members, it’s important to acknowledge the complex history of the Society.”


UCLan is home to the internationally renowned Institute for Black Atlantic Research (IBAR), which, led by its co-director Professor Rice, will conduct the six-month project.

Professor Rice said:

“The IBAR research team is very excited to work with such a prestigious and venerable organisation as Manchester Lit and Phil in such a vital project. The Black Lives Matter Movement highlighted the urgency of organisations being properly accountable for their past involvement in the highly profitable slave trade and historical silence on the issue. We are proud to be contributing to the important effort to uncover these hidden histories.”


The findings of the project will be published and shared in a public lecture to be given later in the year, with a possible exhibition also being considered.


Image: John Raphael Smith (1752-1812), The Slave Trade. Courtesy: The Whitworth, The University of Manchester


It is with great regret that since Christmas we have lost three of our long-serving members –

Mrs Barbara Rose-Innes – a member since 1966, along with her husband Professor Christopher Rose-Innes. She passed away in January, after being ill for several months, and both she and her husband were very regular attenders at Lit & Phil meetings. I have spoken to Christopher, expressed the Society’s sympathies. He hopes to continue to attend as and when it is safe to do so.

Mr Roger Rees OBE – a member since 1981. He also died in January, at the age of 91. He was the Chief Executive of Salford City Council, and had many interests, especially choral singing. I knew him personally for many years as a fellow member of Salford Choral Society. He was brought up in South Wales, attained a law degree at Cambridge and worked much of his life in local government. Our sympathies go to his nephew and his other relatives.

Mr Angus Yeaman – member since 1981 and also a past President of the Society (20021-2003). We were informed of his passing in late February, by his niece. I remember meeting him at lectures and he was a most interesting and charming man. I believe he was also in his 90’s, and our sympathies go to his family.


Susan Hilton




Kathleen Ollerenshaw - Mathematician and Committed Education Campaigner

Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw was an English mathematician and educator.  Ollerenshaw served as Lord Mayor of Manchester from 1975 to 1976, as well as an advisor to Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

Ollerenshaw’s love of mathematics was inspired by another woman, Miss Jenkin Jones, who was headmistress at Lady Barn House School during the time Ollerenshaw attended the school.  She would go on pursuing a dazzling academic and high-profile political career, and she was devoted to mathematics.  Ollerenshaw published one of the first solutions to the Rubik’s cube in the IMA Bulletin—now known as Mathematics Today.  Legend states that Ollerenshaw damaged the tendons in her pursuit of the finished cube and her left thumb required surgery!

Ollerenshaw was also a loyal supporter of the RNCM, with music critic Michael Kennedy citing her as a driving force behind the college. She was Chairman of the Joint Committee and Court at the College from 1972 to 1986.


‘Dame Kathleen was a remarkable woman who will forever be remembered as a pivotal figure in the history of the RNCM.  Her loyal support to both staff and students remains invaluable to this day.’

Professor Linda Merrick, RNCM Principal


Ollerenshaw died in 2014, at the age of 101 and her life was warmly commemorated by many educational organisations.  The Department of Mathematics at the University of Manchester currently curates a series of annual lectures in her honour.