Guided walk – Manchester and Slavery: abolitionists and manufacturers

Posted on: August 10th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Explore the contradictions of the eighteenth and nineteenth century city of Manchester with regard to slavery.

This walking tour looks at how Manchester and the slave trade were linked – and complements the recent publication of the UCLan report, ‘The Manchester Lit & Phil and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1780-1865.

The tour passes sites associated with abolitionists determined to remove the stain of chattel slavery, and other locations where slave-picked cotton was used by manufacturers – some of whom were also abolitionists. It examines the contradictions of the eighteenth and nineteenth century city of Manchester with regard to slavery.

During the tour, stories of key individuals will be shared. These people include the Heywood and Gregg families, Thomas Clarkson, Thomas Percival (co-founder of the Lit & Phil), John Edward Taylor, John Bright, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Gaskell, Abel Heywood, William Andrew Jackson, amongst many others.

Key moments of the tour will include:

– the Thomas Clarkson speech which led to the first abolition petition from any British town or city in 1788

the foundation of the Manchester Guardian in 1821

– confusion over the ship on the Manchester coat of arms granted in 1842

the visit of Frederick Douglass in 1846

– the pro-Union city during the American Civil war in the early 1860s

Tour guide Jonathan Schofield’s commentary will be lively with a clear narrative, guaranteed.


Good to know: The walk will start at 2.30pm and finish around 4.30pm at the latest. We will meet outside Manchester Cathedral. Please arrive at least 10 minutes before the walk start time. The walk will finish at the Edwardian Hotel (formerly the Free Trade Hall).

Manchester, the slave trade & the Manchester Lit & Phil

Posted on: July 17th, 2023 by mlpEditor

In May 2023, the Manchester Lit & Phil welcomed the Report by researchers from the University of Central Lancashire’s Institute for Black Atlantic Research: The Manchester Lit & Phil and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1780-1865.

The research was commissioned by the Society following the worldwide debates in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. The Lit & Phil wanted the researchers to explore what links – be they direct or indirect – its early members may have had with the slave trade.

As part of the Society’s follow-up to the Report’s publication, this event welcomes a distinguished, specially invited Panel to reflect on the key findings and to discuss its many-faceted implications for the present day – both for the Lit & Phil, and for the wider understanding of how best to address the legacy of the slave trade. That legacy continues to impact Manchester’s culture, economy and social fabric.

Panellists include the Report’s research team leader Alan Price and other experts in the field and will be chaired by Professor Erinma Bell MBE. The ‘Question Time’ format should hopefully allow for debate as well as questions. Event registrants will be invited to submit questions for the panel, by email, in advance of the event. Time will allow only a small selection of questions to be put to the panel, although where possible supplementary questions & comments will be invited from the floor.


An extract from the report’s Abstract:

…The research, which was carried out by scholars at the University of Central Lancashire, found that a significant number of early Lit & Phil members profited to varying degrees from links to the slave-based economies of the Black Atlantic. These members contributed to the transatlantic slave trade by stimulating demand for slave-produced cotton as enormous wealth flowed into Manchester through the scaled-up industrial capacity of its mills. They range from engineers James Watt, Richard Roberts, Sir William Fairbairn and Joseph Whitworth; to mill owners Peter Drinkwater, Robert Owen, James McConnel, John Kennedy, George and Adam Murray, and Samuel Greg; to slave-produced goods traders John Birley and Sir George Philips. Some were more directly involved in financing slavery and owning slaves, such as Benjamin Heywood, who invested in slave voyages, and George Hibbert, a plantation owner and anti-abolition campaigner.

In detailing how these individuals and their families and networks were connected to the transatlantic slave trade, this report addresses a longstanding gap in the information available on Lit & Phil members’ positions with respect to slavery during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Its publication is evidence of the Lit & Phil’s willingness to enter into further dialogue about increasing diversity and inclusion within its own membership and engage more actively with contemporary demands for acknowledgement of their historical links to transatlantic slavery within a community that is still marked by racial prejudice and inequality.

‘The Manchester Lit & Phil and the Transatlantic Slave Trade’ – A response to the UCLan report

Posted on: June 8th, 2023 by mlpEditor

As someone who is deeply committed to promoting social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, I have reflected on the research report on The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and its implications for our society today. In my response, I have sought to highlight some of the key findings and recommendations from the report, and to suggest some possible ways in which we can use this information to build a more just and equitable society.

I want to make it clear that this response is written in a personal capacity and reflects my own views and opinions. While I have drawn on the report’s findings and recommendations, my interpretation and analysis are my own, and I take full responsibility for any errors or omissions.

My hope is that my response will be a starting point for further discussion and action, as we work towards greater understanding and reconciliation in our communities and institutions.


Read Professor Erinma Bell’s full response here

‘The Manchester Literary & Philosophical Society and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1780-1865’

Posted on: June 8th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Foreword by Ian Cameron

It’s my pleasure and privilege to introduce this study report into the Manchester Lit & Phil’s links with the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

The Lit & Phil is a venerable institution, dating back to 1781. Manchester then was the beating heart of the world’s first industrial revolution, powered by technical innovation, surging capitalism and mass migration from agricultural labour to coal-powered factory production. And this global powerhouse was fed by cotton, hand picked by enslaved Africans who were sold into bondage, transported across the ocean and incarcerated for life on plantations in the West Indies and the newly independent USA.

The Lit & Phil was established to promote learning and exchange ideas. Our members were successful, educated men (and at that time they were all men!) who understood how the world worked. They understood the economics of the triangular trade; they understood the opportunities and risks of industrial development; they knew from their classics and history that slavery had existed since the beginning of recorded time and that the trade had intensified and flourished through multiple networks worldwide. They may too have dabbled in new quasi-scientific theories that sought to establish racial hierarchies.

These issues of commerce, history and science would no doubt have been used to explain and to justify the concept and practice of slavery. But we can imagine that debate at the Lit & Phil had another dimension. We know that there were progressive members of our Society who questioned the existence of slavery from a moral and philosophical standpoint. Their views came from their religious beliefs, particularly from the nonconformist churches that flourished in the new industrial towns. They came too from the humanitarian concepts that were emerging from the age of enlightenment. The rights of man were set out in the works of social philosophers and fervently promoted by radicals and revolutionaries on both sides of the Atlantic.

Many of our members supported abolition and some became leading abolitionists. Others undoubtedly benefitted from the trade, directly or indirectly. It would be fascinating now to have an insight into the conversations and arguments that must have taken place at the Lit & Phil, between abolitionists, apologists and those who were caught in the middle. In recent times our members had tried to uncover some of the details, but with little success. A more purposeful and systematic approach was clearly needed.

Following the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 our then President, Dr Susan Hilton, and Vice President Prof Tony Jackson commissioned the Institute for Black Atlantic Research at the University of Central Lancashire to carry out a study into the Lit & Phil’s links with the Transatlantic Slave Trade. We now have the study report before us and can look forward to better understanding our shared history as we explore ways to develop an appropriate and effective response to calls for a revaluation of national attitudes towards history and race.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade was abolished in 1807, but slavery in the USA continued until 1865 – producing cotton to be sent to Manchester. This report, addressing the period 1780-1865, is a major achievement and I must take this opportunity to thank Prof Alan Rice of UCLan who led the study team, with lead researcher and writer Dr Andrea Sillis, ably supported by Drahoslava Machova, Dr Stephanie Monro and Kirsty Roberts. I should particularly thank Dr Sillis, who contributed an extra 43 days of work on a voluntary basis. They put in a remarkable effort, not only to work their way through what is left of our archives, but also to explore the public records and other external links that provide a broader picture of some of our early members and their activities.

The potential scope of investigations is huge, but we wanted to go public with our research as soon as we were able. It was decided, therefore, that this initial study would focus on those members of the Lit & Phil who had links, direct or indirect, with the profits from slavery. We plan to pick up the thread in a second phase, which will focus upon the lives and activities of our abolitionists, offering a more complete view of the Lit & Phil’s position on the question of slavery.

It will, of course, be appropriate to consider both study phases together, but we decided to use this first phase to invite an early response. We propose to develop that response in consultation with those whose lives may have been directly impacted, through racism and inequality, by the legacies of transatlantic slavery.

Our first step has been to consult a number of eminent Mancunians with an interest and expertise in the subject who generously agreed to review this report and to advise on next steps. One of those reviewers, peace activist Prof Erinma Bell MBE, has been kind enough to provide the written comments that are reproduced alongside this report.

Based on all the advice received, we now plan to reach out to Manchester’s diverse and underprivileged communities to develop mutually beneficial relationships and collaborations. We know that the diversity of our current membership and activities is inadequate and we will work hard to understand why that is and to fix it. We will build on our history of discussion, mutual learning and social interaction to open new opportunities to further engage with the past and, looking forward, to promote inclusivity, equality and respect for diversity within society at large.

So, there are exciting and demanding times ahead for the Lit & Phil and this report represents an important step on that journey. I hope you find it interesting and informative. And if you think you might be able to contribute in any way to developing or implementing our response, we would love to hear from you.


Ian Cameron, President

8 June 2023

Read the report

Read the media release

Heady days of post-war happenings: the Lit & Phil at 36 George Street

Posted on: February 27th, 2023 by mlpEditor

My late husband, Tom and I became members of the Lit & Phil in 1955. We had been recruited by a Miss Blackledge, who joined in 1953. We had made her acquaintance through our involvement with the Manchester Area Youth Film Council and her Presidential role with the Girls and Lads Club Association.

The registered address at that time was the Portico Library because the Society’s original Georgian house at 36 George Street had been blown up. It was then completely demolished by the Fire Brigade to provide a much-needed fire-break during one of the air raids in the Manchester Blitz.

Lit & Phil Council meetings were held there and the occasional lecture. The first Lit & Phil event we attended was in the Reading Room at the Portico. Although the audience was necessarily small, some of us had to sit on piles of dusty tomes as the Portico itself had not fully recovered from the effects of the Blitz.

Celebrated sculptor Mitzi Cunliffe was a Lit & Phil member

The talk on ‘Abstract Impressionism’ was given by two members – Marcus and Mitzi Cunliffe. Marcus taught American Studies at the University and Mitzi was a sculptor whose best-known work is the golden BAFTA mask, which is still in use at award ceremonies. It was the first Tom and I had heard about Jackson Pollock et al. We were fascinated and decided there and then that joining the Society was a good move and promised an interesting and intriguing future.

There were about 350 members when we joined…Lectures were mostly held in the Reynolds Hall at the Manchester College of Technology (later to become UMIST), at the Whitworth Gallery, and at various venues at Manchester University.

A new home for the Lit & Phil at 36 George Street…

During this time, plans were being made for the construction of a new home on the site of the demolished building in George Street. This was officially opened in September 1960. Tom and I were present at the inaugural address given by the President of the Royal Society, Sir Cyril Hinshelwood, its title being ‘The Arts and the Sciences’, a topic much discussed in intellectual circles at that time. I have a faded photograph of much younger versions of the two of us seated on the second row, on either side of our guest, Jim Whittaker.

During the planning stage, discussions were also held about the best location for the Society’s visual aid equipment – an epidiascope and a slide projector. It just so happened that the Manchester & Salford Film Society, of which Tom was the Chairman, was desperately seeking a new home to continue in its attempts to bring art house and world cinema to the people of Manchester.

…and a new home for the Manchester & Salford Film Society

The Lit & Phil Council’s agreement was obtained for the construction of a proper projection box at the rear of the new building’s lecture theatre, which would accommodate the Film Society’s two 16mm projectors. This would kill two birds with one stone; the Film Society would have somewhere to hold its performances and the Lit & Phil would be able to offer film projection facilities to any organisation hiring the theatre for its meetings. Film Society committee members would act as projectionists when needed…

Experiments with microwaves alongside Empson’s literary criticism

Of the hundreds of lectures I must have attended at George Street, only a few are still vivid in my mind: Henry Lipson’s lecture about microwaves where he made a cake in a crude prototype oven of his own devising. He passed bits of cake to the members present; it was not very nice. Then there was Sir William Empson sporting a beard that looked like Spanish Moss telling us about ‘Seven Kinds of Ambiguity’. I am afraid it was as incomprehensible to many of us as the most erudite and obscure offerings of the Science and Technology Section.

Dreams of bringing contemporary art to the masses

The opening of the new house had a surprising and totally unexpected galvanising effect on a group of the more forward-looking members. I particularly remember Leonard Cohen who owned Henry’s department store on Market Street. His aim in life was to bring art to the masses. He exhibited Epstein’s Adam in the basement of his store and donated a fountain to Piccadilly Gardens.

The new house so inspired him, he conceived the notion that George Street could become the epicentre of artistic activity in Manchester. He actually envisaged a new Opera House could be built between 36 George Street and the Art Gallery. His idea to have an extra storey built on the flat roof of No.36 to house an Arts Workshop accessible from the car park was, as it turned out, a structural impossibility.

As a preliminary step toward achieving some of these ambitions, a group of members including Leonard in their own time and on their own initiative set up the Manchester Institute of Contemporary Art, MICA. They were not to be outdone by London where the Institute of Contemporary Art had just been opened. Most of MICA’s events took place at the Lit & Phil house. Tom was the film officer and I was a committee member. We played to packed houses when films of an experimental and avant-garde nature were screened.

Some of the Lit & Phil members involved in all this activity were, as I hazily recall, Maurice Pariser – who unfortunately died before these dreams could be fulfilled, and Robert Sheldon and Edmund Dell who departed to become Labour Members of Parliament.

But the heady days of post-war optimism didn’t last…

We had the young Seamus Heaney reading his poetry on two occasions, a whole host of North West poets and many up-and-coming artists of the day. These were heady days expressing the general air of post-war optimism that seemed to promise a life more exciting and interesting than heretofore. It was undoubtedly the presence of the new, modern and accommodating building in the centre of Manchester that triggered these ambitious but finally impossible dreams…

Unfortunately, it eventually became apparent that something was radically wrong with the fabric of the building. Cracks began to appear in the walls and the flat roof leaked. The fault lay in the use of high alumina cement in its construction. This was a wonder innovation of the 50’s lauded for its quick-drying properties. The firms involved in the building of the house had gone into liquidation and there was no alternative but to sell the site and become peripatetic until new permanent premises could be found…


…Tom died in 2007 at the age of 85 but if he could see us now, he would be greatly gratified to see the (Manchester) Literary & Philosophical Society, of which he was very fond, flourishing and growing in spite of its past vicissitudes. I cannot believe that I have achieved doyenneship of the Society in my 94th year and can still remember listening to Marcus and Mitzi in 1955.


This is an extract of an article originally published in 2014 in vol. 152 of the Manchester Memoirs. Huge thanks to Marjorie Ainsworth for her incredible support of the Manchester Lit & Phil since 1955.

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