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Misconceptions about Manchester: Not the Rainy City!

We live in a world of misconceptions, and often don't realise it. A significant proportion of the images of cities we have in our minds may be biased, out of date and not in tune with reality. Even if we live in a place, urban myths can influence the way se see things. Surface reality can deceive. All is not what it seems. Stereotypical images of Manchester seem to vary between positive and negative, old and contemporary. The reality is on a spectrum somewhere in between.

>Let's start with some negative misconceptions:

"We all know that Manchester is the rainy city!"
Manchester is NOT the rainy city. This is a self-perpetuating misconception - people hear it, they believe it, they say it, others hear it, and so on. Where did this idea come from? It probably dates from the cotton era, when the towns of east Lancashire near the Pennines were favoured for cotton spinning due to the damp climate. Manchester was more of a centre for cotton trading rather than production, but strangely, it took on the reputation of the cotton towns, perhaps because it was the most famous. It rains less in Manchester than many other British cities and far less than New York City. The wettest place in mainland Britain is, according to information compiled in 2004, Seathwaite in the Lake District.

Mills of Chadderton in misty weather
The old image of Manchester can still be seen on occasional dull misty days.

Manchester is a grim industrial city of cotton mills, factories, chimneys
Am I behind the times in quoting this as a common misconception, now that Manchester has become the young, modern, trendy cafe-bar, night-club-opolis of the UK. No I'm not, there are still people - I've met them, and they are mainly living overseas - who still believe Manchester is a grim industrial city, and who wouldn't dream of visiting the place. As I keep telling them, only by visiting will they see the reality, but if they won't visit...? It's a self-perpetuating thing, like the rainy city idea.

"Manchester is... Erm, actually, I have no image whatsoever of Manchester. Is Manchester a part of London?"

Surely there must be few people around who haven't heard about the resurgence of Manchester, who haven't seen the pictures on tv or read the newspaper. Yes, I'm afraid there are, and they are mostly outside the UK, beyond the range of the domestic media. While Manchester has a high profile in the UK, in many other countries, few people could describe what Manchester is famous for - apart from of course... a certain football team. Close your eyes and think of... Paris: The Eiffel Tower; London - The Houses of Parliament; Manchester? A grim industrial city perhaps? The image is changing, but slowly. Maybe Manchester needs a world-famous landmark.

And now onto what I call the contemporary misconceptions, most of which have arisen in the past few years:

Lunchtime crowds at Bar 38, Great Northern Piazza Manchester
Lunchtime crowds, Bar 38 and Great Northern Piazza, Manchester

Manchester is a vibrant, bright, young, trendy, go-ahead city full of young people, cafe bars, night clubs, a place of regeneration, prosperity, optimism...
If I had a pound for the number of times I've heard the word 'vibrant' used in connection with Manchester, I'd be rich. Manchester has always been vibrant of course, it's just that recently, it has become even more vibrant. Manchester is often described as 'young' but what does that mean? There are lots of young people? That's true - it has the largest student population of any agglomeration in Europe, but there are lots of middle aged and older people there too..

Or do they mean 'young' like Dubai - a place that has only modernised in the last 30 years. No, Manchester is old - as old as the Romans, and it has a proud and illustrious history - Look at the murals by Ford Madox Brown in the town hall. Cafe bars - well you'll find cafe bars in every city these days, and that's another point - The current wave of regeneration is happening across the western world from New Jersey to Dublin, in Leeds, Holland and lots of other places. There just happens to be more regeneration going on in the Manchester area. The reason: It's big.

"Up till recently, Manchester was a post-industrial backwater, a no-hope city of unemployment, crime, urban decay, economic stagnation..."
Hold on a minute! I've lived in Manchester area during six decades, and I can vouch for the fact that it was not then, nor has it ever been, a backwater. Since the start of the industrial revolution. it has been a major city, arguably the second most important in the United Kingdom. Its cotton industry declined through the 20th century, and in the 70's its heavy industry collapsed - like most of the heavy industry in the UK - but at no time was it a backwater.

Manchester in the rain
Manchester skyline during heavy rain

Like other cities of the UK and across mainland Europe, it faced economic challenges, and has gone through a period of painful transition, but it has always been a big, important, cosmopolitan and, dare I say it, vibrant place. Look at the music and club scene of the 1980s. It was during the 80s that the present regeneration started. The period 1960-1970 was a great time in Manchester too, though it's a largely forgotten era. The 'old is bad new is good' image is often used to conceal the shortcomings and hidden problems of the present regeneration phase, but that's another story.

View of Manchester cranes and construction sites from Salfordr
Manchester, not the city of rain but the city of cranes.

See my latest photos of modern architecture in Manchester

Find out what PR professionals had to say about Manchester.

Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, paints a pretty accurate and up to date picture of Manchester






Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2005-10-09

Aidan O'RourkeAidan O'Rourke has been active in photography and online media since 1995. He has documented the development of the local area in his Eyewitness website (1997-2005) and as a contributor to books, publications and the Manchester Evening News. He runs his Eyewitness photography walks in Manchester, Liverpool and other locations. He offers one-to-one tuition in Photography and Languages. He is a high-level speaker of German and can offer photography walks and tours through the medium of German. Visit www.aidan.co.uk

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