I’ve been interested in the history of Manchester for many years and as a full time coach in German, I’m very interested in the German influence in Manchester. One of the most famous emigré Germans who lived in Manchester was Friedrich Engels and I wanted to find out more about him.
After a search online, I found the Engels walking tour, organised by New Manchester Walks, founded by tour guide and writer Ed Glinert.
We met by the statue of Friedrich Engels outside the HOME arts centre, in the south of Manchester city centre. The statue is unique because it originated in Ukraine and was brought to Manchester by artist Phil Collins (not the singer!) in 2017. It’s an old Soviet-era statue of which thousands were put up all over the Communist bloc. After the fall of Communism, most ended up on rubbish tips, but this one was saved.
This location is appropriate because close to here was the area known as Little Ireland, which in the 19th century had some of the worst poverty in the UK. Friedrich Engels used to walk around this area, observing the terrible living conditions of the poor at that time.
One very interesting fact I learned was that he was accompanied by his Irish companion, Mary Burns. He was in a relationship with her and they were not married, something which the wife of Karl Marx found scandalous.
Friedrich Engels was born in the town of Barmen, now part of Wuppertal, on 7 June 1835. He came into Manchester to work in the factory of his father, Friedrich Engels Senior. He had already been interested in radical politics and it was hoped that working in England would cure him of his radicalism. Instead he became even more committed to radical politics, and went on to write one of the most politically influential books of all time.
He first came to Manchester in 1842 and spent various periods in the city, finally departing for London in 1869, aged 49. His book, Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England, was published in Leipzig in 1845 but didn’t appear in English until 1887 in New York and 1892 in London.
Here are some of the locations we went to along the route which took us from HOME in the south of the city centre to Victoria Station in the north.
One of the most interesting places was the site of the Peterloo Massacre near to what is now Manchester Central and not far from the Free Trade Hall. The Peterloo Massacre took place on 16 August 1819, a long time before Engels arrived, but the event was a milestone in the social and political development of nineteenth century Britain.
Ed Glinert explained very well the complexities and self-contradictions of the politics at that time – the Prussian spies, the cotton barons, the anti-Corn Law League, the reformers, the upper classes, the middle classes and why the Tree of Liberty was found only in Scotland and not in England.
Another interesting location was the Abercrombie pub, the only surviving building from the time of the Peterloo Massacre. Footballers Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville had planned to demolish the pub as part of their hotel development on the adjacent site, but after a public outcry, the pub was saved. One frustrating aspect of a tour like this is the fact that most of the locations have been demolished, either recently or in the nineteenth century.
Ed frequently read quotations from the writings of Engels, some on the subject of alcohol consumption in Manchester, a big problem then, as now!
Another interesting location was the site of the offices of the company Ermen and Engels, where Engels worked. The address is number 7, Southgate, which is at the back of the department store now called House of Fraser, but still known by many local people as Kendals.
Inside the huge Royal Exchange Theatre lobby, we were able to sit down for a while. There we learned about the Cotton Exchange and the importance of Manchester in the world cotton trade.
It was interesting to find out about some of the incorrect information that circulates about Friedrich Engels. We learned that the Communist Manifesto wasn’t written in Chetham’s Library, but somewhere else!
We stopped by the entrance to Chetham’s Library. It is well known that Friedrich Engels studied at the table next to the stained-glass window. Ed quoted an excerpt in which he expressed his preference for this location, which I’ll be visiting in preparation for my video, The Power of Libraries – die Kraft der Bibliotheken.
We concluded the walk in another appropriate location: Victoria Station, which was built on the site of a burial ground where thousands of the poor people of Manchester were laid to rest.
Friedrich Engels died in London on 5 August 1895 and his ashes were scattered off Beachy Head, near Eastbourne.
It’s amazing how you find out new things about a familiar place, when you go on a walking tour like this. There are plenty of new topics and places to explore right on your doorstep!
For more information about the Friedrich Engels walking tour just do a search for new Manchester Walks and Friedrich Engels Tour or go to the page on New Manchester Walks website.