How did money from slavery help develop Greater Manchester?

The Manchester Royal Exchange

by Dr Emma Poulter

Trading activities in the north west

Manchester's position as the world's first industrial city centred around one commodity in particular, slave-grown cotton and its associated industries and businesses. All of Manchester's economic activity revolved around the Manchester Royal Exchange, described in 1874 as ‘the biggest room in the world'.

For 240 years the Manchester Royal Exchange was central to the commercial life of Manchester and quickly became the meeting place between Manchester merchants and manufacturers from some 280 cotton towns and villages. This activity, through the intermediary of the Liverpool Cotton Exchange, supplied the ultimate demand for slave-grown cotton from America.

According to Scott:

'The first members were the manufacturers and merchants. They were joined by their top management, the representatives and the salesmen. Then came the middlemen - the importers of the raw cotton and the yarn agents. The finishers - the firms who dye or bleach or print the manufactured cloth. As the technology developed, the engineers and machinery suppliers needed access to the manufacturers. Whole empires were made from the leftovers and the cotton waste dealers and merchants were rich and powerful men. As the export trade expanded, the shippers, bankers and insurance companies jostled with each other for Member's custom. And as the wealth of the members grew, so even wine merchants and jewellers would attend in search of a man who had struck it rich. The Exchange was a community, where you could meet a great number of your associates and competitors in a very short time and where you could gauge the temperature of all the different aspects of the trade.'

Eric Williams points out that Manchester's export trade increased from £14,000 in 1739 to £303,000 in 1779, and that:

‘Up to 1770, one third of this quantity went to the slave coast, one half to the American and West Indian colonies. It was this tremendous dependence on the triangular trade that made Manchester'.