Why was cotton so important in north west England?


Made in Nigeria, about 1898
Leather, wood and textile

Object number 0.9321/20.a.
Transfer from Salford Museum, 1969

See this object at The Manchester Museum, University of Manchester This object may not always be on display. Please check with the venue before visiting.


This drum was collected in 1898 in Ilorin, Nigeria. It was given to Salford Museum and was described by the donor at the time to be ‘both rare and special and very difficult to get hold of'. It is made up of a piece of manufactured cotton textile, probably made in Britain, possibly in Manchester. It is not known if this fabric was made specifically for the African export trade; it may have been exported to meet the needs of the growing number of Europeans based in Nigeria at this time. However, its use in this object reveals the complexity of trade operating between west Africa and Manchester during this period, demonstrating how European goods were re-used in the production of African objects.

Drums were a very important part of musical traditions in Africa and continued to be used by enslaved Africans on plantations in the Caribbean and the Americas. They were used in music, dance and religious ceremonies as well as to send messages. Enslaved Africans used drum beats to signal the start of revolts, including the revolution in Haiti which led to its independence. For this reason drums were banned in some Caribbean islands.

Cotton goods produced in Manchester were in demand in west Africa during the 1700s and 1800s, where they were traded for people through African middlemen. After the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807, merchants in Manchester and Liverpool continued to supply goods to Spanish and Portuguese slave traders based in Cuba and Brazil who were active as late as the 1880s.

This information was provided by curators from The Manchester Museum.