“I saw cotton and I saw black tall white mansions and little shacks. Southern man when will you pay them back? I heard screamin’ and bullwhips cracking How long? How long?”
Neil Young, “Southern Man”, 1970
Yes, the raw cotton that buoyed Manchester’s main industry for over a century was picked for decades by slaves in the Southern states of America. And you thought this wasn’t a political walk!
During the cotton heyday Manchester was the centre of the industrialised world. Its rich legacy can be found across town: from the fabulously ornate Watts Warehouse (now the Britannia Hotel) to the 18th century weavers cottages, remarkable survivals on Portland Street; from the Town Hall, topped by a golden cotton boll, to the Royal Exchange where cotton merchants traded in the world’s biggest room.
We pay homage to the great cotton palaces (the Royal Exchange, John Rylands Library) and the ruthless merchants who populated them, particularly Nathan Mayer Rothschild, described by Lord Byron in Don Juan as a “true lord of Europe”.