Manchester (mănˈchəstər, –chĕsˌtər) [key], city and metropolitan borough (1991 pop. 397,400), NW England, a port on the Irwell, Medlock, Irk, and Tib rivers. Manchester remains the center of the most densely populated area of England, despite the tremendous amount of outmigration between 1961 and 1981. It has been engaged in building new towns and complexes since the 1970s. Long the leading textile city (its textile industry dates back to the 14th cent.) of England, the late 20th cent. has seen a sharp drop in Manchester's textile-based economy. Other industries, especially chemical and pharmaceutical production and research industries, have moved to fill the void. It is also the center of printing and publishing in N England. Ringway is Manchester's international airport.
A Celtic settlement is believed to have existed on the site of Manchester. The Romans called the town Mancunium, and there are remains of their occupation. Manchester's first charter was granted in 1301. Representation in Parliament was achieved in 1832, and in 1838, thanks to the efforts of Richard Cobden, Manchester was incorporated as a borough.
The Peterloo massacre occurred in Manchester in 1819, and the city has played a prominent role in liberal reform movements. The influential liberal daily the Manchester Guardian was founded in 1821. Manchester was the center of the Manchester school of economics and the Anti-Corn-Law League, led by Cobden and John Bright.
The first application of steam to machinery for spinning cotton was made in Manchester in 1789, and a terminus of the first English passenger railroad (to Liverpool) was constructed here by George Stephenson in 1830. The Manchester Ship Canal, opened in 1894, enabled the inland city to become Britain's third busiest seaport. After World War I the artificial-silk industry tended to balance losses in the cotton market. The first municipal airport in Britain was established at Manchester in 1929. During World War II, Manchester suffered extensively from air raids. Shipping has declined significantly since the 1950s and 60s.
The city has several libraries, including the John Rylands Library (founded 1899) and the Chetham Library (founded 1653), one of Europe's first free public libraries. The Univ. of Manchester, which has its origins in the Manchester Mechanics' Institute (1824) and Owens College (1851), is Britain's largest single-site university; the Univ. of Salford also is located there. Manchester has been an important center for scientific research. John Dalton, Lord Rutherford, and Niels Bohr, among others, did significant work in nuclear physics there. At the Jodrell Bank Observatory, nearby, is a large radio telescope, once the world's largest. Manchester has several art galleries; a symphony orchestra of international repute, the Hallé Orchestra, founded in 1857 by Sir Charles Hallé; and the striking Imperial War Museum North. Sir Robert Peel, the statesman, and Thomas De Quincey, the author, were born in Manchester.