Once upon a time, Salford City was a free borough with greater cultural and commercial importance than its big neighbour Manchester. This is because it was once the judicial seat of the ancient Salfordshire, a historic county of Lancashire, if you can believe it. Then came the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and early 19th century that put Manchester in pole position, and it’s sort of been that way ever since.
Salford City continued to be a key player in the Industrial Revolution. It was a major cotton and silk spinning and weaving factory town. It is also home to the region’s inland port, Manchester Ship Canal, vital to the shipping trade. But here’s the thing – Salford is full of its own unique, surprising history that you can definitely bring up at dinner parties. Not sure what we’re on about? We’ll take you through it.
The birthplace of the British vegetarian diet
The place? Salford. The diet? Meat free. Ironic since its founder was the reverend of Beefsteak Chapel – Reverend William Cowherd. There are many meat-based jokes to be made, but we’ll spare (rib) you the pain.
Reverend Cowherd got really into a Swedish theologian Emanual Swedenborg, who had a series of visions that led him to believe God wanted him to interpret the bible. His interpretation basically ended up with him believing that everything in the physical world had spiritual value. So Cowherd took this meat free life on and demanded his congregation do the same.
He was actually a pretty sound guy committed to making the community better. This was a time where the poorest would eat the cheapest cuts of meat which would be offal – stomach or intestine. These cuts of meat were so ‘angin we don’t even sell them anymore, so really giving it up wasn’t so bad. He provided free medical services, a lending library, and free vegetable soup, which made him quite a popular guy.
In 1800 he fell out with the Church of England so set up his own Swedenborgian church in Manchester. Then he fell out with Manchester so set up his own Swedenborgian church in Salford. Then he fell out with the Swedenborgs entirely and started the Bible Christians from his chapel in Salford. It’s a lot of falling out.
Our meatless reverend went on leading his congregation in the meat free way until he died in 1816. The congregation was taken over by Joseph Brotherton, who went on to help start the Vegetarian Society in 1847. A bunch of people living in the city, who were sheltered from the reality of meat production, started to question the ethics of eating animals. There were actually more vegetarian restaurants in Victorian Manchester than there is today. Mad.
The Grandfather of modern weekends
If you thought the vegetarian facts were cool, you’ll love this.
A long, long time ago (around 1843), a young lecturer and director at the Salford Lyceum called Robert Lowes taught a course on humour and pathos. He was involved and interested in providing the poor and working classes opportunities to further their education and general overall betterment of themselves.
The Salford Lyceum had over 300 members, it was open to both men and women, but a large proportion of its members were women. The introduction of the Lyceum was to offer a place to go after work that wasn’t an alehouse (imagine). They provided a comfortable and warm room and provided books and periodicals. There were no big expenses, and it was a place to do work and stay until 9pm. It was a successful institution.
But Lowes’ work for the working class in Salford City didn’t stop at the Lyceum. He recognised that the working class faced considerable hardship – long days, low pay and poor conditions. At the time, most of Manchester’s working class would have worked 6 days a week for over 15 hours a day. Lowes could see the value in letting people rest, so he transitioned from lecturing to campaigning for the workweek reform. He began the campaign for the half-holiday, bringing the workweek down from 6 to 5 and a half days.
His campaigning paid off, and he managed to pass the first-ever Saturday half-day in Britain. This was massive since it was passed in Manchester – the engine of the Industrial Revolution and the world’s largest industrial city at the time. He went on to expand his campaigning and turned towards needlewomen who were some of the most exploited workers in the era, working up to 20 hours a day. He even started ‘The Lancashire Witches Holiday Herald’ a publication to further the worker’s rights campaign.
Robert Lowes is the grandfather of the modern weekend. Without his campaigning we may not have the workweek we have now. His campaigning was revolutionary, and his name often goes unknown. Unlike his great-great-grandson Sir Ian Mckellen, who is ridiculously famous for his incredible and long acting career and his activism for the LGBTQIA+ community and equality. That’s right, Sir Ian’s great-great-grandfather basically invented the weekend. What a family.
Enjoying the Salford history lesson? Why not go and meet some of the city’s historical figures! Ordsall Hall dates back to 1177 and has seen many occupants through its time, some of which allegedly still roam the Hall.
One enigmatic figure who’s known as The White Lady appears in white. Most say she’s the figure of Lady Margaret Radclyffe, whose family owned the Hall for generations. She died broken-hearted in 1599 after the sudden death of her favourite brother Alexander. I mean, we’ve all got a favourite sibling but roaming the halls of our house after hundreds of years of mourning seems a bit dramatic, no?
If while at the Hall you suddenly smell the sweetness of roses in the air then you may be in the presence of Cecily, a young girl that haunts the walls of the Hall. Apparently, she likes to come and visit when there are school parties and young children around. She might just be looking for some friends, but we still think it’s spooky.
Lastly there’s Sir John Radclyffe. He likes to hang out in the Star Chamber, which he built in the 1360’s. It’s the oldest part of the Hall and is the ‘man’s world’, where the Radclyffe Lords would have conducted their business, written letters, half meetings and kept their armour. It’s also where the Radclyffe Bed is, the only original piece of furniture left in the Hall, and of course, it belonged to Sir John and his lady. Apparently, his apparition is very keen on the ladies as many female visitors have reported his advances on many occasions.
You can visit Salford’s paranormal residents during Orsall Hall’s ghost nights.
Here’s the thing, Salford has some mad history, but it’s still very much got it going on today.
You can visit the twinkly lights of MediaCityUK – one of the world’s leading media and tech hubs and home to the UK’s first buildings to achieve net-zero carbon status. The Lowry is a world-class arts centre offering Salford a hub for and community growth. Salford is the home to the longest-running soap on tv: Coronation Street. There’s a zillion places to eat and drink in Salford with a range of cuisines to suit anyone’s taste buds.
Explore this section for all things Salford based on whether you’re planning a visit or need something to do on a rainy day. Don’t forget you can stay up to date with the latest and greatest by following our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
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