Queen Victoria, Manchester and a Ship Canal

It was in October 1851that Manchester first welcomed Queen Victoria to the region – the first monarch for 150 or so years – and both Manchester and Salford went to great lengths to host a memorable event. The escort for the royal party included a Guard of Honour of the Yeoman Cavalry who accompanied them as far as Cross Lane, the boundary between Pendleton and Salford. At this point the cavalry were dismissed “for fear of disturbances, as Peterloo was still fresh in the minds of the people.” 1851 had already been a significant year for Prince Albert with the Great Exhibition in London’s Hyde Park, an event which celebrated industry and technology, an important connection with Manchester. On Friday 10th October the Queen and Prince Albert processed through Salford to Peek Park, where a suggested 80,000 Sunday school children performed the National Anthem, a moment which was considered to be the most celebrated of the visit: “One of the great moral features of Manchester – of the manufacturing districts generally – is the extent to which the Sunday-School system is carried… educating thousands who would otherwise have grown up in utter and deplorable ignorance”

From Peel Park the royal procession continued into Manchester which the Times described as, ‘a population new on the soil, very mixed, very laborious, accustomed to hear all sides of political questions and to decide them on Utilitarian principles’.

In May 1857 Prince Albert arrived in Manchester, one month before the Queen, to open the Art Treasures Exhibition and also inaugurate one of the first portrait statues to be erected of Queen Victoria during her reign – a scene which would be replicated on a much grander scale in 1894.

With Albert’s death, Queen Victoria’s visits became fewer but – on Monday 21st May 1894 – she visited Manchester to perform the official opening of a new Ship Canal. It had taken seven years to construct the canal and it now stretched for 35 miles, creating the city’s link to the open sea and independent shipping. In the years up to the visit, the city had experienced periods of both hardship and prosperity, with the depression of the 1870s and the continuing cycle of the cotton trade, thus the ship canal symbolised the future of not only cotton, but also trade in general for Manchester.  The Queen knighted the mayor of Salford, William Henry Bailey and the lord mayor of Manchester, Anthony Marshall at the opening of the Canal.  For many it was said that: “The strain of purely joyous sentiment suggestive of youth and high hope and bright anticipation, scarcely perhaps to be looked for in those more recent years”.

The Manchester Guardian hailed the importance and success of the visit, in which the Queen saw a Manchester that ‘did not exist in 1851 or 1857’ and quoted the Morning Post’s claims that the ceremony was one of ‘exceptional interest and importance’. Not only did the Queen officially open the canal, which represented technological and engineering advances, but she also viewed a city changed in appearance since her last visit. The Queen rode past the stately warehouses like that of Messrs. Watt on Portland Street; the newly built Manchester Town Hall and the Albert Memorial, in Albert Square – Manchester’s tribute to her late husband.


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