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Reinventing the North – a virtual journey – five online talks by Chris Moss

posted on 05/05/23


This topical series will reflect on the historical evolution and industrial legacy of the northern half of England, the perennial question of its flailing economy, and future hopes and challenges across the region. Chris Moss, currently working on a book about the northwest, will present a virtual tour of the Lancashire region’s architectural highlights, industrial sites (extant and razed), transport networks and key cultural landmarks. As well as Liverpool and Manchester, he’ll also make stops in Accrington, Blackburn, Bolton, St Helens and Wigan and many other towns often missing from cultural tourism itineraries.

Questions to consider will include: Why is the North of England still largely defined by its industrial past? Why were the towns that fostered the Industrial Revolution left to moulder by successive post-war governments? How have Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle moved from shipping, trading and textiles to tourism, retail and entertainment? And, how will the attempt to decolonise the histories of cotton and maritime commerce change perceptions of the region from within and without?

HS2 and “levelling up” are only the latest schemes that promise to join the two halves of England and Great Britain. In a period between local and general elections, we’ll address the usefulness of notions of a “Red Wall” and the north-south divide. Was the north always fundamentally different from the south, or were the changes wrought in the 19th century responsible for forging the current breach?

They take place every Tuesday from 4th July to 1st August at 4.30pm (GMT +1) and, including Q&A, will probably last an hour. They are available for viewing for eight weeks after the last episode is streamed (26th September 2023).

Register for the webinar series for £65


The talks 

1. Liverpool – Port of Departure (4th July 2023)

The story of the industrial north properly begins in 1715, with the opening of Liverpool’s first commercial dock. An ancient village on a remote bluff would expand to become Britain’s second city, playing a leading role in the slave trade and Britain’s imperial ambitions, and catalysing the social and economic transformation of northwest England. We’ll look at Liverpool’s Irish and American connections, Jesse Hartley’s remarkable docklands constructions, the city’s commercial interventions in its hinterland, and the formation of one of Europe’s most distinctive metropolitan identities.

In the second half of the 20th century, Liverpool experienced ruinous economic decline and is only recently re-emerging as a cultural and tourism destination. The city’s literary and musical legacies will be discussed in the light of its changing fortunes.

2. Muck and brass – The making and unmaking of the North (11th July 2023)

Coal provided the impetus for building the first canals, improving the turnpikes and powering and expanding the UK’s rail network during the Victorian period. The Industrial Revolution was a many-headed beast, but historians have tended to recycle origin stories based around the River Derwent and Ironbridge Gorge. This talk explores how Southwest Lancashire became an important crucible, thanks to the Lancashire coalfield, Sankey Canal, and the burgeoning of local glass and chemical industries. A hitherto isolated and nationally overlooked agricultural region became a transport and logistics hub and, in time, the most populous region of the country outside London.

The dismantling of the northwest’s manufacturing sector and the winding down of coal in the 1980s constituted a post-industrial cataclysm, as drastic in its effects as the industrial revolution of two centuries earlier. We’ll look at film, radio and television depictions of the northwest and how they articulate the changes that occurred.

3. Cottonopolis and Cottonia – From Manchester to the world (18th July 2023)

Manchester, notwithstanding its early role as a Roman road junction, was an insignificant backwater until the textile industries of East Lancashire turned it into a manufacturing and trading superpower. The city’s merchants and manufacturers and mill-town innovations underpinned the slave trade, the British Empire and the rise of global capitalism. Asa Briggs called it the “shock city” of the 19th century. We’ll look at its physical transformation during the boom years, as well as the social and psychological impact on Mancunians and Pennine Lancastrians.

We’ll also explore Manchester’s scientific prowess, its famous libraries and its artistic and literary history, as well as its late 20th century reinvention as “Madchester”, the world’s music capital.

4. Radicals, reformers and rugby league (25th July 2023)

The most familiar history of the south of England focuses on kings, queens, courtiers and counsellors. The history of the north, by contrast, is typically dominated by a tale of amateur inventors and vigorous entrepreneurs. In this talk, we’ll look at the region’s “shadow history”, from Nonconformists to the power-loom rioters and cooperative movement and the rise of the modern Labour party. Every developmental stage of the Industrial Revolution had profound consequences on people’s lives and economic realities. Radical protest and social reform sought to mitigate these impacts, often in the face of resistance.

Changes of occupational patterns led to the emergence of many of the social and leisure activities we associate with the north. We’ll discuss the emergence of seaside resorts, professional rugby and football teams, mechanics institutes, working men’s clubs and Clarion clubs, and their continuing importance in the region’s collective memory. 

5. T’other north: the North East (1st August 2023)

Is there even such a thing as the North, beyond a merely geographic definition? It takes longer to travel by train from Liverpool to Newcastle than it does to arrive in London. The Pennines have been both a natural bridge and a border throughout the north’s long history. In his final talk, north-westerner Chris Moss will share a personal journey to the northeast to compare its history and fortunes with those of his home region.

What does it mean to swap the Atlantic for the North Sea? Does Newcastle, left out of the HS2 project, link its future to Scotland? The newly-minted Northern Independence Party envisions a regional separation of the north from the rest of England and a re-establishing of Northumbria. Is any notion of northern secession idle fantasy, or can northerners re-imagine themselves into a bright new future, as argued in Alex Niven’s recent book The North Will Rise Again?

The speaker

Chris Moss

Chris has been writing about music, the arts, books and travel for around 30 years. Following a decade working in Argentina, he specialised in Latin America, and leads MRT tours to Argentina, Chile and Spain. In early 2021, as lockdowns eased, he relocated to his home county of Lancashire and was commissioned to write a cultural history of northwest England, combining memoir, history and travel writing. He has a regular column in the Guardian highlighting northern towns “where tourists seldom tread” and writes regularly for the Telegraph’s Travel sections.

Register for the webinar series for £65

Frequently asked questions

What methods of payment do you accept?

An electronic invoice will be sent to your e-mail address 1–3 working days after you have completed our registration form. Payment can be made online using AMEX, Apple Pay, Google Pay, MasterCard or Visa.

How do I purchase the webinar series as a gift?

Please contact us specifying how many subscriptions you would like and who they are for (we require their full name and e-mail address). We will invoice you directly, and after we have received your payment we will release the webinar joining instructions to your friend(s) or family member(s).

Can I purchase a single episode?

No, unfortunately not. The series must be purchased in full.

How do I join the webinar?

An e-mail confirmation will be sent to you after you have paid for your subscription, which includes your unique link for joining the webinar. Reminder e-mails will be sent to you one day and one hour before each event. We recommend that you download the Zoom software in advance of the first webinar.

Can I watch the live broadcast(s) on more than one device?

Only one device can be connected to the live broadcast(s) at any one time. If you wish to purchase a second subscription, please contact us.

What happens if I am unable to attend the live broadcast(s)? 

A recording will be uploaded to a dedicated webpage approximately two hours after the live broadcast. For copyright reasons, these recordings cannot be made available indefinitely; access is granted for eight weeks after the final live broadcast of the series.

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