“Poverty is the worst form of violence.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Victoria Station was built in the 1840s. It reminds us of Manchester’s links with people and places, locally, nationally and across the world.
A tiled map in the station shows connections from Manchester to UK towns and cities, and also to European ports and the rest of the world. It reflects Manchester’s status as a hub for industry and trade, and of transportation and migration.
In the 1800s major developments in industry and transport, especially the railways, caused huge growth in Manchester and its population. This changing society included an underclass living in shocking poverty. As the region became industrialised people migrated to the cities; in Manchester, migrants from the Irish Famine added to a desperately crowded slum population. The local area was notorious for its terrible poverty and this actual site is described in Friedrich Engels’ book, The Condition of the Working Class in England:
‘The pauper burial-ground, the station of the Liverpool and Leeds railway and, in the rear of this, the Workhouse, the ‘Poor-Law Bastille’ of Manchester’.
Victoria Station itself is built on the site of mass graves of the poorest citizens: thousands died from preventable conditions, like cholera, linked to poverty and squalid living conditions. The average life expectancy in Manchester in 1841 was just 26 years.
Engels writes about:
“the frightful condition of this Hell upon Earth. Everything here arouses horror and indignation.”
That horror and indignation strengthened support for social change and reform in Manchester. Practical efforts to help the poorest citizens included Ragged Schools, referring to the appearance of the destitute children who attended. They were set up in several UK cities with similar social problems, giving basic education but also food, clothing, and lodging. There were 7 of these in Manchester, and a Ragged School building is just a 10-minute walk away from the station.
Later, campaigns for social reform would lead to improvements in living and working