Last week, the wife and I took the boys to Manchester. The visit was mainly to see the Man U stadium at Old Trafford and was it impressive! The boys were ecstatic and that made us happy. I was of course more interested in the old buildings that dotted the city and more importantly, I was keen to see if there were any vestiges of the famed mills that once spelt the death-knell of Madras as a centre for textiles.

The English had come to Madras with cloth as their main business and by the early 1700s, it was being exported in enormous quantities, for all of which gold was brought in from England. There was even a complaint that England was being drained of its bullion in order to meet the greed for cloth of all types, most of it being brought in from the Coromandel Coast.

But with the industrial revolution in England, all that changed. Manchester and surrounding Lancashire became home to several mills all of which became hungry for cotton. India supplied a small quantity of it, the bulk coming from America but with the Civil War breaking out in the latter country in the 1860s, cotton dried up and India became one of the principal suppliers. Much research was done on growing cotton of the American variety in Tuticorin, Coimbatore and Salem. Though this did not succeed greatly, Madras and more importantly Bombay, became sources for cotton, a boom that lasted till 1867. Right through this time, all the testing of Madras cotton was done at Manchester and prices were fixed in that city.

But by then, the damage to Madras textiles had been done. The mill cloth from Manchester being mass-produced was much cheaper and it practically wiped out the local industry. Madras became an importer of textiles and remained one till independence. Manchester dictated much of Madras’ industrial policy and it was amidst great opposition that Lord Napier as Governor declared that Madras could not be the preserve of Manchester. He encouraged the setting up of local mills such as the Buckingham and Carnatic (Binny), the Choolai and the A&F Harvey Mills in Madurai and Tirunelveli. But all these did not add up to much and Manchester continued flooding Madras with its “piece goods”.

In 1911, the Government of Madras began attempting the setting up of more industries under the guidance of Sir Alfred Chatterton and this came to meet with more opposition from Manchester. Then in the 1920s, when labour trouble reared its head in Madras and it became more or less imperative that the workers be given sops, it was Manchester that dictated terms! Manchester’s nemesis at least as far as India (and Madras) was concerned was Gandhi with his picketing of foreign shops and the burning of imported cloth. The First World War did its bit what with the disruption to shipping lines and the subsequent Great Depression.

I did not get to see much of Manchester, what with Old Trafford having consumed most of the day. But in the little wandering about that I did, I did not notice any old mills. Have they all gone? Or are they in the outskirts? But I did manage to get a couple of good shots of the Royal Exchange in Manchester. An impressive building and once the place where Indian cotton prices were determined.