‘Germans in Britain’ is a touring exhibition created by the Migration Museum Project to celebrate the productive impact of Germans on British life. At the Manchester Central Library from 10 March-9 April 2015, it is complemented by an exhibition ‘Germans in Manchester’, making use of materials from the Central Library’s archives and private collections. The focus is on the nineteenth century, when Manchester’s industrial supremacy and its tradition of non-conformist Liberalism attracted a great number of Germans to the city.
They left behind the revolutionary turmoil of Europe 1848-49, when an elected all-German parliament in Frankfurt had been crushed by Prussian military might, sending many of its members into exile. But they were also drawn to Manchester as ‘Cottonopolis’, a centre of cotton production and dyeing technology, and the heart of the industrial revolution.
Friedrich Engels was among these nineteenth-century Germans in Manchester, when he was sent to work in his father’s cotton business at the Ermen & Engels mill in Salford in 1842, and famously recorded the appalling poverty which industrialization had brought about in the city.
You can see a map, photos and excerpts from Engels’ descriptions of these impoverished areas at the exhibition (see right)
But of more lasting importance to the city itself were the many German merchants, musicians, scientists, engineers and industrialists who settled in Manchester in the nineteenth century and helped shape its intellectual, industrial, commercial and cultural life. The textiles industry drew chemical engineers such as Carl Friedrich Beyer and Carl Schorlemmer, or German-trained engineers such as Henry Edward Schunck and Henry Enfield Roscoe, all founding members of Owen’s College, which became the Victoria University of Manchester.
The German physicist Arthur Schuster was a key figure in establishing a world-class physics laboratory at the University, in what is now the Rutherford Building. It was the site of the later collaboration between Ernest Rutherford (who split the atom) and Hans Geiger (of the Geiger counter).
The leading Manchester industrialist Henry Simon was a great supporter of the University, endowing a chair of German and part-funding Schuster’s physics laboratory (see photo above right). He had arrived in Britain in 1860 and had by 1880 founded two major engineering companies and revolutionized the technology of flour milling in England. His commitment to engineering informed by scientific research was combined with a strong sense of civic duty and support for the arts, which meant that his impact on the city was profound and wide-ranging, as much of this exhibition seeks to show.