Books to inspire your student life in Manchester

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Dive into books that put Manchester in the heart of the story. Manchester has inspired many authors over the years, and if you’re coming to Manchester as an SAF Scholar, reading is a great way to learn about the city.

Uncover Manchester’s unique history, the people, and culture that make up the social fabric of this city. Share books with your classmates, explore the city through fresh eyes, and impress tutors with your newfound knowledge.

Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life by Elizabeth Gaskell

Published in 1848, the author interviewed and used dialogue from the factory workers who were such an important part of Manchester’s industrial life. The result is a harsh and realistic look at Victorian working conditions in Manchester. The novel tells the story of Mary Barton, the daughter of a trade unionist torn between her working-class lover, Jem Wilson, and the mill owner’s son, Henry Carson. It reveals a class struggle and the appalling conditions behind the Industrial Revolution.

You may visit or even stay in a converted mill or warehouse in the city at some point, so this book is a look at how these buildings were originally used and the people who worked in them.

Manchester Unspun by Andy Spinoza

The author is well placed to write a book on how Manchester emerged from post-industrial shabbiness in the 1970s to the cultural powerhouse it is today. Spinoza moved to the city in 1979 and established the art magazine City Life before writing for the Manchester Evening News and starting his own PR firm. He was there when the city underwent a cultural revolution and was with the movers and shakers who played such a pivotal part in the city’s growth.

This factual book tells the story of Manchester’s modern social history through the author’s personal experiences. It’s funny, revealing, and full of gossip that gives you an understanding of the Manchester you see today.

Sirens by Joseph Knox

Fancy a gripping crime novel set in Manchester? Sirens exposes a sordid world of corruption, violence, and drugs hidden below Manchester’s shiny surface. The plot features flawed detective Aiden Waits seeking answers to a recent disappearance and a 10-year-old cold case that seems to involve local drug barons and corrupt politicians.

Written in the style of an American crime novel, the writing is very much British: full of Northern humor, unforgettable Mancunian characters, and clues to be uncovered. Sirens is an action-packed page turner that takes you into a criminal world with plenty of Manchester rain.

The Gangs of Manchester: The Story of the Scuttlers, Britain’s First Youth Cult

This is an in-depth study of the violent Victorian street-fighting gangs of Manchester in the late 19th century. It paints a vivid picture of Manchester slum life where pubs, music halls, and gin shops thrived and people, young and old, gathered in the streets.

Digging through old court records and newspaper recordings, the book uncovers what made these gangs appealing to youths at the time, and the streets, canals, and marketplaces that became fertile fighting territory. Strong local allegiances formed, and gang members were identified through clothing choices that doubled up as weapons.

Admired, feared, and misunderstood, the lives of young scuttlers in this book gives important historical context to Manchester society in the Victorian era.