Some boroughs of Manchester purvey the feeing that they are extensions of the city itself, administrative segments that are intrinsically linked to the metropolitan centre. Bury is not one of them.
On leaving the tram at Bury, the last stop on the line, you encounter a memorial to John Kay, a man whose legacy is almost allegoric of the history of his home town. In 1733 Kay’s invention of the flying shuttle revolutionised the weaving process; with additional adaptation by his son Robert. As the AI of its day this led to a widespread fear of job losses alongside a boom for those who owned and operated the newly opened cotton mills.
Kay didn’t actually reap the rewards of his invention. His house was ransacked by a mob of textile workers fearing for their jobs, while many of the mill owners refused to pay him royalties for using his invention. He died in poverty in 1780 after relocating to France.
The cotton industry saw Bury and the surrounding towns prosper from the proliferation of textile mills in the region, supported by the slave trade, technical inventions and steam power. The American Civil War, however, brought the cotton trade to an abrupt halt. Bury, along with the surrounding region, fell into industrial decline with widespread poverty and mill closures – an issue not ignored by Abraham Lincoln. Lack of innovation in new technology and cheaper imports, exacerbated by India’s boycott of British cotton products, led to further decline from the early 20th Century onwards.
“We have been going since 1865 here on the market and the old market. It has been going from strength to strength. You can get everything from baby clothes to headstones and everything in between. Bury has a separate identity to Manchester, people are born and bred here and they speak differently”.
Tommy acknowledges that industrial decline has forced Bury to innovate (Chadwicks do a “V pud”, a vegan black pudding option that uses beetroot juice).
“The cotton mills have gone and even the paper mills are going now. Bury market is now one of the biggest employers, with the people who work on it and service it, with around 350 stalls indoor and out. Today there were seventeen coaches that arrived with tourists; last week it was thirty coaches. We are still a market town, we’ve still got that mentality. Every town needs its own identity.”
On the day of my visit the award-winning market was hosting a Hong Kong food festival which blended effortlessly next to the net curtain stall and ice cream van.
One of the great features of Manchester is the variety of areas that are within easy striking distance of the city centre that still retain their own identity, but are not afraid to adapt and welcome change and new ideas. This is at a time when many Mancunians feel that the city centre with its gleaming high-rises is becoming increasingly unfamiliar to them.