Manchester's fight for affordable food, free trade and its legacy.
The 1815 Corn Laws (otherwise known as the Bread Tax) limited international trade on cereals like wheat and maize. This was meant to protect British landowners against foreign competition, so that British producers could keep their prices high. In effect it pushed the price of bread so high that many people could no longer afford to buy it. Twenty three years after the Corn Laws came info effect, a group of Lancashire men formed the Anti-Corn Law League. Most of the men came from the emerging mercantile class, whose businesses relied upon international trade. The League started with a small group of men but the campaign grew quickly. Their campaigning machine included large numbers of events, petitions, and publications. After eight years of petitioning parliament, the Corn Laws were repealed in 1846,
Broadside celebrating the Repeal of the Corn Laws, 3 Aug 1846
Free Trade Hall Interior, 1865
Although the Free Trade Hall is one of the most beloved buildings of Manchester's heritage, many do not know that it is the Anti-Corn Law League we have to thank for it. The League built a temporary pavilion on the site in order to hold large public meetings because the other spaces in Manchester were not big enough. It then was rebuilt into a permanent structure soon after, in which much of the Anti-Corn Law League events and lectures were held. The building was re-built after the repeal of the Corn Laws, into the building which still stands on Peter Street today.