Cafe Historique

Dominique Tessier
Local Historian + Museum Consultant
Founder of Manchester’s Cafe Historique
November 2011

Since its creation in Autum 2009, the Cafe Historique has been presenting talks, discussions and quiz events promoting new interpretive approaches to local history. A recent focus on the history of science and medecine led to surprising discoveries such, as mentioned below, Sigmund Freud’s stay in Manchester.

I still marvel at your description of the seven weeks spent in 1875 visiting your brothers in Manchester, England. If the verbal portraits of your brothers and city were paintings, they would be displayed in a prominent gallery in Vienna.

Source: Letter written in 1883 by Martha Bernays to Sigmund Freud

“Freud and Manchester Historical Women” was the Cafe Historique’s first quiz event. Fascinating links between psychoanalysis and Thomas de Quincey were also explored. Born in Cross Street, Manchester in 1785, the author of the Confessions of an English Opium Eater is credited for the first use of the word subconscious. Interestingly de Quincey lived in Moss Side which, as illustrated by the quote below contributed to its status a prime touristic attraction to cosmopolitan Victorian travellers such as William Sanders Scarborough.

Manchester is rich in libraries as I found under Dr. Axon’s guidance. The famous Chetham Library of some 60,000 volumes has many rare manuscripts – most interesting to an antiquarian. Then there is the John Rutland’s Library of some 60,000 volumes has many rare and ancient manuscripts which includes the costly Althorp Library of Earl Spencer, totaling some 90,000 volumes of the finest collection of Bibles in the sixth century. There is also a Free Reference Library of 125,000 volumes. I could have spent months among these books with Dr. Axon’s enriching knowledge and comment to aid me. Add to this the small De Quincey collection in Greenheys near Dr. Axon and we understand something of the city’s wealth in books.

Source: William Sanders Scarborough, The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough: An American Journey from Slavery to Scholarship

This quote was read by Elizabeth Gow, Archivist at the John Rylands Library, during her talk on Cuba born Enriqueta Rylands – it was presented as part of the Cafe Historique’s Manchester Women series (March 2011). Back to Greenheys – sometimes spelled Green Hayes – in one of her memoirs, Suffragette and Pan Africanist campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst provides an interesting description.

Green Hayes: the very name seems caressing. In its garden were borders of London pride; the starry little pick flowerets wonderfully beautiful amid the black soot of Manchester; like fairy flowers (…)

Volumes have been written about Greenheys and its police station…

On 8 July 1981 more than 1,000 mostly young people besieged Greenheys police station on what is now Charles Halle Road and tried to batter their way inside before being repelled.
Source: The Manchester Compendium: A Street-by-Street History of England’s Greatest Industrial City, Ed Glinert

Named after one of its most famous residents, Charles Halle Road deserves closer historical investigation. Sir Charles Halle, German conductor and founder of the Halle Orchestra resided there with his family for about 40 years. His first wife Desiree, native of New Orleans, was related to French painter Edgar Degas.


Interestingly in 1914 Jerome Caminada, Manchester’s first Victorian detective, died a short walk away from Moss Side Police station. “One of the Manchester’s most successful thief-takers”, he was according to Don Hale “of mixed race parentage with an Irish mother and an Italian father”. Caminada’s autobiographical “Twenty-five Years of Detective Life” (1895) – is a must read as it challenges current stereotypical understanding of Manchester’s crime and gang culture.

The Manchester with all its great moral, religious and political associations, its commercial enterprise recognised in every part of the world, and its corresponding wealth, still has its dark spots.

Areas such as Deansgate are one of the dark spots covered in “Twenty-five Years of Detective Life”.

Within an arrow’s flight of the princely grandeur of the Town Hall may be seen many dreary dwellings of misery and wretchedness.

For the very first time this October, the Cafe Historique presented a Black History Month programme which opened at Victoria Baths, Manchester (02/10/11) with a talk by Bill Williams on early Black communities in Ordsall and Greengate. Bill stressed that Black presence in Manchester has been continual for at least 200 years. With the opening of its Ship Canal in 1894, Manchester joined a global network port cities which led to the formation of new urban communities including newcomers, such as a Japanese hairdresser, arrested in the 1920s for using his salon as a front to store contraband goods.

From beginning to end, amazing connections and historical facts were revealed throughout this first Black History Month. The last talk, The 1945 Pan African Congress: Manchester contribution (28/10/11) by Washington Alcott, Manchester’s city centre as home to an influential cosmopolitan pan africanist hub led by Guyana born T. R.Makonnen, key funder of the 1945 Pan African Congress and owner of several businesses. His Pan African Federation and Bookshop was located at 58 Oxford Road – it might have been visited by Sylvia Pankhurst who was a friend of T. R. Makonnen. She also corresponded with African American Sociologist and President of the 1945 Pan African Congress W.E.B. Dubois, who at the time of her death wrote:

I realised … that the great of Sylvia Pankhurst was to introduce Black Ethiopia to White England, to give the martyred Emperor of Ethiopia a place of refuge during his exile and make the British people realise that Black folks had more and more to be recognised as human beings with the rights women and men.
Source: The Correspondence of W.E.B. Dubois: Volume III, Selections 1944 – 1963

Each Cafe Historique event is an invitation to reconsider both the nature and the geography of Manchester’s history. When it comes to exploring the cosmopolitan nature of the local, autobiographies and comparative family histories are the key tools used by the Cafe Historique. Focusing on individual histories allow to effectively fill current historical interpretative gaps and challenge stereotypical approaches to “community histories”. In keeping with a long standing local tradition, the Cafe Historique also promotes the free exchange of knowledge and the creation of new self-learning networks.

More information about Cafe Historique at or email

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