Manchester Geographical Society Archive

  • Reference
      GB 133 MGS
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      7.5 linear metres
  • Location
      Collection available at University Archive and Records Centre, main University Library.

Scope and Content

Archive of the Manchester Geographical Society. The archive is comprehensive and documents the Society's activities from the late Victorian period to the present day.

MGS/1 are the minutes for the Society's bodies including Council, the executive committee, finance/general purposes and education committees, as well as the ordinary meetings. Many of the earlier minute books include copies of printed lecture programmes and syllabi, reports, correspondence and cuttings as well as the minutes. MGS/2 are the annual reports for the Society and run from 1928-2010 (earlier reports will normally be included with the minutes). These records are a good overview of the Society's goings on which also include financial accounts.

MGS/3 comprises the collective financial records which include ledger books, debits books, cash books, wages and petty cash books, and account books. MGS/4 are the membership records which include subscription books and register of members. These are of particular interest to the researcher as the information they contain, such as occupation, address, and date of membership are useful for tracking the nature of the Society's recruitment and membership. MGS/5 are a run of news cuttings books which, along with newspaper cuttings, contain Society invitations, lecture programmes and details, blank membership forms, Society social functions, printed notices, excursions to name a few. MGS/6 are several photograph, post cards, and scrapbook albums (the Society's large collection of glass slide photographs is not part of the archive).

MGS/7 are the records of the Manchester Geographical Society Building Company Ltd. which was set up to fund the building of the new premises in the 1900s. The series contain all records relating to the Company including minutes and agenda books, annual accounts, financial records, and share certificates. MGS/8 are records created by the voluntary organising group called the Victorians. The records consist of minute books, account books, lecture arrangements, and excursion announcements. MGS/9 consists of one minute book of the Society of Commercial Geography, correspondence, and draft rules. MGS/10 consists of agenda books for the Council, Executive Committee, Annual and Ordinary meetings of the Society. MGS/11 are administrative files, mostly correspondence of the Treasurer and Secretary, and the Honorary Secretary's working papers from the early 1980s to 2009. MGS/12 comprise syllabi for the lecture programme, mainly dating from the 1970s to the 2000s (earlier copies may be included with the minute books and cuttings books). MGS/13 is an incomplete set of Society newsletters from the 1970s and 1980s. MGS/14 is miscellaneous material including lecture notebooks of Society members, some of Nigel Brown's research materials for his history of the Society; some interesting letters concerning conflict in the Lower Congo received from a Society correspondent, and a letter confirming the safety of the explorer H M Stanley at the conclusion of the Emin Pasha relief expedition.

This archive is important for researchers interested in the development of geography as a discipline, and in understanding popular interest in geography since the late Victorian period. The archive contains important material on non-metropolitan receptions of colonial exploration and development in Britain, and the understandings of the relationships between geography and empire. It also contains information on how local and regional geography developed as an area of study, including the relationships with local history, archaeology, planning, economics and sociology. The Society's work on promoting geography at all levels of the formal education system is also well documented. The archive is of particular interest, as there appear to be few surviving archives for similar geographical societies in the UK.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Manchester Geographical Society was founded on 15th October 1884. It was the result of a growing local interest in the subject of geography, including from businessmen who saw improved geographical knowledge as a valuable aid to foreign commerce and trade. The timing of the Society's foundation coincided with a lecture delivered by H. M. Stanley on Africa, which had aroused great local interest.

A previous venture, the Society of Commercial Geography, initiated in 1879 to promote geographical knowledge in the cause of foreign commercial development, had soon foundered. One of the founders of this body, Herbert Vaughan, Bishop of Salford, had pointedly drawn attention to similar societies which were well established in continental Europe, but absent from Britain. Interest in Manchester in such undertakings had grown since the cotton shortages during the American Civil War and the trade recession of the late 1870s.

The new Society appointed officers and a council, with a declared objective to "promote the study of all branches of Geographical Science, especially in its relations to commerce and civilisation."

Lectures were a large part of the Society's activities, and the Society proved adept in attracting leading explorers, travellers and missionaries, to speak at its meetings. These included: Robert Falcon Scott, Fridjtof Nansen, Roald Amundsen, Ernest Shackleton, Robert Peary, Frederick Lugard, Halford Mackinder, Harry Johnston and Dudley Stamp. Society members were also active speakers, disseminating information to local audiences in this way. Lectures originally focussed on foreign countries, with considerable interest in polar and mountain exploration, and increasingly, the geography of the local region. Following World War II (1939-1945), the Society worked hard to appeal to both its traditional and the new academically-minded members. It included academic lectures throughout the year with more travel-based talks, which resulted in alleviating the view of some critics that the Society had let its standards fall and was becoming a mere travel club.

The Society was also active in promoting geography as an academic subject, and it was this objective, Nigel Brown has suggested, which had the greatest impact in the long-run. The Society campaigned to advance the teaching of geography within schools and lobbied for it to be recognised at university level, as was the case in Germany. In 1891 the Society achieved a success with the appointment of a lecturer in geography at Owens College, (now the University of Manchester), although it took until 1930 for a Professor of Geography to be appointed. Relations with the University department declined somewhat in the middle decades of the twentieth century, but by the end of the 20th century, there was active involvement of academics not only from the University of Manchester, but also the University of Salford and Manchester Metropolitan University.

The Society also did much work with local schools. Lectures were also given to children and the Society worked with the local education authority. From 1945 the Society received an annual grant from the Manchester Education Committee to provide lectures to school children. This was a large focus point for the Society until the 1970s, by which time geography was an established subject in schools, and the use of projectors to aid teaching geography became commonplace too. This was seen as a major achievement for the Society.

The Society produced a quarterly journal, which became an annual publication after the First World War. This maintained a high standard and the Society exchanged information with other domestic and foreign geographical societies. After it ceased being annually published in 1929, the journal appeared only irregularly. In 1980 the Society relaunched its journal as the Manchester Geographer, which ceased publication in 1993, and in 1997 there was a further relaunch with the North West Geographer, now the on-line North West Geography).

The Society occupied for many years a building at 16 St Mary's Parsonage in the city centre. Following the expiration of its lease in 1900, the Society established a building company to construct new purpose-built premises at this location. To pay for this, the Manchester Geographical Society Building Company was floated and shares were priced at £10 each. The new building opened on 19th October 1905, with a members' room, a library and lecture hall to seat 200 people. In 1973 the building was sold and the Building Company was liquidated. This raised considerable capital for the Society, which was used to support research through grants and scholarships. The Society occupied various offices after that date; its library was transferred on deposit to the University of Manchester Library in 1970, shortly before it left its old building.

For many years, the Society had a volunteer group of committed enthusiasts called the Victorians - taking their name from a desire to commemorate Queen Victoria's jubilee in 1887. The Victorians assembled and published summaries of the journals that were acquired by the Society, and formed a lecture group. They also organised excursions, which ranged from an evening's outing to a local river to a week in the Hebrides. The Society has always had a strong social life, with many functions and dinners being organised over the years. The Victorians also lectured and gave talks at a variety of societies, schools, and bodies across the area, but were eventually disbanded in 1974.

The Society continues to be active in the promotion of geography in the Greater Manchester area, through lectures, providing grants and issuing publications. Its current declared objectives are "to further the pursuit of geographical knowledge and to encourage the study of geography at all levels." In 2010, the Society became a charitable trust, whereupon it ceased to have a membership, and its Council was discharged. Since that date it has been administered by its Trustees.


There was no demonstrable order to the archive on its accession. While the minute books, annual reports, financial records, agenda books and so forth formed easily distinguishable series, the archivist has created series for photographic material, news cuttings books, correspondence, and membership records.

  • MGS/1 - Minutes of the Society's Bodies
  • MGS/2 - Annual Reports
  • MGS/3 - Financial Records
  • MGS/4 - Membership Records
  • MGS/5 - News cuttings Books
  • MGS/6 - Photographic Material
  • MGS/7 - Manchester Geographical Society Building Company Ltd. records
  • MGS/8 - Victorians records
  • MGS/9 - Society of Commercial Geography records
  • MGS/10 - Agenda Books
  • MGS/11 - Correspondence
  • MGS/12 - Syllabi
  • MGS/13 - Newsletters
  • MGS/14 - Miscellaneous

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader, unless otherwise stated.

The collection may include material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 1998. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The University of Manchester Library (UML) holds the right to process personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the UML to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, UML has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

Acquisition Information

The Manchester Geographical Society's library and archive was transferred to the University of Manchester Library in October 1970. These records form the bulk of the current archive and contain most of the records dating from 1880s-1950s. In 2013, a deposit of MGS records was transferred to the University of Manchester Library from Greater Manchester Record Office (Acc. 2013/37) (former reference - G/Geog/Add), where they had been on deposit since the late 1990s. The most recent Society records were transferred from the Manchester Geographical Society in 2013 (Acc. 2013/27 and 2013/39). The archive is held on indefinite loan from the Society.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.


Further accruals will continue to be deposited.


T.N.L Brown, The History of the Manchester Geographical Society, 1884-1950(Manchester: Manchester University Press: 1971).

M.D. Leigh, "The Manchester Geographical Society, 1884-1979", Manchester Geographer Journal, 1980 .

T.W. Freeman, "The Manchester Geographical Society, 1884-1984", Manchester Geographer Journal, 1984 .

Paul Hindle, "Turmoil and Transition: the Manchester Geographical Society, 1973-1997", North West Geographer, 2.1, 1998.

Paul Hindle, "Continuing Change: Manchester Geographical Society, 1998-2010", North West Geography, 10.2, 2010.

Manchester Geographical Society website, <>,[accessed on 17/01/2014] also has information on the Society's activities.

Geographical Names