Half a mile away in Chetham’s School (now Chetham’s College of Music), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels would meet in the library, consulting the works of the early English economists and formulating their revolutionary concepts, defining modern Capitalism and plotting its end. Famously, their writings were in part informed by Engels’ in-depth studies of the living conditions of the mill and factory workers in the catchment area of the George and Dragon.
Almost inevitably, Engels would have walked Swan Street many times, past the George & Dragon and other hostelries in the street, with his secret wife Mary Burns and her sister Lizzy as they ‘guided him around the city, ensuring his safety in areas where a well-to–do foreigner was a rare sight and potential target’ 36 – areas like nearby Angel Meadow, described as follows by a visitor in 1849:
‘the lowest, most filthy, and the most wicked locality in Manchester … inhabited by prostitutes, their bullies, thieves, cadgers, vagrants, tramps, and, in the very worst sties of filth and darkness, those unhappy wretches, the low Irish.’32
Engels, who spent many years in Manchester, also did not hold back in his description of people in the city’s industrial areas:
‘these pale, lank, narrow-chested, hollow-eyed ghosts, whom one passes at every step, these languid, flabby faces, incapable of the slightest energetic expression’.37
Were these poor folk among the first customers of the George & Dragon? We may never know but we can say with certainty that it would be Irish entrepreneurialism, in the form of three generations of the McKenna family, which would revitalise and sustain the pub throughout the latter half of the 19th century and into the 20th. Of this more later: Chapter 3, The McKennas.