“An unfrequented wilderness” is how historian James Bridges described Manchester in the 1700’s. Bridges would hardly recognise the quiet rural parish now. It is the hub of central Jamaica and many of its towns are thriving commercial and social centres.
Located in south-central Jamaica, Manchester covers a total area of 320.5 square miles or 830.1 kilometres, making it the sixth largest parish in the island. To its east is the parish of Clarendon and St. Elizabeth lies to its west and Trelawny to its north.
Kingston, Jamaica’s capital is only 61 miles or 98 km away and Montego Bay, the island’s second city is 70 miles or 113km northwest.
At the beginning of the 19th Century, coffee farmers in the hill districts of Clarendon, St. Elizabeth and the then parish of Vere, began a campaign to have a separate parish established.
The main reason for this action was the vast distance between the hill districts and the commercial and administrative centres of all three parishes. The nearest public building was 40 miles/64 kilometres from the hillside communities of Mile Gully, May Day and Carpenters Mountain and none of these towns had a church.
On November 29, 1814 residents from all three communities made a petition to the assembly. They asked for a new parish, with a capital which would meet their religious, civic, judicial and administrative needs.
On December 13, 1814 the new parish was formed and named after the Duke of Manchester who was then serving as the Governor of the island. The capital was named Mandeville, after his son and heir.
Two years later, the vestry was established and it served as the municipal authority. The new governing body moved quickly to have public buildings erected in the capital, including a court house, a parsonage, a workhouse and a church. By 1926 churches had also been built in Mile Gully, May Day and the Carpenter’s Mountains.
In the days prior to the abolition of slavery, Manchester’s population was never as large as that of the surrounding parishes because the hill terrain was not suited for the cultivation of sugar which was then the island’s most lucrative crop.
However, after emancipation many of the newly-freed slaves moved into the area to grow coffee and other crops on hillside farms. This was the beginning of what is now a thriving agricultural industry and major money earner and employer for the parish.
In the old colonial regime, Manchester had the prestigious distinction of being the most English of Jamaica’s parishes and it was known as “the playground for the landed European gentry”.
In 1942 it was discovered that Manchester was the site of one of the largest deposits of bauxite in the country. Bauxite is a red ore which is processed to produce alumina and eventually aluminium. This discovery led to the growth and development of Manchester’s bauxite and alumina industries which facilitated the speedy development of the parish and Mandeville in particular.
Today, the economy of Manchester is still deeply rooted in both bauxite and agriculture. About 60% of the lands in the parish are occupied by farmers.