The Watkin Society

Welcome to the webpage of The Watkin Society (WatSoc). We are a new group, formed in 2019, the 200th anniversary year of the birth of Edward Watkin. He and his father, Absalom, were two of the most remarkable men in the Victorian Age. You can read all about their lives and achievements through the project pages on our website but perhaps the most remarkable thing about them is that today they had been almost totally forgotten. We have already done a great deal about that through our work on the Friends Of Rose Hill projects in the last few years. We are now aiming to make it much more than that!

The Watkin Society is campaigning to make their story widely known and not just in Manchester, where they lived and died. We are also going to promote presentations, discussion and research for anyone (including children through their schools) who might enjoy finding out more about these two fascinating characters. Click on the image below for our leaflet.

In October we hosted an open meeting in the Central Reference Library, Manchester. The meeting was well attended and we took the chance to ask people where their interest lay and how we could get them more involved. This will be the starting point to take our voyage of rediscovery wider than the environs of Northenden and Manchester! We will be publishing our first newsletter before Christmas with an update on our progress.


If you would like to know more please contact us using the form below so that we can let you know of activities in your area.


Who was Absalom Watkin?

Absalom Watkin

  • He was born in London in 1787 and died in 1861 at Rose Hill in Northenden (it is situated on Bronington Close, just off Longley Lane) in 1861. He bought the house in 1832. He is buried in the family grave of St Wilfrid’s parish church in Northenden.
  • He spent most of his life fighting for the rights of the poorest families in Manchester, including co-authoring the Peterloo Massacre petition,voting reform and repeal of the Corn Laws.
  • He was a friend of the two great reforming statesmen of the mid-nineteenth century: Richard Cobden and John Bright.
  • He was the co-author of the petition that drew national attention to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, when 17 people were killed and over 400 injured by troops during a peaceful demonstration in favour of voting
  • He was at the centre of Manchester’s battle for voting reform which led to the Great Reform Act of 1832.
  • He fought for the repeal of the Corn Laws that had kept the price of bread out of the reach of the families of factory workers in Britain. The campaign brought down the price of bread – and the Government.
  • He was one of a group, the Manchester Men, who shaped the history of modern Manchester by their fight for Free Trade.

Who was Edward Watkin?

  • He was born in Salford in 1819 but his family moved to Rose Hill Northenden in 1834. The house passed to him at his father’s death and he lived there for the rest of his life. He died at Rose Hill in 1901 and is buried in the family grave of St Wilfrid’s parish church.
  • In 1880, over a hundred years before Eurostar, he started to dig a tunnel under the English Channel. He was stopped by the British Government because they thought the French might invade England through it..
  • He collected two million pounds at today’s prices to fund the first public parks in Manchester and Salford.
  • He built the last mainline railway, the Great Central Line, into London from the north of England.
  • At the request of the British Colonial Secretary he helped to create Canada with a railway line linking the Pacific with the Atlantic.
  • He tried to build an Eiffel Tower in London. The site he chose is now Wembley Stadium and the foundations of his tower are still under the present pitch.
  • He bought a painting “The Icebergs”, that hung forgotten for over a century in Rose Hill till it was discovered and sold at Sotheby’s in New York for over four million pounds.
  • He was an MP for thirty years and was knighted in 1869 (his formal title was Sir Edward Watkin of Rose Hill). He was made a baronet in 1880.