The Stockton & Darlington line opened in 1825 successfully reduced the cost of transporting coal from 18s. to 8s. 6d. a ton. It soon became clear that large profits could be made by building railways. A group of businessmen in Manchester and Liverpool led by William James recruited George Stephenson to build them a railway.
The Liverpool & Manchester railway was opened on 15th September, 1830. The prime minister, the Duke of Wellington, and a large number of important people attended the opening ceremony that included a procession of eight locomotives. Large crowds assembled along the line and when the train entered Manchester the passenger carriages were pelted with stones by weavers, who remembered the Duke of Wellington's involvement in the Peterloo Massacre and his strong opposition to the the proposed 1832 Reform Act.
The Liverpool & Manchester railway was a great success. In 1831 the company transported 445,047 passengers. Receipts were £155,702 with profits of £71,098. By 1844 receipts had reached £258,892 with profits of £136,688. During this period shareholders were regularly paid out an annual dividend of £10 for every £100 invested.
The railway rapidly increased the population of Manchester. By 1851 over 455,000 people were living in the city. Housing conditions were appalling. It was reported that in some parts of the city the number of toilets averaged only two to two hundred and fifty people. Only forty per cent of the children living in this area reached their fifth year.
Manchester is famous for its libraries. The library founded by Humphrey Chetham (1580-1653) was the first free public library in Britain. Joseph Brotherton, a local MP, played an important role in 1849 in helping Salford become the first municipal authority in Britain to establish a library, museum and art gallery. The following year Brotherton joined William Ewart in persuading Parliament to pass the Public Libraries Act.
In 1846 John Owens, a successful Manchester cotton merchant, died and left most of his wealth to help establish a further education college for men that would not have: "to submit to any test whatsoever of, their religious opinions". His Unitarian friends, John Fielden and Thomas Ashton, also raised money for the venture and arranged to purchase the former home of Richard Cobden, in Quay Street, Deansgate. This became the first premises of Owens College when it was opened in 1851.
The Nonconformist business community in Manchester continued to raise money for the project and supported by Charles Prestwich Scott, the editor of the Manchester Guardian, the trustees were able to arrange the building of new premises at Oxford Street. Designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the new Owens College was opened in 1873. Seven years later, the college, along with those in Liverpool and Leeds, became Victoria University (Manchester University after 1902).