Think a metropolis made out of cotton – Cottonopolis. It became the term popularly used to describe, even romanticise, Manchester’s nineteenth century industrial prime. Now it is also a term used by the ‘Cottonopolis Coglective’ – the Greater Manchester Steampunk Group which meets regularly around the city, celebrating its heritage, especially the Victorian era.  

Established in 2011, The Coglective is the largest group of its kind in North West England, involving people from many walks of life and often arranging walks, museum trips plus plenty of refreshments, real ale and music.  

But what is steampunk exactly? Although it fits no single definition, ‘Steampunk’ is typically used to describe   genre of science fiction which brings together historical settings, steam power and costume. Outfits are often a key feature of any steampunk meet-up, including the likes of bow ties, watch chains and of course – driving goggles.  

Cottonopolis Coglective is both a celebration and emulation of tradition, which creates a new cultural movement in its own right.  It also has possible links to themes of mystery and intrigue, giving it the properties of a hybrid genre, which can incorporate elements of horror, fantasy and even historical romance.  

The first recorded use of the word ‘Steampunk’ was in 1987 – and to find more about the style, its cultural connections and links to Manchester, HAUNT spoke to Louie Hamblett, Chair and Founder of the Cottonopolis Coglective.

How long has the Coglective existed and what is the inspiration behind it? 

“6 years. Myself and a friend realised that there wasn't a local group or contingent, so we worked together to create one to go forth and seek out all those who wanted a Greater Manchester based group.” 

Is it a celebration of the past – or something more than that? 

“It is Victorian Sci-Fi, so we mix the superb dress sense of yesteryear with the modern world. However, above all else we are a social movement with no rules on how we dress… so long we look great and have fun. Steampunk is at its heart a social gathering.”

Do you think steampunk is particularly suited to Manchester? Why? 

“Yes absolutely, Hence our nickname ‘Cottonopolis’. The city was at the centre of the Industrial revolution, producing more cotton goods than any other nation and also the city of arguably England’s first canal (The Bridgewater Canal) and passenger railway.” 

What kind of events can people get involved with? 

“We have regular jaunts, outings and excursions to stately homes, museums, mills and other places of interest at least once a month.” 

The industrial era has a certain level of darkness/ mystery associated with it. Do you draw on this/use the influence of this in the Coglective? 

“Plenty of our locally based authors do and some reflect this in their outfits. However, there is no set rule with steampunk… only your imagination is your limit.” 

Why do you think it is important that the work of the Coglective continues?  

“We don’t do any specific work, or have a set goal or mission. Our key aim is to meet regularly and have fun gatherings.” 

New members are welcome, and Cottonopolis Coglective can be joined via the link below or typing out 'Manchester Steampunks' or 'Cottonopolis Coglective' on Facebook

By Emily Oldfield

Photos with thanks to The Cottonopolis Collective and Louie Hamblett