Manchester’s Black Market, 1939 – 1945

Tucker, Adam John (2020). Manchester’s Black Market, 1939 – 1945. Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University postgraduate module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a distinction.
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
Copyright resides with the author.


This study is an examination of the local black market in the City of Manchester during the period of the Second World War. The dissertation questions the extent to which the war affected the city’s black market, how Manchester’s citizens used it and to what degree the traditional local industries shaped this. It further questions how the black market in Manchester was influenced by ongoing changes to government legislation during the war, and the extent to which the local market was controlled by organised criminals.

The study will address two of the debates surrounding black market activity during the war: those of the historians Edward Smithies and Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska. These debates will be considered in a local context. Smithies argument is that existing studies of British black markets during the Second World War and the subsequent period of austerity are largely of a national nature and, aside from specific examples used to illustrate an argument, lack particular detail regarding local markets. This work seeks to redress the balance by demonstrating the extent of the local black market in a regional industrial city. Zweiniger-Bargielowska argues that the extent of the black market during the war challenges the conventional narrative of a nation unified during the war and that black market activity can effectively act as a barometer of public acceptance of government legislation.

Primary sources will be used to create data to illustrate the arguments. These will include calendars of prisoners from the Manchester City Assizes and Quarter sessions, and the Manchester Police Chief Constable’s reports to create statistical data to illustrate the extent of Manchester’s black market. These will be supplemented be newspaper reports which will provide context and opinion. Finally, the archives of the Mass Observation project will be used to illustrate public opinion.

The study will conclude that the principal stimulus of black market activity in wartime Manchester was the circumvention of government regulation, whether for profit or subsistence. It will furthermore support Zweiniger-Bargielowska’s argument regarding the notion of shared sacrifice by demonstrating how all classes and genders were involved in black market activity, and demonstrate how Manchester’s tradition industries created opportunities for the involvement of organised crime.

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