Manchester Consular Association was formed on 24th April 1882 but there had been consuls in Manchester for many years before then. The first evidence of the existence of consuls or vice consuls in Manchester takes us back to the early 1820s when consuls were appointed to represent two countries, the United States of America and Gran Colombia. The latter was only represented until 1830 when it broke up, ultimately becoming what are now Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela. France appointed its first consul in about 1824. By 1845, Turkey, Spain and newly independent Belgium had appointed theirs.
As the number of consuls and vice consuls in the city increased over the next five or six decades a culture of co-operation soon emerged. By the early 1880s there were more than twenty consuls in the city. No doubt many knew each other through other public office or through commerce but a view emerged that the co-operation at a consular level between consuls representing different countries was of benefit to all. A circular was sent to all consuls proposing a meeting to be held at the office of the Belgian Consul on 24 April 1882. The principal item of business was to agree to hold a formal dinner on 24th of May of that year, this date then being the Queen’s Official Birthday. A committee was formed to implement the decision and resolve all the arrangements. It is clear that the intention was to create an organisation, not just to arrange a single dinner. The first meeting of the committee on 2nd May 1882 resolved that there would be annual appointments of chairman and vice-chairmen.
Invitations were sent to the Mayors, Bishops, MPs and Town Clerks of Manchester and Salford, the President of Manchester Chamber of Commerce, the Recorder of Manchester, the Chief Constable, the Vice-Chancellor of Manchester University and the owners and editors of local newspapers.
The first dinner was attended by twenty consuls and included many official guests. It was regarded as such success that it was to become a permanent feature. The following year there were nineteen consuls present and even more official guests. Apart from suspension during some of the war years, the dinner has continued in various formats to this day.
The new body was named the Union of the Consular Body in Manchester. This rather laborious title lasted only five years and at the AGM of 1887 it was changed to the more precise name it has to this day. At the same time the office of Chairman was renamed as President.
The Association did not come into existence to hold a single annual event. It was born out of a system of, and need for, mutual support and exchange of information for which its social gatherings were the mechanism. It was not long before there were regular meetings over lunch, with guest speakers. These meetings had become monthly by the very early 20th century, if not before.
In 1914 its first constitution, the Rules, was drawn up. This introduced the concept of associate members. Initially this term referred to past members who had retired from consular duties, but in 1925 this was further extended to include junior consular officials.
In 1925 the members agreed to make a special subscription to purchase a new badge of office for the Lord Mayor of Manchester. The original was said to be rather worn out at the age of about seventy-five, with the odd diamond occasionally coming loose! The members raised £415, a very considerable sum in those days, and the City Council accepted the gift. Today’s members can still see the result when the Lord Mayor attends official Association events, and the badge has already outlived its predecessor by some margin. The closer relationship with the City led to an invitation to join the Armistice Day Ceremony and ever since 1929 the Association has taken part in the Ceremony and laid a wreath at the Cenotaph.
Although partly designed by a committee in 1882, for its first fifty years or more the Association resisted the concept of a standing committee. It relied on its officers to administer it, with adhoc committees occasionally used. It was not until 1937 that an executive committee was created. Its structure then was almost exactly the same as it is today.
Recent years have seen fundamental changes in the consular scene. Decline in Manchester’s core industries loosened ties with traditional overseas markets. The development of electronic systems for passports and visas has reduced the scope of activity of some honorary consuls and this came along with a tendency for embassies to reduce provincial representation. Having said that, a student of the Association’s history would find that the closure of some consulates and the opening of others has been a feature of the Manchester scene as long as there have been consuls. Moreover, the resurgence of the regional economy and the shift of consular activities to add more of a commercial cultural and educational bias has resulted in the opening of new Consulates General and the appointment of more honorary consuls, thus reversing the trend.
To reflect these changes, in 2013 the Association extended its membership to include officers and executives of institutions or bodies that promote trade, commercial, cultural, educational and scientific matters and that have been set up by and are representative of overseas governments.
In the same review the committee examined the Association’s purpose and concluded it was much the same as it was in 1882. It affords a mechanism whereby consuls can gain knowledge, information and learning, and connect into the extensive network that each consul has. New career consuls learn more about the city and region to which they have been posted while new honorary consuls learn more about what being a consul means.
For information about purchasing a copy of the Manchester Consul book please contact the association on firstname.lastname@example.org