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Nineteenth-century German merchants and industrialists migrated to Manchester for trade and brought with them the German model of university education and many young Britons, intrigued by chemistry or music, went to study in Germany which created a strong bond between Manchester and Germany.

Germans in Victorian Manchester included Frederick Engels (and his London friend, Karl Marx), the engineers Charles Beyer and Henry Simon, the musicians Charles Hallé and Adolph Brodsky, and several eminent physicians and scientists. Key figures at the University such as Henry Roscoe had been educated in Germany. Many of these individuals lived around Oxford Road and the former church building to the west of the Samuel Alexander Building (now known as the Stephen Joseph Studio) once served the German community.

Henry Simon (1835-99) studied engineering in the new Polytechnic in Zurich and moved to Manchester in 1860. He later set up a very successful business manufacturing machines for corn-milling and for the production of coke.

Simon was for many years President of the Manchester Schiller Institute, a liberal cultural society. He resigned in 1899, protesting the growth of German imperialism and militarism. His many public causes included music, especially the Hallé orchestra, cremation, and education for science. 

From its beginning, Owens College had employed teachers of German, but in 1895 Simon funded a Professorship in German Literature. It was meant for the resident teacher, Hermann Hager, a noted expert on classical antiquity, but he died before he could be appointed.

Henry Simon’s son Ernest Darwin Simon (1879-1960), later Lord Simon of Wythenshawe, was an important local and national politician, Chair of Council of the University 1941-57 and a major benefactor.  

The chair in German continues to be named for Henry Simon. One of the best known members of the departments was W G Sebald (1944-2001), who taught here in 1966-9 and directed the student production of Georg Büchner’s Leonce und Lena. Manchester features in Sebald’s haunting essays, The Emigrants (published 1992 in German, 1996 in English).