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Policing and Protest in Manchester: The Moss Side Riots

Examine the background and legacy of the Moss Side Riots in 1981, and explore key contemporary issues of policing and racism.

817 enrolled on this course

Riot police in silhouette
  • Duration

    6 weeks
  • Weekly study

    2 hours

Understand what civil unrest tells us about our communities

The recent Black Lives Matter protests and riots across the world following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have highlighted difficult legacies from the past and provoked reflection about our shared histories.

On this course, you’ll explore the riots that occurred in Moss Side, Manchester in July 1981, learning more about the historical experiences of ethnic minority communities in England.

Discover the history of the Moss Side riots

You’ll explore what life was like in Moss Side and Manchester at the time, and take a close look at the short- and long-term causes of the riots in 1981.

Taking a broader view of British history, you’ll also examine how the riots in Manchester compared to similar disturbances that year in Brixton and Toxteth.

Consider the social impact of the riots

Alongside noted Mancunian historian Wesley Fleure, you’ll investigate how the country and the media reacted to the unrest, how it changed Manchester, and explore the relevance of Social Contract Theory in modern Britain.

Ultimately, you’ll use the riots as a tool to explore contemporary issues surrounding racism, policing, and protest, evaluating the effectiveness of civil disobedience as a method of protest and learn what the rioters were able to achieve.


  • Week 1

    An introduction to the Moss Side Riots

    • What were the Moss Side Riots?

      A short introduction to the course

    • Moss Side erupts

      A narrative of the riots on 8th - 9th July 1981.

    • What is Social Contract Theory?

      An introduction to Social Contract Theory

    • Conclusion

      What have we learned this week?

  • Week 2

    What was Moss Side like in 1981?

    • A history of Moss Side

      A summary of the evolution of Moss Side in the decades before the riots

    • Moss Side's cultural history

      Moss Side's multi-cultural population made it an exciting and vibrant place to grow up. Its night life attracted visitors from across Manchester.

    • Problems for the Moss Side Community before 1981

      This section explores the problems facing Moss Side in the 1970s that helped increase tensions.

    • Conclusion: was trouble in Moss Side inevitable?

      A summary of this week's topic

  • Week 3

    What caused the Moss Side Riots?

    • The causes of the Moss Side Riots: introduction

      An introduction into the many causes of the Moss Side Riots and an analysis of the complexity of explaining events.

    • The Brixton Riots April 1981

      A summary of the Brixton Riots as a way of understanding the Moss Side Riots

    • The Toxteth Riots July 1981

      A crucial influence on the Moss Side Riots were the riots in Toxteth, Liverpool, which started a few days before those in Manchester.

    • Unemployment in the early 1980s

      An overview of the economic problems of the early 1980s and the increasing unemployment.

    • Policing and the Moss Side Riot

      A discussion of the policing of the Moss Side community and the resentment this caused.

    • Conclusion: what best explains the Moss Side riots?

      A chance for you to discuss whether you think the riots were inevitable or not.

  • Week 4

    The reaction to the Moss Side Riots

    • Why is media portrayal of the riots so important?

      This section looks at the key issues about media portrayal and the different ways people were told about the riots.

    • Part 1: the reaction of the media

      This section discusses how the riot was portrayed in the print media and how a hostile narrative was created of the rioters and their intentions.

    • Part 2: the political reaction

      This section examines what the response to the riots was in the government, the debates in the Houses of Parliament and the wider responses in society.

    • Conclusion: the "myths of Moss Side"

      We discuss the issues raised in this unit so far.

  • Week 5

    Reports and Recommendations

    • The Hytner Report

      This section looks at the formal inquiries that were set up in the aftermath of the Moss Side Riots.

    • The Moss Side Defence Committee

      Members of the Moss Side community set up their own group to represent their views.

    • The Scarman Report

      This looks at how the Moss Side riots played part of a wider debate within Britain about the causes and significance of the events of the summer of 1981.

    • Conclusion: reports and reactions

      A summary of week 5

  • Week 6

    What did the Moss Side Riots achieve?

    • Introduction - what did the riots achieve?

      An introduction to the final week which explores the consequences of the Moss Side Riots.

    • Did the Moss Side Riots achieve better policing?

      An examination of the impact the riots had in the long-term

    • Social Contract Theory & the Moss Side Riots

      This allows us to consider the impact of the riots through the prism of Social Contract Theory

    • Conclusion: policing and protest

      Here you will have the chance to create a social contract fit for the challenges of the modern world.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Assess the relevance of Social Contract Theory in modern Britain
  • Explain what life was really like in Moss Side at the time of the riots
  • Identify the short and long term causes of the violence
  • Identify similarities and differences between the Moss Side Riot and other disturbances in 1981, such as in Brixton and Toxteth
  • Engage with how Britain reacted to the Moss Side Riots, including in the media and Parliament
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of civil disobedience as a method of protest
  • Describe what happened during the Moss Side Riot in 1981

Who is the course for?

This course would appeal to learners interested in issues of racism, protest, policing and other topical debates. It would be of particular interest to school students studying history and politics, but no specialist knowledge is required.

Who will you learn with?

History teacher at Manchester Grammar School.

History teacher at The Manchester Grammar School with a particular interest in modern political history.

History and Citizenship teacher from London with an interest in post-war European History and Political Theory

Who developed the course?

Manchester Grammar School

Our history dates back to the time of Henry VIII, when The Manchester Grammar School was founded in 1515 by Hugh Oldham, Bishop of Exeter, to provide ‘godliness and good learning’ to the poor boys of Manchester.

The School proceeded to build a reputation as one of the country’s leading educational establishments, a position it still holds today as an independent day school.

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