- The oldest mention of Molenbeek ("mill stream") dates from the end of the 10th century, when Charles of France is recorded to have accorded certain privileges to six families residing here on the occasion of the transfer to Brussels of the relics of Saint Gudule. The first church, Saint-Jean-Baptiste, already existed in 1174. During the Middle Ages, it belonged to the cuve of Brussels and was closely linked to the city in religious and fiscal affairs. In the 15th century, three roads were laid out at city expense crossing Molenbeek. Inhabitants numbered 830 in 1798 and rose to 11,679 by 1846 following the beginning of industrialization. Molenbeek was the first commune surrounding Brussels to be touched by the industrial revolution, which attests to its designation as "little Manchester." Industry was drawn to the town by its proximity to the city, roadways connecting to Ghent and Antwerp, and position astride the Brussels-Charleroi Canal, which opened in 1832. The adjacent railway terminus at the Allée Verte also stimulated growth in the mid-19th century.Molenbeek has lost territory to Brussels—110 ha (275 acres) in the 14th century, annexed to build the second town wall and 78 ha (195 acres) in 1897 and 1921 to construct the vast freight yards at the Gare de Tour & Taxis as well as dockside facilities for the Port of Brussels.A poor, working-class suburb in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Molenbeek was transformed after World War II. Decrepit neighborhoods near the canal have been demolished and large avenues bordered with modern apartment blocks have been built.
Historical Dictionary of Brussels. Paul F. State.