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About Ancoats

The Making of Ancoats

Murrays' MillsAncoats is often referred to as the world's first industrial suburb an edge-of-town industrial estate, built on a Georgian street grid. Within the area were mills, associated housing (and workhouses), community facilities (churches, pubs and, later, schools) and related businesses (cotton spinning, clothing manufacture, furniture makers and glassworks).

The development of Ancoats was the result of two phenomena associated with the economic and industrial expansion of Manchester in the late 18th century. The first was the increased demand for housing arising from the rapidly growing population of the town. The second was the need for suitable sites for the new breed of textile mills that could take advantage of emerging technologies: the development of steam-driven textile machinery.

The housing expansion began at the corner of Great Ancoats Street and Oldham Road, on land owned by the Leigh family, and then spread outwards. Building speculation then drove the further expansion, northeastwards with plots of land within a gridiron pattern of streets being sold to the buildings or terraced and back-to-back housing. The earliest houses were built back-to-back around small courts with the 2-up, 2-down terrace becoming popular later.

The mill development came from the marriage of steam power technology and greatly improved spinning machines. The mills were built along the line of the proposed Rochdale Canal, the two developments obviously of mutual benefit to their separate developers.

The Ancoats Conservation Area, at the heart of the old district of Ancoats, contains many buildings which tell the story of Ancoats and the development of the lndustrial Revolution in the north of England. The fifty-acre site has been designated as an Urban Village and in 1999 was included on the UK Government's tentative list of potential World Heritage Sites (along with Worsley in Salford, Castlefield and the canal networks that link them). A nomination is to be made for WHS inscription in 2006 to UNESCO.

From boom to decline

  • The development of Ancoats began in the late 1700s, and peaked during the Industrial Revolution, when Manchester became known as 'Cottonopolis'.
  • Immigrant workers from across Europe came to the area, and it retained a cosmopolitan population well into the 20th Century. Irish and Italian rivalry was strong but amicable and there was a tenacious community spirit.
  • Ancoats saw its fair share of casualties during the two World Wars and contributed to the war effort, with the mills producing military uniforms and parachute silks.
  • Cotton spinning ceased in Manchester and other textile related uses were found for the mills: clothes manufacture, machinery repairs and warehouses for imported goods' rag trade.
  • The 1960s witnessed further decline as, during the mass clearance of the area's terraced homes, the population was re-housed in the north and east of the city. The mills, attracting decreasing rents, fell into disrepair.
  • Newspaper printing, one of Ancoats' 20th Century industries, fell victim to changes in technology, with the Daily Express ceasing to be published from its famous black glass building in 1989. The closure of Express Printers was also the start of Ancoats' renewal, as the impact of low investment and increasing unemployment became recognised.
  • In 1989, part of Ancoats was designated a Conservation Area and 13 buildings listed, 7 of them at Grade 2*, putting them in the top 6% of listed buildings in the UK. Subsequently, a number of regeneration agencies were established including the Ancoats Urban Village Company. The aim is to rebuild Ancoats as a place where 5,000 people will live, work and relax, either in regenerated historic buildings or new properties of the highest quality.
  • In the late 1990s English Heritage's Conservation Area Partnership scheme aimed to 'stop the rot' providing funding to preserve key buildings with temporary roof coverings, window boards and the clearance of flammable materials. Gradually, new public realm works are improving street surfaces, lighting and signage, as well as introducing public art.
  • In 2002 the North West Development Agency implemented a Compulsory Purchase Order Scheme to halt speculative property purchase in the area, helping to attract highly regarded developers to create exciting mixed-use schemes. £14m of Heritage Lottery Fund and government regeneration grants was secured by ABPT to repair and regenerate the area's most important listed buildings.

Map of Ancoats

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© Ancoats BPT 2004