The Industrial Revolution
shaped the modern world. Britain led that
revolution, and Manchester can claim to
be its first industrial city. Many factors
combined to produce the Industrial Revolution
- agricultural reform and a banking system,
the centralisation and mechanisation of
production, the development of steam power,
the establishment of bulk transport facilities
and the lack of regulation. All these phenomena
were presented in the embryonic city of
Manchester. The biggest and most lucrative
industry was textiles, specifically cotton
manufacture, and that industry was centred
Manchester became the boom town of the late
18th century. Ancoats was the first suburb to
combine industry and housing, and in 1798 George
and Adam Murray completed the first phase of
what is now Manchester's and the world's oldest
surviving steam-powered urban cotton mill. By
1806 the complex was complete. It comprised
two separate cotton spinning mills - the extended
Old Mill, now known as Old/Decker Mill, and
New Mill - connected by two warehouse, preparation
and office ranges, to form a large single development
grouped around a central quadrangle. Within
the quadrangle were two engine houses, each
housing a Boulton and Watt steam engine and
associated boiler houses. Also in the quadrangle
was alarge canal basin, linked to the adjacent
Rochdale Canal by a tunnel. This was the route
in for coal and raw cotton, and the route out
for spun cotton. Pedestrian and vehicular access
was through an arched opening in the west face
of the quadrangle - the Great Gate. Each day
over a thousand operatives would arrive before
7.00am - late arrivals were locked out and lost
a day's wages. Apart from controlling operatives,
the layout was a defence against theft, vandalism
and riot. When completed, Murrays' Mills were
a marvel. Visitors came from the rest of Britain,
Europe and America to see these vast buildings,
housing powered machinery, illuminated by gas
light and operated by 1,300 men, women and children.
At a time when Napoleon sought one future for
Europe, Murrays' Mills showed the way the modern
world was really going.
Within 10 years of completion,
the Mills were radically re-structured to take
larger and more efficient spinning frames. The
buildings had originally been constructed to
carry light loads and efforts were regularly
made to increase carrying capacity as machinery
became bigger and heavier. They remained in
use for cotton spinning until the late 1950's
- an amazing 160 years, following which they
were used for a variety of light industrial
uses, most of them still related to textiles.
the commercial value of Murrays' Mills reduced,
so did any regular maintenance. The buildings,
weak to begin with, were now subjected to water
penetration, timber decay, and failing masonry.
Their very fragile condition did not lessen
their importance, however. The buildings were
amongst the most significant survivals of the
Industrial Revolution. They had been Grade II*
listed in 1989 as buildings of special architectural
or historic interest, an accolade awarded to
the top 6% of listed buildings in England. They
were located within the Ancoats Conservation
Area, also known as the Ancoats Urban Village,
and within an area shortlisted for designation
by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Their repair
and re-use was recognised as important for the
social and technological history of the country,
and for the regeneration of Ancoats.
Buildings Preservation Trust first started to
explore the possibility for funding the permanent
repair and reuse of Murrays' Mills in 1996.
Supported by the Ancoats Urban Village Company,
Manchester City Council, English Heritage and
many other partners, an application to the Heritage
Lottery Fund for substantial grant aid was submitted
in 1999 and received a 'stage one pass' in 2000.
The buildings were included in the Northwest
Regional Development Agency's area wide Compulsory
Purchase Order and acquired by the NWDA in 2003.
This enabled the HLF to confirm its funding
of £7.164 million, with further funding
being provided by the NWDA. Following archaeological
excavations in the courtyard and building recording
over the 2003/04 winter, the £10 million
repair contact started on site in September
2004. The restoration works, which included
the repair and strengthening of all structural
elements, provision of new slate roofs, and
new windows, cleaning and repairing of brickwork,
the rebuilding of the missing storeys of the
Murray Street block and the reinstatement of
the central courtyard and canal basin, were
completed in July 2006.
The project did not seek to preserve
the Murrays' Mills buildings in aspic, but rather
to repair them as unobtrusively as possible,
strengthening them to enable them to be reused
for a wide range of purposes. The Heritage Lottery
Funded project's objectives were:
- To complete the permanent repair
of the Murrays' Mills complex as part of the
wider urban regeneration of the Ancoats area.
- To enable full appreciation
of the significance and architecture of these
important mill buildings.
- To create flexible internal
volumes that could be further converted by
others for a wide range of possible uses,
including residential properties on upper
floors and a mix of commercial, cultural and
leisure uses at lower and upper ground floors.
- To encourage sympathetic conversion
work of a quality appropriate for such important
- To encourage cultural and community
uses in parts of the buildings and leisure
use of the courtyard area, to physical and
intellectual access for all.
Following a two-stage competitive
tendering exercise in Spring 2004, Wates Construction
was appointed as main contractor for the permanent
repair project on a traditional JCT contract,
having submitted a tender price within ABPT's
Mills during renovation
The project involved:
- External and internal repairs
-repairs to the primary structure (columns,
beams, joists, roof trusses etc). Brickwork
repairs, re-pointing where necessary, and
light, non-abrasive cleaning. Re-roofing in
new Welsh slate.
- Reinstatement of lost elements,
particularly two storeys of former office/
warehouse accommodation along Murray Street.
(The lost Bengal Street wing, forming the
fourth side of the original courtyard, will
be rebuilt in a contemporary manner by the
- Provision of new windows to
a small-pane design, metal-framed, double-glazed
and with a high acoustic performance.
- Excavation and reinstatement
of the canal basin in the internal courtyard,
which was originally linked to the Rochdale
Canal by a tunnel.
- The works were completed within
budget and on time.
For more information on Murrays'
Mills see our Press Briefing.
The shell repair of Murrays' Mills
has been documented by a publication - "A
& G Murray and the Cotton Mills of Ancoats".
Prepared by Ian Miller and Chris Wild of Oxford
Archaeology North, the book offers a detailed
survey of these buildings, and though it is
aimed at academics and specialists in industrial
archaeology, it will also be of interest to
general readers. Price: £16.95 (plus £2.50
p&p); make cheques payable to "Oxford
Archaeology North" and send to Oxford Archaeology
North, Storey Institute, Meeting House Lane,
Lancaster, LA1 1TF, or visit www.oxfordarch.co.uk
Ancoats Buildings Preservation
Trust received a number of awards for their
work on Murrays' Mills:
- British Archaeological Award
2006, presented by The Association of Industrial
Archaeology, for Murrays' Mills Permanent
- Chartered Institute of Building:
Project Manager: Silver Award for conservation
- The Northwest Building Conservation
award 2007, awarded by The Royal Institution
of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
- Northwest Insider Regeneration
Award in the 2007 Property Awards. More
- In the North West Regional
Construction Awards 2007, Ancoats BPT, together
with Wates Construction and BDP, won the Northwest
Infrastructure Award for Murrays' Mills, jointly
with New Islington.
- BDP won the Institution of
Structural Engineers North West Region Award
for Best Sustainable Project 2007 for their
work on Murrays' Mills.
- Bernard Talbot, as construction
project manager on Murrays' Mills won the
silver award in the Chartered Institute of
Builders conservation category, national awards,
A competitive selection
process was undertaken in 2004 for the appointment
of a fit-out developer for the repaired Murrays'
Mills, following an advertisement in the Official
Journal of the European Community and widespread
- The competition was managed
by the Ancoats Urban Village Company on behalf
of the Northwest Development Agency, which
owns the freehold of the Murrays' site. Ancoats
Buildings Preservation Trust and the Heritage
Lottery Fund were closely involved in the
selection process, because of their investment
in the complex.
- The selected 'preferred
developer' is a consortium comprising Inpartnership
and the Burrell Company, both from Edinburgh.
The highly acclaimed practice of Richard
Murphy Architects has been appointed by
the developer to design the conversion proposals.
- The competition brief
called for a comprehensive conversion scheme,
plus reinstatement of the lost fourth side
of the Mill courtyard in a contemporary idiom.
It set high aspirations for the site, advocating
a wide range of end uses including some public
- Burrell Inpartnership's
proposals include 130 apartments in the two
main mill buildings along with live/work units
and a hotel in the new Bengal Street building.
- The development is expected
to start on site in 2007/08 and be completed
in phases over three years.