abpt logo main image
News & Activities

Press Briefing: Murrays' Mills

Murrays' Mills, Ancoats - history

  • Murrays' Mills are listed Grade II* as buildings of special architectural or historic interest, which puts them in the top 6% of listed buildings in England. They are located within the Ancoats Conservation Area (also known as Ancoats Urban Village), and are within an area short listed for designation by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
  • The Industrial Revolution shaped the modern world. Britain led that revolution, and Manchester can claim to be its first industrial city.
  • The biggest and most lucrative industry during this period was textiles, specifically cotton manufacture, and that industry was centred in Manchester.
  • 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.
  • The Murrays' Mills complex was constructed in one continuous phase from 1798 - 1806
  • The Murrays' Mills complex 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 large 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.
  • All the buildings that formed part of the 1806 complex remain today, except for the four-storey Bengal Street warehouse wing, which was demolished following a fire in the mid 1990s. The canal basin, which had infilled in the early years of the 20th century, has been re-excavated as part of the restoration project.
  • 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.
  • Murrays' Mills 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.
  • As the commercial value of Murrays' Mills reduced, so did any regular maintenance. The buildings, weak to begin with, were subjected to water penetration, timber decay, and failing masonry.
  • Ancoats BPT's fundraising campaign began with an initial, but unsuccessful, bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for Townscape Heritage Initiative funding in 1998. A second application was made in 1999, which eventually led to a confirmation of funding of over £7m in 2003. This was quickly followed by an award of over £4.5m from the Northwest Regional Development Agency, which enabled work to start on site in September 2004.

back to top

Murrays' Mills, Ancoats - funding package (restoration project)

Total project cost: £11.9m

Heritage Lottery Fund: £7.2m

Northwest Regional Development Agency: £4.7m

In addition ABPT has received considerable support from English Heritage, the Architectural Heritage Fund and numerous charitable trusts.

back to top

Murrays' Mills, Ancoats - what the restoration project has involved

  • External and internal structural repairs - column strengthening and straightening, beams repairs, supplementary floor joists, repairs to roof trusses etc).
  • Foundation strengthening - some of the old mill foundations were less then 6 inches deep!
  • Brickwork repairs, re-pointing where necessary, and light, non-abrasive cleaning.
  • Re-roofing in new Welsh slate, (random widths, diminishing courses).
  • Reinstatement of lost elements, particularly two storeys of former office/ warehouse accommodation along Murray Street, and the roof of the New Mill Engine House. (The lost Bengal Street wing, forming the fourth side of the original courtyard, will be rebuilt in a contemporary manner by the acquiring developer.)
  • Provision of new windows to a small-pane design, metal-framed, double-glazed and with a high acoustic performance (fitted to external elevations only; the developer plans to use a more contemporary window design for courtyard-facing apertures in the moan mill buildings)
  • Excavation and reinstatement of the canal basin in the internal courtyard, which was originally linked to the Rochdale Canal by a tunnel.

Murrays' Mills, Ancoats - project programme

  • A competitive tendering exercise was undertaken in Spring 2004 for the selection of the main contractor. Wates Construction were appointed on a traditional JCT contract, having submitted a tender price within ABPT's funding budget.
  • Construction commenced on 27 September 2004
  • The contractor is working to a practical completion date in June 2006 (90 weeks after project commencement)

back to top

Murrays' Mills, Ancoats - construction statistics - some interesting snippets

  • We have repaired/replaced over 9,000m2 of floorboarding
  • We have inserted over 18,000m (18km) of new timber joists
  • 89 tonnes of steel reinforcement have been incorporated into the foundations
  • All the buildings have received new Welsh slate roofs - 2,400m2 of new slate roofing
  • The repairs have required over 160,000 new handmade bricks
  • Almost 17,000 m2 of masonry has been cleaned
  • The buildings include almost 800 new windows, containing over 24,000 glazed units
  • The buildings were fully scaffolded, using over 23,000m (£23km) of scaffold board
  • During the contract, the contractor has filled over 400 skips
  • Around 1,500m3 of spoil has been excavated from the canal basin
  • Wates estimate that with 80 to 100 men on site each day, the project has involved over 32,000 man days of labour

Murrays' Mills - the team

Client: Ancoats Buildings Preservation Trust (Director; Kate Dickson)

Architect: Building Design Partnership, Manchester (Design team leader: Ken Moth)

Structural Engineers: Building Design Partnership, Manchester

Quantity Surveyors: Appleyard & Trew, Altrincham, Manchester

Project Managers: GTMS, Manchester

Services consultants: Faber Maunsell

Archaeologists: Oxford Archaeology North

Fit-out developer: Burrell Inpartnership Ltd

back to top

Skills, Schools & Stories

  • 'Skills, Schools & Stories' is an integrated programme of activities designed to provide opportunities for people of all ages to get involved in the restoration of Murrays' Mills and the regeneration of Ancoats.
  • Skills: A series of open days has enabled groups of 14 to 19 year olds to witness and practise construction skills, especially the specialist conservation techniques being employed in the Murrays' restoration project. A construction careers fair is to take place at Murrays' Mills on 06 June.
  • Schools: A teachers' resource pack has been distributed free of charge to all Manchester primary schools. The CD rom will enable Key Stage 2 pupils to learn more about the heritage of their local area, with cross-curricular activities to complement the national curriculum in arts, humanities and ICT subjects. Around 300 primary school have enjoyed site visits and school-based workshops.
  • Stories: A group of volunteers have undergone training sessions in interviewing techniques and photograph scanning so that the oral histories and memorabilia of former residents and workers of Ancoats can be recorded. Entitled 'Ancoats - All Work and No Play?' this project aims to build on the great sense of community in Ancoats and to rekindle that community spirit through intergenerational activities and celebrations. So far over 25 recordings have been made. The project will culminate in an exhibition and publication.
  • www.skillsschoolsandstories.org.uk: In due course a website will be established to reflect each of the three areas highlighted above. Schools will work with web designers to place their text and pictures on site; and sound clips and photographs of both current and former Ancoats residents will be available.
  • Conclusion: We have worked with Primary Phase Consultants and the MEWAM web designers from the Manchester Education Partnership, and with a number of community groups to develop this project. The result is an ambitious programme of activities and events with the potential to engage many local residents and schools children, with regeneration agencies and local service providers. ABPT has attracted new volunteers through the programme and encouraged participants to undertake basic skills and other training on the back of fun activities.

back to top

Murrays' Mills - the future
  • In 2004 a competitive process was undertaken for the selection of a fit-out developer for the repaired Murrays' Mills, following an advertisement in the Official Journal of the European Union and widespread UK publicity.
  • The competition was managed by the Ancoats Urban Village Company on behalf of the Northwest Development Regional 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 site.
  • The selected 'preferred developer' is a consortium comprising Inpartnership Ltd 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 access.
  • Burrell Inpartnership's proposals include 130 apartments in the two main mill buildings along with live/work units, commercial office space and a boutique hotel in the new Bengal Street building
  • The developer has now secured listed building consent for his works to the two main mills and engine houses and hopes to take possession of the Mill complex shortly, in order to start conversion work late in 2006.

back to top

What is Ancoats BPT?

Key purpose: 'to preserve for the benefit of the townspeople of the City of Manchester and of the nation at large, whatever of the historical, architectural and constructional heritage that may exist in and around the Ancoats area of Manchester in the form of buildings of particular beauty or historical, architectural or constructional interest.'
(Extract from our Articles of Association and Memorandum of Agreement 1995)

  • Ancoats Buildings Preservation Trust (ABPT) was established as a Company Limited by Guarantee (Number 3139324) in 1995 and as a Registered Charity (Number 1052163) in 1996.
  • Its constitution is based on the model Memorandum of Agreement & Articles of Association developed by the Architectural Heritage Fund. (i.e. ABPT can operate as a developer, often of last resort, by acquiring historic properties for repair and refurbishment for which no commercial developer can find an economically viable, sympathetic solution and for which there is no other hope for the building's rescue and retention).
  • On account of its charitable status as a Building Preservation Trust, the ABPT can attract grant funding and 'soft' loans for capital projects from a number of sources. At present it receives funding and project management fees for its office operations and staff from the Northwest Regional Development Agency, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Architectural Heritage Fund. In past years, supporters have included the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, The Pilgrim Trust, Lloyds TSB and the Bernard Sunley Charitable Trust.

back to top

Ancoats, Manchester - history of the area

  • Ancoats is often referred to as 'the World's first industrial suburb' an edge-of-town industrial estate with associated housing, community facilities (churches, pubs and charitable refuges) and related businesses (glass, cotton and clothing manufacturers).
  • 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. Building speculation then drove the further expansion, north-eastwards with plots of land within a gridiron pattern of streets being sold to the buildings or terraced and back-to-back housing.
  • 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.
  • In 1851 the population of Ancoats was 13,000 and there were serious concerns about overcrowding and poor housing conditions.
  • Ancoats contains some very early examples of slum clearance: Victoria Square, a block of deck-access flats around an open courtyard, was opened in 1894 and accommodated 848 people in 237 double tenements and 48 single. The terraced properties on George Leigh Street were amongst the first built by the Manchester Corporation following the Act that required councils to provide accommodation with separate bedrooms for girls, boys and parents, and 'Sanitary Street' was named after the committee that instructed its construction, with the provision of privies for every house. (All these properties remain to this day - and all now have internal bathrooms!)
  • The Methodists were very active in Ancoats at the end of the 19th century - they ran both a men's workhouse and women's night shelter (with coffee tavern). There were tens of pubs, however, of which only five buildings remain and only two of these are still open.
  • 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 for WHS inscription is to be submitted to UNESCO in 2008

back to top

Ancoats - decline and regeneration

  • 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.
  • Over £14m of Heritage Lottery Fund and government regeneration grants has been secured by ABPT to facilitate the repair and regeneration of the area's most important listed buildings.

back to top

Photos available to the press

Please contact us if you would like a print quality copy of any of the images below, either by phone: 0161 278 1755 or by email: abpt@ancoatsbpt.co.uk

Murrays' Mills Ancoats Murrays' Mills Ancoats
Murrays' Mills Ancoats Murrays' Mills Ancoats
Murrays' Mills Ancoats Murrays' Mills Ancoats
Murrays' Mills Ancoats Murrays' Mills Ancoats


© Ancoats BPT 2004