The mill complexes of Ancoats provide a spectacular illustration of urban industrial architecture in the late 18th and early 19th century. Two of the four sites originated in the 1790s. They were owned and occupied by the successful firms of A. and G. Murray and McConnel and Kennedy. The owners of these firms migrated to Manchester from Scotland to specialise in the most profitable branch of the cotton industry, fine spinning. Their mills were the largest in Manchester by the early 19th century and continued to be extended until the early 20th century, so that today they contain an exceptionally wide chronological range of surviving structures. The other sites, Beehive Mill and Brownsfield Mill, date from the 1820s and were occupied by a number of smaller firms, as were many other early mills in Manchester. They include early examples of fireproof and fire-resisting construction
Ancoats: Manchester's first industrial suburb
Ancoats had been laid out for development for about a decade before the construction of the major mill complexes began in 1797. The growth of Manchester in the mid- and late-18th century had led to increased demand for building land and increasing land values. This resulted in the sale and subdivision of vacant lands around the town. Maps surveyed in the 1790s show well over sixty plots laid out in Ancoats separated by a grid pattern of streets. Development had already begun in the western and northern parts and these plots may retain the earliest extant structures today. The extant mill complexes eventually occupied eleven of the original plots, extending across four of the streets marked on Laurent's map of 1793.
The construction of a local system of canals was a major factor in attracting large-scale industry and related development to Ancoats from the mid-1790s. The route of a canal from Rochdale to Manchester had been under discussion since 1766. Although the route was not confirmed until 1794, it seems likely that the line of Redhill Street, was positioned to run parallel with the future route of the canal. The Rochdale Canal was finally opened in 1808, with two branches the Prussia Street Arm and the Bengal Street Arm, reaching into Ancoats by 1808 In addition, Murray's site had been equipped with its own fully enclosed canal basin by 1806. In the early 19th century the majority of new textile mills in Manchester were built on canal-side sites. Canals not only provided the essential infrastructure used for the transportation of goods and raw materials but also provided water for steam plant. They enabled the construction of the closely-packed groups of large steam-powered mills which soon became a hallmark of Ancoats and other parts of Manchester.
The development of Murray's Mills
Adam and George Murray migrated from southern Scotland to Manchester in the 1780s and began business as textile machinery makers before starting cotton spinning and moved to their main Ancoats site in 1798. By 1806 this site had grown into Manchester's largest mill complex. The first phase of development was the construction of the eight-storeyed Old Mill on Redhill Street. This occupied the western half of a vacant plot between Pit Street and Bengal Street. It was powered by a Boulton and Watt engine and was probably used for carding and spinning. Murray's specialised in the more profitable fine yarns, using mules which they probably manufactured themselves. In 1802 the mill was doubled in length with an addition to its east end. A more powerful engine was installed at the same time, the completed mill occupying the whole of the Redhill Street plot. Although it was later lowered to seven storeys, this building is today Manchester's oldest extant textile mill.
The expansion of the site continued shortly after 1802. In that year Murray's acquired the two adjoining vacant plots to the north. In a protracted campaign of building over the next four years the site was extended across these plots to form a quadrangular complex enclosing a central yard. On the northern side of the yard, fronting Jersey Street, the six-storied New Mill was built by 1804. This was roughly the same length as the 1798 and 1802 mills, and for about a year was probably Manchester's largest single mill building. It was powered by another Boulton and Watt engine in a detached engine house in the yard, and was also probably used for carding and spinning. Building continued at the site with the construction by 1806 of two narrower blocks forming the east and west sides of the yard. These were not originally powered and were mainly used for warehousing and ancillary processes such as the preparation of raw cotton for carding. The main entrance and offices were located in the western warehouse block, the adjacent Pit Street being renamed Murray Street.
The construction of Murray's Mills between 1798 and 1806 coincided with the opening of the Rochdale Canal in 1804, and the site was designed to be fully integrated with the canal system. The unusual quadrangular layout enabled a private canal basin to be built in the yard, linked to the main canal by a tunnel. This unique feature of Murray's Mills was later described by an American visitor, who referred to its use by boats "discharging their freights of raw cotton and coals into the heart of the works.
Murray's Mills were built with wooden floors of standard joisted construction supported by cruciform-section cast-iron columns. Some of the columns were later replaced with stronger cylindrical types and the ceilings made fire-resistant with the addition of metal sheeting. The most distinctive features of the site are its high level of integration with the canal system and its great size in comparison with contemporary mills elsewhere. It was valued at ,20,456 shortly after its completion, increasing to ,59,000 by 1818. It contained 84,000 spindles on mules of about 342 spindles each, with 1,215 operatives.
By the mid-19th century Murray's Mills had been further expanded to include three additional mills along the east side of Bengal Street. The first, named little Mill, was built on the corner of Bengal Street and Jersey Street by the 1820s. Ironically, by the end of the 19th century this was the tallest mill in the complex, standing nine storeys high. In c1842 two more mills were added to the south, all three building being linked to the original mills by tunnels beneath Bengal Street. Doubling Mill stands on the corner with Redhill Street and was powered by a Boulton and Watt beam engine and was probably built to meet an increasing demand for doubled yarns from the lace industry of the Midlands. The third mill, Fireproof Mill, was attached to the north side of Doubling Mill at about the same time. As its name suggests, this was of fireproof construction with brick-vaulted ceilings. Other mid-19th century modifications included the widening of the Murray Street warehouse and the replacement of the 1802 engine with the larger detached engine house and chimney which still stand in the yard.
The final additions took place in the early 20th century. Little Mill was replaced by a concrete-floored mill designed for electrically-powered mule spinning. The Jersey Street elevation of this building retains the tower which contained the electric motors. At about the same time the lower floors of the c1804 New Mill were strengthened and the mill converted to be rope-driven from a new engine house which was added in the north-east corner of the yard.
The development of McConnel and Kennedy's Mills.
James McConnel and John Kennedy were well-acquainted with the Murrays, having migrated to Manchester from Scotland in the 1780s. The two firms had similar early histories. During the early 19th century they were both highly successful and dominated Manchester's fine cotton spinning trade from their adjacent sites in Ancoats. McConnel and Kennedy's firm achieved greater success in the mid and later 19th century, however, replacing Murrays as the largest cotton spinners in Manchester and becoming one of the best-known firms in the history of the Lancashire cotton industry.
McConnel and Kennedy's complex occupied the five plots to the west of Murray's Mills, between Redhill Street and Jersey Street. Their two original mills were contemporary with Murray's site but do not survive. These Ancoats mills were probably the first example of the machinery layout which later became widespread in the Lancashire cotton industry.
The next phase of building was the construction between 1818 and 1824 of the eight-storeyed Sedgwick Mill, which is today the oldest extant part of the complex. Sedgwick Mill was distinguished by its fireproof construction, comprising an internal framework of cast-iron beams and columns supporting brick-vaulted ceilings and tiled floors. It was built to a U-shaped plan with north-projecting wings at each end. The internal engine house, containing a fifty three horse-power beam engine, was in the west end of the front block on Redhill Street, with an internal boiler house in the west wing. Inventories indicate that mules of 348 spindles were located in each bay of the five uppermost floors of the front block and the east wing. With the completion of Sedgwick Mill McConnel and Kennedy overtook Murray's as the largest cotton spinning firm in Manchester. Their spindleage had increased from 7,464 in 1797 to 124,848 in 1824, while their workforce peaked at 1,590 in 1836.
Further major extensions to the site were made in the late 19th and the early 20th century. In 1868 the six-storeyed Sedgwick New Mill was added and used for doubling the yarn spun in the firm's earlier mills. It was attached to the west wing of the original Sedgwick Mill and was of similar fireproof construction. In c1911 B c1913 the site reached its maximum size with the additions of two more six-storeyed mills built for electrically-powered mule spinning. Paragon Mill was built on the plot to the north of Sedgwick New Mill, replacing earlier housing on Maria Street and Jersey Street. Royal Mill was a rebuilding of the firm's original 1797 mill on Redhill Street. Both these mills reflected the latest developments in mill building, with concrete floors supported by steel beams, electric motors housed in external towers with external architectural detailing in red brick, stone and terracotta.
Beehive Mill was built by 1824 on a plot on the north side of Jersey Street, opposite Murray's Little Mill. It comprises a long five storeyed range with an attic alongside Radium Street, an adjoining full-height wing on Jersey Street and a separate later mill to the west on Bengal Street. The site was served by the Bengal Street Arm of the canal and originally had its own private basin. It had a similar power system to the other early mills, with an internal beam engine house in the north end overlooking the canal. In contrast with Murrays and McConnel and Kennedy's Mills, however, this site was not owner-occupied but was built for sub-letting. In the early 19th century small firms were far more numerous in Manchester's cotton industry than large firms, and the renting of "room and power" in part of a mill was widespread. Beehive Mill was damaged by fires and repaired in the early 1840s and the early 1860s. It is likely that parts of the interior have been altered and that the main block alongside Radium Street may have been lowered. The earliest parts of the site were sympathetically restored in the mid-1990s.
Another contrast with the larger mills was the method of construction. The Radium Street block has heavy-timbered floors in which thick boards were laid directly on the floor beams without joists. This floor system provided a degree of fire resistance and was able to withstand the weight and vibration of heavy powered machinery. It later became widespread in the United States of America where it was known as "slow burning" construction. It has been claimed that American mill builders adopted the technique after the publication of a description of its use in Manchester's textile mills in 1826. The roof of the Radium Street block is also of interest. The trusses comprise curved slender cast-iron ribs supporting timber principals, providing a well-lit and unobstructed attic.
A fireproof wing had been attached to the Jersey Street end of the mill by 1824. The wing was probably used for warehousing and is again distinguished by its unusual methods of construction. In contrast with the brick-vaulted fireproof construction used in Sedgwick Mill, this building has floors of stone flags laid on a complex grid of interlocking cast-iron beams. Its roof used a combination of cast-iron and wrought-iron components in an intricate three-dimensional structure.
Brownsfield Mill also dates from the mid-1820s and is located to the west of the other mills, to the west of Great Ancoats Street. The seven-storeyed main block overlooks a basin in the main Rochdale Canal. A six-storeyed wing was formerly served by a separate branch canal. This site contains some of the best-preserved early mill buildings in Ancoats and is the only mill in the area to retain its original chimney. It forms an important visual component of the industrial architecture along this part of the canal.
Like Beehive Mill, Brownsfield was built as a room and power mill and is of heavy-timbered internal construction. In this case the interior is largely original. The building was powered by a beam engine in an internal engine house in the west end of the main block.
The significance of Ancoats
The historical significance of Ancoats can be assessed by making comparisons with early industrial developments in other areas. The conversion of Ancoats from open farmland to a densely-populated suburb containing some of the largest factories in the world took place between the 1780s and the 1820s. In the mid-18th century factory methods had been successfully introduced in a number of industries in addition to textiles, including engineering and the production of glass and pottery. Though individually important, such early factories were exceptional rather than representative. Very few survive today. Some were built alongside canals and some with housing and other buildings for the workforce, but in general they were not associated with planned urban development.
The factory system was most widely adopted in the textile industry, however, and in particular with the construction of well over a hundred cotton-spinning mills in different areas by associates of Sir Richard Arkwright. These pioneering mills were usually much smaller than those built later in Ancoats, their location being largely governed by the need for water power. Suitable sites were rarely found in towns, so a new textile enterprise required the construction of a whole community of buildings in addition to the mills themselves. Thus although the textile industry saw important early developments in mechanisation, factory construction and industrial organisation, these often took place in rural areas, notable examples being at Cromford and Belper in Derbyshire and at New Lanark in Scotland. A small number of existing towns were suitable for the growth of water-powered industry, among them Leeds and Stockport.
From the late 18th century Manchester was distinguished by the construction of many large factories in a town which had few water power sites but which possessed other commercial advantages for the textile industry. A marked increase in mill building from the late 1790s was made possible by the development of the canal system and by the improvement in the technology of the steam engine. The construction of the national canal network B beginning with the Bridgewater Canal B stimulated urban growth in many parts of the country. In Manchester canals led to more factory building and consequently a demand for new areas for industrial development, the first of which was Ancoats.
The nature of the development which took place in Ancoats differed considerably from that which had taken place earlier in rural areas, signifying the urbanisation of the factory system. From the start the mills were associated with a wide range of other new buildings and structures, notably the system of roads and canals with associated warehousing, the buildings of the new industrial communities and sites used by related industries. A particularly distinctive feature was the creation of areas of laid-out streets and plots for urban expansion. The planning of a whole suburb of streets in advance of factory building and related development did not occur in the late 18th century in towns where industry was dependent on water power. The scale of mill building in Ancoats was also exceptional, and the extant mill complexes can all be said to represent some of the limits reached by mill builders in the early 19th century. In spite of their individual significance, however, the mills of Ancoats are perhaps best appreciated as the largest and most technically-advanced buildings of an urban industrial landscape.
View the Ancoats collection to find out more >
The Mills of Ancoats
Frederick Engels Description of Ancoats in 1845