Are you a fan of Modernist, Art Deco, Edwardian or Victorian architecture? Have you ever wondered about Manchester’s architecture and wanted to get your hands on original building plans? We’ve got good news for you.

Refuge Assurance Buildings, Oxford Street, 12 Mar 1891

The Building Control department at Manchester City Council has been granting building approvals since the 1860s. Since then the archives of architectural plans have grown – from one box to over a thousand. Some are for buildings still in existence, some give us a glimpse into the the city’s lost built heritage. Most come in a file with sections, elevations and floor plans.

Manchester Reform Synagogue, Jackson's Row

Electric Theatre, Whitworth Street West, 1909

While the Town Hall Extension was being renovated, the Building Control department had to move their archives to a warehouse in Openshaw. Soon after this move we got a call. There’s this collection, they said. It’s amazing, they said. But it’s big. Really big.

Manchester Guardian Office by Barker and Ellis, 19 Sep 1881

When we made it to the warehouse, we could see what they meant. It was huge. More than two hundred filing cabinets stuffed full of architectural plans – a pretty complete set of plans of buildings from 1890 to the 1980s, plus some really fragile early plans dating from the 1860s onwards. Our team set up camp in the warehouse and started to work through the collection.

Ground floor plan of Didsbury Library, 1914

It was cold in the warehouse. It was pretty horrible actually. But we kept going. We had tea and we had gloves. This was archiving at the coal face. We have kept all the plans dating from 1948 and before. For more recent plans we have had to select the public buildings, bigger domestic and industrial developments and weed out many of the thousands of smaller developments, garages and sheds. Even so the collection (at around 1000 boxes) still became our biggest archive overnight.

Granada TV Studios, Quay Street, Apr 1953

Parts of the collection have been fully indexed (from 1890 to 1906 and from 1948 to 1958). To search for these plans use the online catalogue GMLives.org.uk. Enter M900 in the Identifier field and the street or architect’s name in the any text field. You can then make an appointment to view the plans at Central Library.

You can check the paper finding aids for plans dating from 1903 to 1947 yourself in the Central Library search room – no appointment is necessary. First check the page numbers for the street you want in the street index. Then go to that page in the plan register to find out more information about he building, such as the architect, owner, type and crucially the plan number.

The finding aid for the period from 1959 to the 1980s is a card index arranged alphabetically by street. This is also available in the Central Library search room – no appointment is necessary.

Once you have the plan number you can make an appointment to view the plan in the search room. Please note that not all plans survive and some are too fragile to produce.

To enquire about plans dating from 1866 to 1889 please email archiveslocalstudies@manchester.gov.uk.

London Road Fire Station Block W ground and first floor plans, 1902

Stay tuned for updates on the collection, calls for volunteers to help us preserve it and make it accessible, and advice on how to navigate the finding aids. And of course some more beautiful plans. You can download large versions of the out-of-copyright plans from our Flickr photostream so you can zoom in and see the detail.

Withington Baths sections and elevations by Henry Price, 1 Mar 1911