Before the 18th century, Manchester was effectively a market town with a few surrounding satellite villages, however during the industrial revolution Manchester’s cotton industry began to thrive, overtaking London to become the leading ‘Cottonopolis’. The area of Ancoats was transformed from a sleepy village on the edge of Manchester with fields and sheep grazing into a turbulent industrial hub of imposing mills with housing and related facilities and businesses crammed into the gaps. As a current resident of this area, these blog posts are my reflections on the current transformation and ‘gentrification’ of Ancoats. This is part three of three blogs that chart my observations whilst on a leisurely observational stroll through the area. The blog posts are also inspired by the recorded oral histories of previous Ancoats residents that are part of the Archives+ sound archives collection.
You can listen to the oral histories on Soundcloud and walk the routes on Historypin.
In my previous post about Ancoats, I had made my way from the sounds of the late Sunday morning ‘brunchers’ in the Cutting Room Square, to the eerie quiet of the Jersey and Murray Street mills. I had then crossed Redhill Street and the Rochdale Canal, moving away from the mills and towards the redeveloped area of New Islington.
The New Islington marina was created in order to link the Rochdale Canal and the Ashton Canal and is currently home to a myriad of brightly coloured barges. In fact as I wander along the marina, I count around 20 barges. Behind the barges is the rare backdrop of a grassy area with trees, which is home to the local geese, duck and swan population.
Up ahead, I can see a man with his headphones on dangling his legs into the canal whilst feeding the ducks. The water and greenery provides a moment of relief in amongst all the urban redevelopment. Especially as on the opposite side of the marina, there are rows of newly built houses courtesy of Urban Splash’s latest project ‘hoUSe’, along with further plots of land onto which the ‘hoUSe’ project is going to expand.
At this point in the walk, I speak to Alex, a local resident that moved to the area around a year ago due to the close proximity to his job, he said that once all the construction is done “it’s going to be so nice”. This is the thing with the current gentrification of Ancoats at the moment, everyone is waiting to see what the reality of the area is going to be once it is less of a construction site.
The marina itself is broken up into two parts by Old Mill Street – previously know just as Mill Street. Just across the road from me is the remarkable Ancoats Dispensary. Currently a shell of its former self, the Ancoats Dispensary is a roofless façade, completely covered in scaffolding.
The Ancoats Dispensary is rather hemmed in amongst new build flats and apartments, however it stands as a symbol for Ancoats working class history and for the people of Ancoats Dispensary Trust who valiantly fought against its destruction. Built in 1874, the Dispensary provided 117 years of service to the people of Ancoats and surrounding areas before closing in 1989. It was then purchased by Urban Splash in 2001, but was deemed unsustainable due to government cuts and so demolition consent was sought in 2011. This was when the Ancoats Dispensary Trust stepped in to prevent demolition and to secure a stay of execution. Campaigner Linda Carver, who founded the Ancoats Dispensary Trust explained why she launched the effort to save the landmark: “I mean local people call it ‘our Ancoats’, OUR, so they felt still that it belongs to them, so when we found out that it was under threat of demolition, we thought ‘well no, we can’t allow it’. We just cannot allow this important landmark to be demolished. It’s a part of working class history, such an important reminder of the past.” The amazing efforts of the Trust have achieved lottery heritage funding to be secured, they are now in the process of developing a long term, sustainable plan for the dispensary that will hopefully see the building continue to serve the local community.
Behind the Ancoats Dispensary is the Chips building, one of the first new buildings to appear in the area after the Cardroom Estate was rebranded New Islington. Built in 2007 by Urban Splash, the building is made up of three differently coloured oblong shapes piled on top of one another with a variety of Mancunian place names emblazoned across them.
I too make my way towards the towpath and the lock where you can cross the canal to get to the grassy area that surrounds the New Islington metro stop, the former site of the New Islington Bath House. Behind the metro stop is the Islington Wharf development and the Albion Mill, yet another industrial building that has been converted into apartments and offices.
This is the end of my stroll through rapidly changing Ancoats and the area now known as New Islington. Across the city centre, there are at least a dozen 30-storey skyscrapers being constructed and around 10,000 more apartments that have been granted planning permission or are in the process of gaining it. But for now on this sunny Sunday, it has just been good to appreciate what was and is already here.
If you are interested in knowing a bit more about some of the oral histories that inspired the ‘Our Ancoats’ blog posts then check out the Archives+ Historypin site.
This blog was written and researched by Katie Mills, Graduate Student, The University of Manchester, Archaeology Department.