As the name suggests, the origin of the area dates back over 200 years to the Georgian period when agricultural fields were given over to urban uses with new streets laid out on a regular grid pattern. It was a fashionable residential area centred on St. James's Church, established in 1786 on Charlotte Street. Charlotte Street and George Street were both named after the reigning monarchs of the time.
The continuing physical development of the area reflected the cultural and scientific achievements of the time, for example the Scientific and Medical Society building on Faulkner Street, which later became Owens College Medical School. The Literary and Philosophical Society built a meeting room on George Street, where the scientist John Dalton and Roget, author of the thesaurus, were members.
The portico Library was established in 1806, just north of the present conservation area on Mosley street. Also located on Mosley Street was the Manchester Institute of Fine Arts, now the City Art Gallery, built between 1824 and 1835. This was followed in 1837 by the Athenaeum on Princess Street.
Historically the area has been a changing, dynamic place, partly due to fluctuating economic circumstances. The social and economic revolution of the Industrial Age was a key factor in the development of the area. For example, many of the residential properties were converted into textile warehouses and as residents gradually moved out to the suburbs, so the area was progressively taken over by commerce.
Depopulation of the area was reflected in the redundancy of St. James's Church and by the building of new warehouses from the mid 19th to the turn of the century. However, with the decline of the British cotton industry, particularly during the early to mid-20th century period, warehouses were either left empty or only partially used. Consequently they fell into disrepair and rents dropped.
The decline started to reverse when the Chinese community opened restaurants in the area. Although the first restaurant was opened in 1948, it was not until the 1960s that the area became popular with the Chinese community. Initially the area had tightly-drawn boundaries. Chinatown, as it is now commonly known, has grown to become one of the largest provincial Chinese communities in Britain, with a wide range of facilities.
The Chinese Imperial Arch, the largest of its kind outside of China, stands astride Faulkner Street, forming the cornerstone of the adjacent Chinese garden. Once again the area is becoming residential with the construction of 30 sheltered housing units, developed by the Tung Sing Housing association.