Manchester City Council

Sports, leisure & the Arts Smithfield Conservation Area

History

By 1741 High Street, a field path linking Market Street Lane (now Market Street) and Shudehill, had become an important thoroughfare. Oldham Street, named after Adam Oldham, a felt maker, was a private track before being opened to the public in 1772.

A stream emerging from farmland in Miles Platting made its way alongside Newton Lane (now Oldham Road) and ultimately contributed to the River Medlock. It was given the dignified title of the River Tib, and the footpath nearby became known as Tib Street. The street was frequently flooded by this 'river', which was subsequently culverted in 1783.

Since its establishment in 1821, Smithfield has been known as the centre for Manchester's food markets, where fruit, vegetables, meat and fish have been sold on both a wholesale and retail scale. At its peak around the turn of the century, it was probably the largest market complex in Britain, occupying seven acres.

None of the remaining market buildings is now used for its original purpose, and the wholesale trade has moved into new accommodation away from the city centre, the last to relocate being fruit and vegetables in 1974. Initially the range of goods sold was much greater, including birds and other livestock, which may be the precursors of the present day pet shops in Tib Street.

The market rights for the whole city were purchased by the corporation from the Lord of the Manor, Sir Oswald Mosley, in 1845, and the building of the large covered market was commenced in 1854.

Notable entrepreneurs in the textile industry, such as John Rylands, John Owens, Robert Affleck and John Brown, all established their businesses in the Smithfield area. The fortunes made by them helped to establish such institutions as the Rylands Library and Owens College, which eventually developed into the Victoria University of Manchester. The Rylands Building on Market Street, housing Debenhams department store, is another memorial to John Rylands. It was designed by Harry S. Fairhurst, in the Art Deco style, in 1931.

Sir William Fairbairn, Scottish born inventor and one of the most talented engineers of the nineteenth century, set up his first workshop on High Street in 1817, where he made mill machinery.

The most recent major development in Smithfield is the housing which occupies part of the covered market site, and the conversion of part of the retail fish market into a Craft Village. Both projects were carried out by the City Council.

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