Manchester City Council

Sports, leisure & the Arts Stevenson Square Conservation Area

History

The area that is now Piccadilly Gardens, beyond the south-west side of the Stevenson Square conservation area, was once the site of the so-called 'daub holes', where mud for the construction of wattle and daub walls was extracted from the ground.

In the mid-18th century, the land lying between Ancoats Lane and the old daub holes was owned by Sir Ashton Lever. Conceding to the pressure of property developers, Lever eventually sold the land to William Stevenson.

In his turn, Stevenson sold the land on, piecemeal, to entrepreneurs, many of whose names are commemorated in the local street names.

The original intention was that it should become a residential area which would rival the serenity of St Ann's Square. Instead, the area became largely commercially oriented.

In 1772, a privately owned track which is now known as Oldham Street was given to the public. The road took its name from Adam Oldham rather than from the place name. He was an acquaintance of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, which could account for the Oldham street location of the Methodist Chapel, opened by Wesley in 1781. Central Hall replaced the Chapel in 1885.

Ancoats Lane, along the north-east boundary of the conservation area, was originally a cart track leading from Shudehill to the cattle drovers' highway, Ashton Old Road. By 1788 it was re-named Great Ancoats Street, reflecting its increased economic importance.

Gradually the streets around the Square became lined with private houses and small businesses of an immense variety, including such trades as dry-salter, hat-block maker, cork-cutter and tin-plate worker, as well as some trades and professions which survive today.

For the last three-quarters of the 19th century, the Square was popular with open-air speakers and became a meeting place and starting point for processions. The most notable of these celebrated the opening of the Town Hall in 1877 and was believed to have engaged 50,000 participants.

During the latter half of the 19th century most properties in and around the present day conservation area were replaced by solely commercial buildings. Oldham Street, with its millinery and clothing-related shops was a favourite shopping district with Manchester's fashion-conscious residents up to the last quarter of the 20th century.

A sudden decline of the shops coincided with the opening of the Manchester Arndale Centre in 1975, which changed the focus of retailing in the city centre.

The conservation area still has a high proportion of under-utilised floorspace, reflecting a lack of investment, partly because it is no longer fashionable for shopping.

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