The streets of Ancoats were laid out during the latter part of the 18th Century, with little development taking place other than small houses and shops along Great Ancoats Street and Oldham Road.
Survey work for the Rochdale Canal was carried out by James Brindley in 1765. The knowledge that its construction would make the transport of raw materials and finished goods more convenient, gave industrialists the confidence to build their cotton mills. The first mills were built in Ancoats as early as 1790.
From the opening of the Rochdale Canal in 1804 through to 1912, the development of mills continued on a much larger scale, and enough of these buildings remain to enable the progress of mills design to be appreciated today.The first single-class housing area in the country was built in 1889 to provide homes for miller workers in Ancoats. This block, called Victoria Square, was the first example of municipal housing in Manchester, which was followed shortly by the development of model housing in adjacent Anita Street (originally known as Sanitary Street).
The substantial economic activity generated by such a concentration of mills was halted by the slump in the cotton industry in the 1930's. Thereafter, the prosperity of the mills declined steadily, and the only new industry to establish itself in Ancoats was newspaper printing.
In 1939, the Daily Express newspaper company opened new premises, which were built in the "functional" style, using new curtain-wall technology identical to that on the company's buildings in London and Glasgow.