St Ann's Square and its buildings today
Considerable changes have taken place since 1222, when local residents were rigorously defending their grazing rights. Now the commercial heart of a large city, almost all the buildings in the conservation area are shops or offices, or a combination of both. There is a wealth of buildings of architectural quality, the majority of them being Victorian with some Edwardian and a few of more recent origin. Few properties remain from the 18th century. Many buildings are listed for their special architectural or historic interest.
The Church of St. Ann, constructed in red sandstone, has two tiers of round-headed windows, a semi-circular apse to the east and a square tower to the west. Originally the tower was surmounted by a three-tier cupola, replaced by a spire in 1777 that was removed in its turn around 1800. Restoration and internal alterations were carried out by Alfred Waterhouse around 1890. The original architect is unknown, but was probably a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren. St. Ann's is one of only fifteen buildings in the City listed as Grade I, and because of its position at the south end of the Square it is the most prominent building in the conservation area.
The former bank on King Street (nos.35-37) is a three-storey brick building formerly with two-storey brick wings, now replaced by glazed facades. The windows are framed by moulded stone architraves with key blocks. There are steps up to the typical pedimented Georgian entrance, which is flanked by dwarf stone walls with iron railings, found nowhere else in the City.
The Barton Arcade, fronting on to Deansgate and Barton Square, is the City's finest shopping arcade and the only surviving Victorian example in Manchester. It is a four-storey cast-iron framed building with a glazed dome roof and curved internal balconies. The elevations are of brick and stone, but that part on the visual axis of Barton Square is a flamboyant concoction in metal and glass. It is a Grade II listed building.
The shopping arcade in the former Royal Exchange building was created during the 20th century refurbishment. A large sandstone building in the Classical style, with giant Corinthian pilasters and huge projecting cornices, the Royal Exchange has a tall cupola on the northwest corner and massive arched entrances on Exchange Street and Corporation Street. The theatre located inside is housed in a seven-sided module suspended from four columns within the disused trading hall. The enormous space around the module serves as foyer, shopping area and restaurant, besides housing sound and lighting equipment.
St. Ann's Square is lined with many buildings of architectural merit, while within the space are two bronze statues, one of Richard Cobden and the other a memorial to the Boer War comprising a group of soldiers. Both are listed buildings. On the corner of St. Ann's Square and St. Ann Street stands a building which is a fine example of the Italian palazzo style of architecture, with semi-circular headed arches and Venetian windows. Designed by the architect J. E. Gregan, it was originally Benjamin Heywood's Bank and was connected to the manager's house by a single-storey link. It is listed Grade II*.