In medieval times this part of Manchester was open fields to the south of the village of Manchester. There were springs here which provided a supply of water, giving rise to the names Fountain Street and Spring Gardens. In 1557 a pipe was laid to carry the water to the market place near the present location of the Old Shambles. This was the principal water supply for the town for over 200 years. There was also a reservoir close to where Norfolk Street is now.
It was not until the late 17th century that building development started in the area now designated a conservation area. One of the first substantial buildings was Cross Street Chapel, completed in 1694. It was known as the Dissenters Meeting House. In 1662, 2,000 ministers had been ejected from the Church of England because they would not conform to the strict rules of service. One Henry Newcombe founded the Non-conformist Church in Manchester and built a chapel on Plungeon's Meadow, close to a pond which gave rise to the name Back Pool Fold. The chapel was damaged during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, restored but finally destroyed by bombing in 1940.
The present building dates from 1958. Many eminent people were in the congregation, including Mrs. Gaskell, Lord Clive of India and Sir William Fairbairn. The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society held their earliest meetings there for more than fifty years.
Early 18th century development of the area took the form of fashionable residences to rival the Hanoverian houses in St. Ann's Square. Originally known as St. James's Square, the name was changed to King Street after the Jacobite defeat of 1745.
Between 1775 and 1777, two important buildings were erected at the top of the hill. One was Manchester's first purpose-built theatre, the first Theatre Royal, the other being a concert hall. These formed the centre of Manchester's musical and theatrical life until the mid-nineteenth century. Concert Lane at the upper end of King Street, is the last reminder of this era.
With the rapid growth of the town, residences were demolished to make way for more commercially-oriented buildings. The first Town Hall was completed in 1825, on the site of the present Lloyd's Bank, on the corner of King Street and Cross Street. It was designed by Francis Goodwin and survived until 1911, the Town Council having moved to the present Town Hall in 1877. Also in 1877, the old Town Hall became the country's first free reference library supported by the rates.
By 1825, most houses in King Street had become business houses or professional offices. In 1845, the Bank of England opened its new branch at no. 82, starting a trend which lead to the concentration of the city's financial institutions in this area.
Until 1929, houses were steadily demolished to make space for the prestigious office buildings of banks and insurance companies. The extension of the conservation area in 1985 brought within its boundaries commercial properties up to the west side of Mosley Street and the shops on the south side of Market street. Mosley Street was laid out nearly a century later than King Street and is a natural extension of the central financial district. Market Street, on the other hand, is very much older. It is one of the oldest streets in Manchester, and although originally built up with houses, shops have predominated since medieval times.