The conservation area is centred on the Town Hall and the Square itself. The decision to create the space and build both the Town Hall and Albert Memorial was taken in 1863. Prior to that the 1746 map of Manchester shows some of the streets, such as Tib Lane, already in existence while the area now known as Albert Square was called Hall Field. The site of the Town Hall was originally open fields sloping down to the River Tib, a stream which followed the line of Cooper Street and joined the River Medlock at Gaythorn.
On the 1794 map, the present street pattern in the vicinity can be clearly seen. Only minor street changes have since taken place, but all the buildings have been replaced with the exception of a small group of houses now converted to offices at 65-71 Princess Street. They serve to show the marked contrast in scale between the large Victorian Town Hall and the small domestic-scale Georgian buildings which once surrounded it.
The basic triangular shape of the Town Hall site was occupied by blocks of houses along Princess Street and gardens on much of the remainder. The site of Albert Square was similarly developed and the road, approximately where the present road traverses the west side of the Square, was called Longworth's Folly and later Pool Street.
By 1850, however, what is now Albert Square had been redeveloped with a dense mixture of houses, public houses, a smithy and a coffee-roasting works. Longworth's Folly had been renamed Pool Street and the site of the future Town Hall had become Town's Yard, which housed the fire brigade and corporation workshops.
The old town hall in King Street soon became inadequate to provide enough space for the administration of such a rapidly expanding metropolis. Together with the wealth derived principally from the cotton industry, the City Council held a competition in 1868 to design a new and larger town hall. This was won by Alfred Waterhouse and the building, a Gothic Revival masterpiece, was completed in 1877.
Other buildings around the Square were built during the Victorian boom, and most survive to the present day except those immediately opposite the front of the Town Hall. These sites are now occupied by office blocks constructed in the early 1980s.
The Albert Memorial and the four later statues in Albert Square were originally on a traffic island but now stand in the pedestrianised square following its refurbishment in 1987. Fan-shaped granite setts with peripheral York stone paving and 'heritage' cast-iron furniture characterise the area. This large space is used for civic and other functions.
By the early part of the 20th century, the Victorian Town Hall was not large enough to accommodate all the office floorspace needed. Vincent E. Harris was commissioned to design an extension, having previously designed the public library. The circular library, completed in 1934, nestles in the concave curve of the Town Hall Extension built four years later, and together with the triangular-shaped Town Hall the three structures complete one of the finest examples of civic design in the City. The Town Hall Extension is an interesting example of architectural good manners as it fits harmoniously between the Gothic Town Hall and the Classically designed library.
To the east of the Town Hall several buildings of Victorian origin, including the Clarendon Club, were demolished in 1971. The area was landscaped and later named 'the peace garden'. Subsequently, sculpture competitions were held , resulting in "Messenger of Peace" by Barbara Pearson being unveiled in 1986 and "Struggle for Peace and Freedom" by Philip Jackson in 1988.
The 1945 plan to create a formal civic route between the Town Hall and the Law Courts was never fully realised. An extension to the conservation area includes the newly created Lincoln Square, where a water feature to commemorate the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales was inaugurated in 1981. The monumental statue of Abraham Lincoln, given to the city in 1919 in recognition of the support he received from the citizens of Manchester in his campaign against slavery, was moved into the city centre for the first time in 1986, from its original location in Platt Fields Park.