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Sports, leisure & the Arts Castlefield Conservation Area

Castlefield and its buildings today

The recent revival of interest in Castlefield is having a significant impact on the refurbishment of buildings. Warehouses have been converted to flats, offices, galleries and studios. The various buildings in the Liverpool Road Station complex have undergone extensive repair and modification to house the exhibits in the Museum of Science and Industry. The buildings are exhibits in themselves, and provide an ideal setting for the smaller items within.

Liverpool Road Station was a pioneering and speculative venture, as no one knew in 1830 if the railways would be a successful means of transport. The station, constructed inexpensively in the Classical style, is a very modest building when compared with the great train sheds of Piccadilly, Victoria and Central stations. The 1830s warehouse to the north of the station is a long, curved building with five bays, each with two roof ridges. It was not completed until after the opening of the station, but enough of it was built by then for it to house the lavish opening ceremony.

It then assumed its normal role as a store and interchange between rail and road transport. The different levels for servicing road and rail were crucial to its functioning. Railway waggons could be easily unloaded by being tipped into trucks on the lower level. These buildings and viaducts were the first of their type, and consequently are vital artefacts in the history of Manchester and the railways.

The Merchants and Middle warehouses also had interchange facilities. Canal arms allowed barges to enter the buildings and be off-loaded directly on to horsedrawn carts.

The Grocers Warehouse, Manchester's first (c.1775), also had water-powered lifting machinery which could hoist coal from barges to the street level high above. Unfortunately, this building was demolished in 1960. As far as is known, measured drawings were not made before this occurred, and the partial reconstruction of 1986 was very basic.

Trains were operated at high level, to prevent them from obstructing road and canal traffic, and this involved the construction of bridges and viaducts. The first of the railway viaducts was built across the River Irwell in 1830 by George Stephenson, the locomotive designer.

Acres Fair, which had been held in St. Ann's Square (and later at Shudehill) annually since 1222, moved to Castlefield in 1872 and remained there for four years. When it was abolished, the attendant market traders remained. The site they originally occupied was known as Lower Campfield Market, from which, in 1878, they expanded into the Higher Campfield Market. Both areas were covered over by large, glazed buildings with cast-iron frames.

The larger of the two, Lower Campfield, was used as the City Exhibition Hall for many years and is now the Air and Space Gallery. St. Matthew's Church, designed in 1825 by Sir Charles Barry, the most eminent British architect of the time, was built on Liverpool Road between what later became Higher and Lower Campfield Markets. It was demolished in 1951, but its Sunday School, now called Gunn House, still exists and has been converted to offices.

The most significant church still standing in Castlefield is the Church of St. George on Chester Road. It has been vacant for many years but current negotiations for commercial re-use will ensure the future of the building. It was designed by Francis Goodwin in the Neo-Gothic Perpendicular style and was built between 1826 and 1828.

Castlefield is still developing, and older buildings - particularly warehouses - are being adapted to other uses. New buildings include a stadium with a tensile skin roof for viewing spectacular events. A curvilinear footbridge across the Bridgewater Canal, the walkway suspended from an angled and counterbalancing arch, is an adventurous structure.

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