As early as Saxon time, a small community existed on both banks of the River Irwell close to the point of the where it is joined by the River Irk. A wooden bridge on the site of the present Victoria Bridge (constructed in 1839) linked the two halves of the village. A small church, probably on the site of the Cathedral, and the Manor House of the Baron of Manchester, erected after the Norman Conquest on the site of Chetham's, stood together on high ground above the bridge. The two buildings were bounded on the north by the River Irk which was culverted in the 19th Century to form the present Walker's Croft, and on the south by a 40' ditch the route of which is commemorated by the existing Hanging Ditch. The remains of one of the arches of a bridge across the ditch between the Church and the Market Place area may be seen in the Garden of Rest behind Mynshall House.
In medieval times the community prospered as a centre for trade in coarse woollen cloth. By 1650 the original village had grown into the 'fairest, best builded, quickest and most populous town of Lancastershire' accommodating some 4-5,000 persons extending westward towards Deansgate and eastward to the present Cheetham Hill Road. Many of the existing streets were already well established. Fennel Street - whose name was probably derived from Vennel, an Anglo-Saxon word for narrow lane, and Long Millgate - a reference to the lord of the Manor's mill on the River Irk - were fashionable residential streets. The latter was the principal road to the north.
During the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, the expansion of the town was extremely rapid. New dwellings to accommodate the rapid rise in population to an estimated 455,000 people in 1851 were hastily erected with little regard for the sanitary and other needs of their occupants. Fennel Street had been transformed by 1832 into 'one of the filthiest suburbs of town, so confined that the winds of heaven could scarcely penetrate it'.
The continued prosperity of Manchester's Commercial houses and the growth of the local railway network led to a major reconstruction of the area in the Mid and Late 19th Century. Victoria and Corporation Streets were driven through the existing warren of dwellings in 1832 and 1845 respectively and the commercial buildings aligning the streets were gradually completed during the following half century. The first Victoria Station, designed by George Stevenson, was opened in 1844 on a former burial ground in Hunt's Bank. It consisted of a single platform to which the only access was a wooden footbridge over the River Irk. By 1901 the Station had grown to its present size and Todd Street had been widened in the meantime to provide a more appropriate approach.
Exchange Station, closed in 1969, the frontage of which was severely damaged during the war, was opened in 1884. It was physically linked to Victoria Station by what was claimed at 2194' - to have been the longest platform in the world. The area still retains much of its Victorian character. The Cathedral and Chetham's Hospital School and some five other (or parts of) buildings are listed as being of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, The more significant buildings are described in greater detail below.