Prior to the Industrial Revolution, Didsbury was a small agricultural hamlet within the sub-manor of Withington. The earliest recorded reference to it is provided by the granting, in 1235, of land for the building of a chapel. This became the parochial church of St. Oswald, later changing its name to St. James in 1855. Near the church on Stenner Lane was a spring or well which provided water and permitted the growth of the hamlet over the next few hundred years.
The local antiquarian, Alderman Fletcher Moss, described the hamlet as it was at the end of the 18th century in idyllic terms as a collection of half-timbered, thatched cottages, a smithy and handloom-weavers' houses, as well as the church and two inns fronting on to the village green. The point where Stenner Lane leads from the green between the two inns was known as 'The Gates of Hell' because, as Fletcher Moss explained: "...there are two inns on the broadway, and many there be that go in thereat; and narrow is the way that leadeth to the church, and few there be that find it."
Around the end of the 18th century a few larger houses were built, including Broome House, Didsbury House (also known as Mosley Hall) and the Old Parsonage (the former home of Fletcher Moss). However, the 19th century brought more radical changes and the character of the conservation area as it is today was established by businessmen who had acquired their wealth from the Industrial Revolution and who built large villas and country houses among the trees overlooking the River Mersey and on avenues such as Didsbury Park.
The Towers, owned by the proprietor of the Manchester Guardian, John Edward Taylor, was the largest of these residences. It was purchased in 1874 by Daniel Adamson, the engineer who instigated a meeting here at which the decision to construct the Manchester Ship Canal was taken. In 1920 the house was purchased by the British Cotton Industry Research Association, which named it the Shirley Institute after the daughter of a Stockport Member of Parliament, William Greenwood.
The conservation area also contains examples of more modest houses of this period, such as those in Kingston Road and the Grove, which benefit considerably from their fine wooded setting. The latter were built by the Watts family for their farm managers in the 1870s. Another eminent family, the Simons, lived at Lawnhurst, now Rosecroft School, and later at Broomcroft Hall which was donated to the Victoria University. The 19th century also saw the influence of Methodism in the area with the establishment in Didsbury House, and its purpose-built extensions, of The Northern Branch of the Wesleyan Theological Institution, later Didsbury College, and with the opening of St Paul's Methodist Church in 1877.
With the growth of the railways, Didsbury was absorbed by the resultant urban sprawl, and it became part of the City of Manchester in 1904. The Corporation's influence on the conservation area can be seen in the laying out and maintenance of parks and playing fields, the expansion of Didsbury College after 1945 and in the re-use of other buildings.