Sports, leisure and the Arts Whitworth Street Conservation Area

Whitworth Street/Princess Street and its buildings today

The conservation area contains many of Manchester's most important buildings, and not only those related to the textile industry.

In the row of textile warehouses along Princess Street, No. 103 was the odd one out, having been designed by J. E. Gregan in 1854 as the Mechanics Institute. It has been altered internally during its change first to a College of Commerce and later to the first Museum of Labour History. The exterior, however, is still Gregan's masterpiece in the Italian Palazzo style and the top floor and roof structure is an innovative piece of structural engineering by the celebrated Victorian engineer William Fairbairn. The first Trade Union Congress was held here as well as the first meeting of the Co-operative Insurance Society.

Further down Princess Street, on the north bank of the Rochdale Canal, is the conservation area's oldest building, the New Union Hotel public house. It was opened around 1800 for the benefit of the 'navvies' who dug the canal, and is a simple red-brick Georgian- style building, now rendered and painted.

Across the street and canal from the New Union is Central House, Manchester's only building in the Scottish Baronial style. It is distinguished by its large corner tourelles and steeply-pitched slate roof. It was renovated in 1989, and together with Dominion House has been incorporated into a hotel. Use has been made of the street between them to create a glass and metal entrance lobby.

Lancaster House, on the Whitworth Street and Princess Street junction, has a most distinctive corner tower with a cupola. It rises in several stages above the general height of the building. The corner entrance below currently provides access to a public house.

Like Lancaster House, two other imposing buildings - India House and the former Refuge offices - have been converted to other uses. On the site of the former Africa House, another cotton warehouse, a multi-storey car park has been designed in a manner which attempts to fit in with the character of the area. It is of especial benefit to patrons of the Palace Theatre, itself upgraded in recent years.

The Police/Fire Station on London Road is arguably the world's most important building of its type. It once accommodated a complete community of forty fire-fighters, policemen and their families, with all the necessary facilities for comfortable living and for training. Balconies are located all round the internal courtyard where visitors could view fire-control demonstrations. Fires were reported from 200 Gamewell fire alarm boxes, which were established in streets throughout the city. It was the largest fire alarm network in the country when it became operational in 1911, and was superseded by telephone kiosks in 1959. The control room where the alarms terminated was elaborately finished in polished marble and wood.

Some of the cotton warehouses have been given a new lease of life by being converted into flats in the 1980s and '90s, thus providing more opportunity for people to live in the city centre.

The development known as Granby Village, in the area of Bombay Street and Granby Row, is a composite of new buildings and converted warehouses.

Canal Street and the immediate area is known as 'the Gay Village'. This is now a vibrant area, with many cafe bars, public houses and restaurants bringing former vacant buildings back into active use.

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