Parks, leisure and the arts Castlefield Conservation Area


Roman soldiers, led by General Agricola, marched into the north-west of England in 79AD. For strategic reasons they selected the Castlefield location for a fort, called Mamucium, which they built on a rocky outcrop protected by the Rivers Irwell and Medlock. This is the first definite record of human settlement in Manchester.

The original timber fort was rebuilt and enlarged, and later rebuilt again, this time in stone. A village (called a 'vicus') grew up nearby to supply the needs of the soldiers, but after the Romans left (circa 410AD) it declined and was abandoned.

In later years the new village of Manchester was established a kilometre to the north-east, in what is now known as the Cathedral Conservation Area.

The site of the vicus became known as Aldport or The Old Town. A house and park in Aldport became the home of the Mosley family in 1601. Aldport Lodge, as it was known, was used by Lord Strange in 1642 as the Royalist headquarters during the Siege of Manchester. It was burned down by the victorious Parliamentarians.

The River Irwell was made navigable in the 1720s, allowing access to Liverpool via the River Mersey, and in 1734 Edward Byrom financed the first quay on the Irwell for loading and unloading goods. This led to the construction of Quay Street between Deansgate and the river. The Roman fort was more like a grass-covered mound than a ruined castle when, from 1758 to 1761, the Duke of Bridgewater employed James Brindley to construct the first canal in Britain, its purpose being to transport coal from the Duke's mines at Worsley to Manchester.

The success of this venture, which halved the price of coal, was enormous and prompted the construction of the Rochdale Canal, which although planned by Brindley was carried out by John Rennie. It was opened in 1804 and made Castlefield the hub of the canal network which subsequently developed.

A large number of warehouses were also built to supply the needs of the rapidly growing population of Manchester, the fastest growing city in the world in the 19th century. It soon became apparent that canals could not move goods quickly enough, and this led to the construction of railways, the world's first railway station being opened on Liverpool Road in 1830.

Soon devoted to goods traffic, it became the centre of a network of railway lines, several of which crossed Castlefield on viaducts. These were concentrated over the site of the Roman fort, where four viaducts converge. The castellated design of some of the supporting piers was a homage to the fort. Further viaducts were constructed, extending as far as Central Station, which opened in 1879.

The remains of the old town of Aldport, although very densely populated, were demolished at the end of the 19th century to make way for the construction of the Great Northern Warehouse, the ultimate transport interchange building.

During the 20th century, both canal and rail transport declined to the point where these facilities were used chiefly for leisure purposes. The railway complex at Liverpool Road was sold to a conservation group for £1 and became the Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, the centrepiece of Britain's first Urban Heritage Park. The principle of an Urban Heritage Park was established in December 1982, along with the decision to reconstruct part of the Roman Fort on the excavated foundations.

Tourism and leisure are now growth industries which have transformed Castlefield from a neglected corner of the city, with buried remains, to a thriving major attraction with frequent popular events.

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