Manchester Textile Warehouses

Manchester Victorian Textile Industries

King Cotton & Cottonopolis

On visiting Manchester in 1825, the German architect
Karl Schinkel wrote of his visit that “the enormous factory buildings
are seven to eight storeys high…where three years ago there were only
meadows”. He went on to say that the buildings were so black that they
looked as if they had stood already for a hundred years. King cotton,
textiles, spinning, weaving and dyeing were the staple commercial enterprise
of Manchester and the host of small mill towns that surrounded it. The
city became known locally as “Cottonopolis”.
Thanks to the infrastructure of a well connected canal system, the coming
of the railways, and later, the Manchester
Ship Canal
, Manchester was ideally placed to receive incoming raw
materials, had the large workforce required to process them, and the
means of distribution for finished goods. It was, in many ways, the
warehouse of the western world.
So the city built warehouses – many of them – fine and architecturally
elegant pioneering buildings which often belied their purpose. They
were also structurally advanced, being the first large scale commercial
use of cast iron frameworks – then a revolutionary new material whose
integrity was largely untried. Thankfully, due to the enduring quality
of the building method, many still survive intact today -some have found
new functions, as in the originally Watts Warehouse, now the Britannia

Manchester - Great Northern Railway Goods WarehouseManchester - London Warehouse, Piccadilly.
Left to Right: Watts Warehouse; The Great
Northern Railway’s Goods Warehouse; London Warehouse, Piccadilly; Dale
Street Warehouse

Manchester’s Main Warehouses

Built in Manchester’s Portland Street, just off Piccadilly
Gardens in 1851-56 for S&J; Watts by the architects Travis and Magnell,
this spectacular building housed the largest wholesale drapery business
in the city, and is regarded by many authorities as the queen of Manchester’s
warehouses.From the start it was regarded as an ambitious and showy
structure, eminently suited to its owner, a self-made businessman and
entrepreneur. The building is constructed using classical devices, each
storey in a different style – Italian Renaissance, Elizabethan, French
Renaissance and Flemish, and each corner is topped by a large tower
with Gothic Rose Windows. It typifies the confidence of its owner and
the civic pride which men such as he had for the city of Manchester.
He numbered the rich and famous among his friends – politicians and
churchmen all dined regularly at his home in Cheadle, and Prince Albert
chose to stay with him when he visited Manchester to open the Art Treasures
Exhibition in 1857. The building narrowly avoided demolition in 1972,
and now thrives as the Britannia Hotel.

Still rising high above the streets of Manchester, this fine
large warehouse in Watson Street still boldly proclaims its lineage
in large white letters under its cornice. Built in 1898, quite late
in commercial terms, it was to be the forerunner of modern freight transportation
systems, in that it provided an interchange between rail, canal and
road networks in Manchester. A tunnel ran beneath to connect it directly
to the Manchester & Salford Canal Junction. Trains arrived directly
from the Central Station (now the GMEX Centre) alongside on a specially
constructed iron viaduct into its huge marshalling yards, and goods
were raised and lowered using hydraulic power. The building acted until
recent years as a car park for visitors to the GMEX Centre, but is now
under considerable refurbishment and development with fully restored
fabric and shopping and leisure facilities being created out of virtually
derelict spaces. Good to see such a fine old building coming back into
its former glory. The new public square created in front of the warehouse
offers several cafés and bars as well as meeting and performance
spaces. The whole row of frontage shops in Deansgate have also been
vacated and restored so as to reflect their original cohesive and uncluttered
architectural styling, as well as allowing visual access to the warehouse
behind, obscured as it was for decades by a virtual ‘shanty town’ of
shop frontages and signage.

Piccadilly Railway Station was originally called London Road
Station, and was opened by the Manchester & Birmingham Railway Company
in 1842. Later its use was shared by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire
Railway, and the two companies jointly built the new station in 1865.
The MS&LR; erected four large warehouses nearby for goods storage, of
which only this one survives. It stands seven storeys high in brick,
with large stone cornerstones (quoins). Internally it has a skeleton
of massive cast iron columns with wrought iron box girders and brick
arched floors, all designed to minimise the risk of fire. It was originally
joined by the Ashton Canal, but this has long since been filled in to
provide access to the building which for many years has been used as
a car park. The whole building is currently being lovingly restored
to be commercially viable once more as a luxury and executive apartment

In the mid-19th century, Portland Street was devoted almost
entirely to warehouses. Many stood until the Second World War when they
suffered fatal damage through bombing. Fortunately, a few remain. Many,
like the Portland Street Warehouse, were built in the very highest architectural
styles. This one, on the lines of a great Italian Renaissance palazzo ,
with a simple elegance and monumental strength which exudes security
and confidence. Its grand central staircase leads up to the storage
floors, for, while buying was actually done at the Royal Exchange, goods
would be inspected in the warehouse prior to delivery. The basement
house a steam engine and boilers which powered the hoists to raise goods
up and down the building. Loading and unloading was never done on the
street side – this always presented a dignified Victorian elegance.
The rear of the warehouse is the hoist loft (or hovel), where work was
actually carried out. In 1871, the periodical The Manchester Civic ,
describing the architecture of Manchester commented on its warehouses
: “…the high quality of the town’s architecture is mainly derived
from these buildings”.

Castlefield Warehouses

Partially rebuilt in 1987, this warehouse had been demolished
in 1960. First built in the early 1770s, as a terminus to the
along which coal had been transported from Worsley, the warehouse
overhung the canal so that narrowboats could moor in below and goods
could be raised by winch the 20 feet up to the warehouse above.
The reconstructed front shows two docks- one, the entrance to James
original tunnel by which coal was offloaded, and the
other constructed much later in about 1807.

On the south side of the Castlefield Basin lies this large
5 storey brick built warehouse constructed between 1828-3, still has
two large arched openways to allow boats direct access at water level.
It was substantially restored in the late 1980s, when it was converted
into luxury flats and offices. It can be accessed from the canal basin
through a wooden lift bridge which owes more to nostalgia than practicability.

Built entirely in brick in 1825, this is the oldest surviving
warehouse at Castlefield, though it stood dangerously derelict and decaying
for many years until it was restored between 1995-97 by Ian Simpson
Architects. Standing 3 storeys high at street level and four at water
level with 2 arched water entrances for boats. Later glass stair units
were subsequently placed at either end of the warehouse. Some of the
interior work has been preserved in the renovation, including the wooden
king posts and some of the original hoisting gear.

See Also: Castlefield

Other Manchester Inner City Warehouses

The first three are now the Thistle Hotel, (formerly known
as the Portland Hotel) and No. 9 are offices, of which only the facades
survive on all, these buildings were designed by Edward Walters between
1851 and 1858 – (Walters was responsible for at least 10 major warehouses
in Manchester city centre, the
Free Trade
in St Peter’s Street). This row of fine buildings has distinguished
ground floor rustication with arcading (a wall of arches – now glazed).
As a point of interest, No.1 Portland Street was formerly the Queens
Hotel, replaced by a modern steel and glass structure by Charles, White
& Hood in 1974.

Now the Princess Hotel, this building was formerly known as
the Pickles Building, standing on the corner of Portland Street, and
was designed by Clegg & Knowles between 1858 and 1863. Built in
a so-called “continental gothic” or palazzo style, popular
at that time due in large part to its introduction by Alfred
. Its exterior carries fine gothic stone carvings (oak
leaves and quatrefoils), though it lost the elegant tall chimneys some
years ago. Clegg was to go on to design many of the warehouses on Princess

(Corner of George Street). Thought by many to be the earliest
warehouse to be built in Manchester city centre, No. 83 was built by
Travis & Mangnell around 1847. Described in a contemporary edition
of The Builder , as “the best warehouse in Manchester”.

Now the Malmaison Hotel, but originally
designed by Charles Heathcote in Piccadilly-London Road for Joshua Hoyle
in 1904, this is a steel framed building, elegantly clad in brick, terra
cotta and distinctive green ceramics. It stood idle and decaying for several
decades before its modern conversion to a hotel by Darby Associates in

Number 37 Peter Street, opposite the Free Trade hall, built
for Clegg & Knowles by the Ralli Brothers in 1868. Its ground floor
is rusticated stone forming a series of circular headed openings, and
the building was much criticised in The Builder in that year
as having little architectural merit.

Designed and built by Speakman & Charlesworth in 1874,
this warehouse, now known as Chepstow House, is situated in Chepstow
Street and is a fine clean cut three storey brick building with stone
banding with a frontage of some 300 feet. It has a magnificent 10 foot
wide grand staircase and wide corridors. Recently converted into 76
luxury flats.

(Corner of Portland and Princess Streets). Large building
by Pennington & Bridgen in 1887. Built in red brick with stone string

At the corner of Portland Street and Oxford Street this plain
brick building with stone detailing was designed by P Nunn in about
1860 for Louis Behrens & Sons. It is of four storeys with 23 bays
running along Portland Street. The ground floor level is entirely stone

Probably designed by William Crosley in 1906, this is the
earliest surviving warehouse in the city, it shows the early use of
cast iron columns supporting wooden floors throughout.

Sources: See Bibliography
– Books about Manchester

See Also:

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This page last updated 15 Nov 11.