A Pictorial Journey Through Ancoats

Studio North is based in the heart of Ancoats, just to the north of Manchester’s city centre. It’s an area back on the up after a recent history of decay and neglect and is chock full of hidden historic gems and bustling construction activity. In many ways the activity we are seeing today is the area’s second wind. Described as the world’s first industrial suburb, the area last saw growth on this scale during the industrial revolution, back when the city was the centre of the first Northern Powerhouse. We are situated on Bengal Street in a converted mill and the sense of history is something we all appreciate. The name of our street was actually taken up by the Bengal Tigers, one of the many infamous Victorian street gangs or “Scuttlers” who used to call the area their home. 

The Northern Powerhouse initiative introduced by George Osbourne, former Chancellor, is a direct attempt to tie the legacy of that earlier period of sustained economic and scientific progress to this new period of resurgence. On our travels through the towns and cities of the North, we see patterns that mirror Ancoats’ revival. We believe that Ancoats is representative of these wider trends in the North. Where heavy industry, manufacturing and single industry economies once thrived, we have the new creative and digital industries as well as jobs created through the City’s position as an academic powerhouse. We are also seeing a return to city centre living on a scale not seen for over 60 years, with families starting to live centrally too.

The buildings, motifs and even values of that previous age are not being done away with. Instead, they are being incorporated into a new way of doing things. This model of adaptation, remodelling and readjustment can be seen right across the former industrial heartland of the North, where new uses are being found for old buildings and exciting futures certainly lie ahead.

Our Apprentice, Sophiemay, has collated a few posts from Instagram that she feels sum up the creative buzz & historical significance of the area. So come with us on this visual journey through the area, helped by the bloggers who have captured the transition of this area beautifully.

A photo posted by @smlbxo on

  Ancoats has so many historical buildings, but as times change and the area continues to redevelop, new buildings are being built at speed. Somehow the old and new blend and work together and the adaptations the area is making still ensure Ancoats is unique and memorable. The below photo below perfectly illustrates the contemporary reality of Ancoats today with the historic and the modern side by side. The legacy and the future of the area have the power to complement each other. We have seen this across the North, with historic industrial buildings standing next to new towers of glass and steel. Concerns around architectural sensitivity do exist, but we see the aesthetic harmony and balance exhibited by most of Ancoats’ developments as a model for how this kind of regeneration can be a success. 

  A photo posted by @smlbxo on

This photo shows George Leigh Street, just by Anita Street – formerly known as Sanitary Street. The name offers a clue to their history, they are the first example of municipal housing in Manchester, built by the city to house workers who would otherwise have been subject to poor quality, low grade housing offered privately at the time. They have undergone some renovations over the years, but still remain solid and attractive housing. The name was changed in the 60’s when “Sanitary” became less of a badge of honour! This forward thinking social conscience was born out of the poor conditions associated with industrialisation. We like to think this ability to care for our community and those within it is still alive and strong. The area is full of local charities helping local people, through local solutions and with local funding. We feel that this sense of  caring for those around us is pretty unique. We went so far as to embed it within our brand values; we call it Northern Warmth.

A photo posted by @smlbxo on

Ancoats has a long history which has seen cycles of activity and abandonment, up to its current status as a renovated, up-and-coming area. Things really started to happen in the area when the Rochdale canal opened in the 19th century and it soon became the centre of what was termed Cottonopolis. By the mid 1800’s the population was over 50,000, but the population plummeted following the cotton industry’s rapid decline due to foreign competition. The below photo shows part of Murray’s Mill. The building photographed is currently under redevelopment to residential apartments by Manchester Life, a local development company. Ancoats’ recent history has seen it lying almost completely vacant, but this is starting to change with a whole host of residential conversions underway. The places where people used to work are now homes for a type of worker who is more likely to spend 9-5 on a macbook in a local cafe, than ever working the factory floor.

A photo posted by Dromomania MCR (@dromomaniamcr) on

In 2010 the Urban Regeneration Company New East Manchester Ltd (NEM) was established and since then, East Manchester has seen an increase in job creation, public services and new homes. The population of the area has increased substantially because of this investment. We can see the result of this from our windows, we can see a school and new homes taking shape at speed, it is heartwarming to know that so much love has been put back into the area we love and call home. The former industrial resource of the canals are being utilised as green spaces and spaces for living in the form of houseboats.

A photo posted by Iain Reid (@iaincreid) on

This statue has been part of George Leigh Street’s history for quite some time. It somehow never looks weathered or even dirty. This depiction of an elderly couple shows that the surge of flat building in the area is actually nothing new, the area has been home to families of workers throughout it’s history.

A fire escape seen through an arch. Wherever one looks in Ancoats, clues to the area’s industrial heritage exist.

A photo posted by Caroline (@misscazmataz) on

  In May 2016 the Cities of Hope festival took place, this involved 9 incredibly talented artists from various parts of the world creating a mural each to raise awareness for a cause related to their own values. The pieces range from existentialism to supporting refugees, homelessness to war children. The co-founder, Ben Barksy, is responsible for one of Ancoats most stunning artistic pieces, the Bird of Paradise. The area has not just grown into a centre for the arts and creative industries, but is serving as a canvas itself. 

A photo posted by Affandi RH (@affandirh) on


A photo posted by David Gaffney (@ggaffa) on

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  1. Viv Braddock says:

    Is the statue of the old couple still there?

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