Life in Ancoats

Ancoats experienced significant economic decline from the 1930s onwards, followed by depopulation, particularly during the slum clearances of the 1960s – the years which coincided with a reduction in the activities of the Manchester Art Museum and its eventual closure in 1953.

Map of Ancoats, 1910

The industrialisation of Ancoats, close to the centre of Manchester, started in the late 18th century and accelerated after the opening of the Rochdale Canal in 1804. The canal brought raw materials and goods into the heart of Ancoats, and stimulated the construction of large cotton mills in the neighbourhood.

By 1886, when the Manchester Art Museum opened in Ancoats Hall, the district was dense mixture of manufacturing sites and workers’ housing. Within a few hundred yards of the Art Museum were a printing and dying works, a sawmill, a timber yard, Pin Mill (now a cotton mill), an iron and brass foundry, and a rubber works. The proximity of these sites to the streets and alleys of back-to-back housing and court dwellings gave Ancoats the name ‘the world's first industrial suburb.’

Much of the housing in Ancoats was built quickly and cheaply, and more than half the homes had no private plumbing. Houses were divided to provide accommodation for the poorest families and cellars were let separately. Despite these hardships, the prospect of employment drew many people to the area, particularly immigrants escaping worse poverty in Ireland and Italy.

In 1851, population of Ancoats was 53,737, but unlike other towns of a similar size, it lacked public amenities, such as a park and a library. There were, however, dozens of pubs in the neighbourhood. Relief and healthcare for the poor were provided by charitable organisations and churches, such as the Salvation Army maternity hospital and the Methodist workhouse for men and women’s night shelter. The largest hospital, Ancoats Hospital and Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary, was funded by charitable donations and charged a small cost for treatment to people who were otherwise unable to afford medical care.

Ancoats experienced significant economic decline from the 1930s onwards, followed by depopulation, particularly during the slum clearances of the 1960s – the years which coincided with a reduction in the activities of the Manchester Art Museum and its eventual closure in 1953.