As you may have recently read we are very proud of Manchester’s heritage here at huddled. Manchester expanded rapidly during the Industrial Revolution and with expansion comes new buildings. There was a ‘Keeping Up With The Jones’s’ type competition between the city’s industrialists and town planners as they tried to outdo each other by building the grandest and most impressive building in the city.

Below is a list of 11 of Manchester’s most impressive buildings:

1. Manchester Cathedral

Manchester Cathedral

The origins of Manchester’s first churches are obscure; there is a document preserved in Manchester Cathedral called ‘The Angel Stone’ that was discovered in the wall of the cathedral’s south porch and has been dated to around 700AD. Before Manchester became a city it was a small village that was centred between Manchester Cathedral and St. Ann’s Square with Manchester Cathedral being sometime during the 16th century. The building was severely damaged in 1940 during a German air raid and it took almost 20 years to repair the building. The cathedral was also damaged in the IRA bomb attack in June 1996. The cathedral was granted Grade I listed building status in January 1952.

2. Cheetham’s Library

Cheethams Library

Cheetham’s Library is one of the oldest buildings in Manchester; its origins can be stemmed back to the same period as Manchester Cathedral. It is the oldest free public reference library in the UK and has been in continuous operation since 1653, when it was established through the will of Humphrey Chetham; the will also established Chetham’s Hospital & Chetham’s School of Music. The library is still going to this day and is open to the public free of charge.

3. Shambles Square

Shambles Square

Shambles Square is another unique part of Manchester sitting next to Exchange Square where old meets new. It contains The Old Wellington Inn that was built in 1552 and was the birthplace of John Byrom in 1692. The premises were licensed in 1862 and became the Vintners Arms, then the Kenyon Vaults and later The Old Wellington Inn. The building was extended in the 18th century to house John Shaw’s Punch House, which eventually became ‘Sinclair’s’, until oysters were introduced to the menu in 1845 and it became known as ‘Sinclair’s Oyster Bar’. The buildings, however, were not originally built in the location where they stand today. In 1974 most of the buildings between Shudehill and Market Street were demolished for the construction of the Arndale Shopping Centre, with The Shambles buildings being dismantled and rebuilt in their current site.

4. Royal Exchange Building

Royal Exchange

As Manchester took its place in the history books as one of the first industrial cities on the planet, it went through a period of rapid growth that was fueled by trade. Most of the trading took place in the exchange building which first opened in 1809 at the junction of Market Street and Exchange Street. The building was extended in 1849 before being completely rebuilt between 1867 to 1874.  This new building was extended and modified by Bradshaw Gass & Hope between 1914 and 1931 to create the largest trading hall in England. The building took a direct bomb hit during a German air-raid in 1940 and was severely damaged but was repaired. Trading ceased in 1968 and the building remained empty until 1973, with the threat of demolition hanging over it. The building was saved when it was chosen as the home of the new Royal Exchange Theatre, which was opened by Laurence Olivier on 15th September 1976. The building was again damaged in the 1996 IRA bombing – the building took over two years to repair at a cost of £32 million.

5. Old Smithfield Market

Smithfield Market

The former building of Smithfield Market is a unique part of the city, the walls of the old market still stand today but inside the fruit and veg stalls have been replaced by apartment buildings. The market came into existence in 1844 and in 1853 an iron and glass roof was installed to cover the market area. Over time, the market expanded with a fish market being added in 1872 (now the Arts & Craft centre) and a fish market office (now Blu Bar). The covered market hall was closed in 1972 and demolished a short time later, with apartment buildings built in the empty space.

6. Manchester Town Hall

Manchester Town Hall

Manchester’s first town hall was located on King Street, but as the size and wealth of the city expanded it was decided Manchester needed a new, larger town hall. Once the location of the new town hall was decided, a design competition was launched which attracted 137 entries. The eventual winner of the competition was Alfred Waterhouse, who also designed The Natural History Museum and Assize Courts in Manchester which were demolished in 1957 and is known as one of Britain’s great ‘Lost Buildings’. Construction on the town hall started in 1868 and was completed in 1877 and was Manchester’s tallest building until the CIS Building was constructed in the 1960s. Construction started on the town hall extension in 1934 and was completed in 1938. The town hall is considered by many to be the grandest building in Manchester.

7. John Rylands Library

John Rylands Library

The John Rylands Library was commissioned by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands after she bought land on Deansgate to build a lasting memorial to her late husband John Rylands, who was one of Manchester’s most prominent businessmen at the time. The library was opened to the public in 1900. In 1972 The John Rylands Library and the library of the University of Manchester merged to form the John Rylands University Library of Manchester. The building was granted Grade I listed status on 6 June 1994.

8. London Road Fire Station

London Road Fire Station

This is a building where the name is a giveaway of its purpose; a former Fire Station that was designed by the firm Woodhouse, Willoughby and Langham and was constructed from 1904 to 1906. The station was open for 80 years and housed firemen and their families until 1986 when the fire service left London Road. The building has remained vacant ever since and the health of the building has declined. There have been plans in the pipeline for many years to convert the building into a hotel which would save the building from disrepair but in 2012 the owners of the building, Britannia Hotels, stated the conversion of the building was unsustainable for the foreseeable future leaving the fate of the building hanging in the balance.

9. Daily Express Building

Express Building

You would probably think this building doesn’t deserve to be on the list, it is just another glass building. But it is a glass building that was built in 1939 and was a very radical design for that period, many people would not believe the building is from the 1930s. The building was designed by SIr Owen Williams and as the name suggests the building was originally built for The Daily Express. It was home to the newspaper until the 1990s and the building was converted into offices and accommodation.

10. Urbis


Urbis is one of Manchester’s modern glass buildings that was designed by the architect Ian Simpson. Opened in 2002, Urbis is located in Cathedral Gardens which was one of the areas that underwent redevelopment after the 1996 IRA bombing of Manchester. Although visually appealing, the building was under-utilised during its first few years and it wasn’t until the National Football Museum moved into the building in 2012 that it began to serve a real purpose.

11. Beetham Tower

Beetham Tower

Beetham Tower is instantly recognisable because at 47 storeys high it is the highest building in Manchester. The tower was designed by Ian Simpson and was built between 2004 and 2006 and is home to apartments and the Hilton hotel.

As we can see, Manchester is now a mixture of new and old. Glass and steel has now replaced brick and ornate masonry as the building materials of choice. Let’s just hope that in 100 years’ time, people are just as impressed with the our modern buildings like we are of the ones from 100 years ago.