Towns and cities

The wealth expressed in late Georgian country houses and villas was partly generated in the region’s cities and towns, where the industrial, mercantile (Harris 2010), commercial, municipal and institutional buildings of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries have national, and in some cases international significance.  Georgian urban development is usually characterised by a grid street pattern and regular classical architecture; inner suburbs or planned town layouts of this period have survived in inner Liverpool, Birkenhead, Ashton-under-Lyme, Maryport and Whitehaven (RCHME 1991), but only a little has survived in Manchester due to later redevelopment. Ashton-under-Lyme retains the grid street pattern laid out by the Earls of Stamford between 1787 and the 1820s, and nearby Fairfield is an unusual example of a religious settlement founded in the 1780s and still owned by a Moravian community.  In the county towns of Chester and Lancaster, in particular, individual townhouses built by the gentry for seasonal use during the Assizes are significant, alongside merchants’ houses where trade and industry brought new prosperity, as in Macclesfield.  Public and civic town buildings by regional architects such as Harrison and Lane are important in Chester, Lancaster and Manchester. National architects also contributed to the region’s urban development and civic buildings; in Liverpool, John Wood of Bath designed the Town Hall (1749-54), completed by James Wyatt in 1802, in Carlisle Robert Smirke designed the courts (1810-22) and Joseph Gandy completed the design of the courts at Lancaster Castle (1802), begun under Harrrison.  The revised Pevsner architectural guides provide a summary of public buildings in each town and city and a good overview of building in provincial Georgian towns is provided by Chalkin (1974).

Town House in Macclesfield, Cheshire

The sources for the Victorian architecture of this period are too numerous to cover here, but the Buildings of England county series and the gazetteer in Orbach’s Blue Guide to Victorian Architecture (Orbach 1987) are a good starting point. National or regional thematic research by RCHME and Historic England is a valuable resource for several types of buildings that characterise the region in this period including textile mills, warehouses, hospitals, chapels, schools, workhouses, prisons, pubs, workers housing, shops and swimming pools. In some cases, rapid national assessment led to more detailed research commissioned externally by Historic England: post office buildings were assessed in this way (Clarke 2008), followed by research and a report Post Offices of England 1840-1910 by Alan Baxter Associates, in 2010.

Throughout the period, new construction materials influenced the scale and appearance of commercial and industrial buildings, particularly. The early use of steel frames in construction prior to standardisation in 1909 has been the subject of detailed study by Historic England (focussed on London), and includes reference to early examples at Trafford Docks (Westinghouse works 1902), and the Midland Hotel in Manchester (1899), where the influence of American steel construction was a factor (Clarke 2014).

Terraced housing in a national context is covered by Muthesius (Muthesius 1982), and in the region there have been various studies on workers’ housing: particularly in Preston by Morgan (Morgan 1990 and Morgan 1993), in Liverpool by Taylor (Taylor 1974), by Menuge on Anfield for English Heritage (Menuge 2008), and in Manchester by Roberts (Roberts 1983). Workers housing in Lancashire towns has been researched for town survey reports, such as Burnley, published by Lancashire County Council (LCC and Egerton Lea 2005), and for reports produced during the Housing Market Renewal Initiative for industrial towns such as Oldham and Nelson. These studies have added to our understanding of workers’ housing built under local by-laws.  Extant worker’s housing built before the introduction of housing by-laws is relatively rare in the region, and merits further study to understand this unregulated type of urban housing and its survival; most was cleared by later urban development but is described in detail by Engels (1845, republished 2009). Archaeological excavation has revealed details in the construction and planning of early nineteenth century workers’ housing not revealed on contemporary maps or plans, for example in the Angel Meadow area of Manchester (Miller and Wild 2015) and on Chapel Street, Salford (CfAA 2013). Later workers’ housing in industrial towns includes the Egerton Buildings in Barrow-in-Furness, where tenements designed by Paley and Austin for shipyard workers are the subject of research by Historic England (Withey 2008).

Anfield workers’ housing, Liverpool, Merseyside

Victorian leisure provision included urban parks and gardens, funded by private benefactors or municipal authorities; the design of Victorian gardens has been studied by Elliott and others, and including in those in Manchester (Elliott 1986a; Elliott 1986b, 141-145; Conway 1985) and Conway’s research resulted in an overview of public parks (Conway 1996). Brooks published a national gazetteer of Victorian cemeteries (Brooks 1989).  For Greater Manchester, a research-led survey of parks and gardens was undertaken jointly by the University of York and University of Manchester Archaeological Unit in the 1990s (Roberts and Currie 1994). Investment and restoration under the HLF’s Parks Programme funded research into some of the region’s public parks, such as Birkenhead Park, the world’s first public park opened in 1847 and designed by Paxton.  Some private country estate parks have been the subject of research to inform restoration plans, as at Combermere Abbey (Chris Burnett Associates 2012). Gardens research is also undertaken by volunteers in county garden trusts, which advise the Gardens Trust (a statutory national amenity society) on planning applications affecting registered parks and gardens.

The English Heritage series of booklets on historic leisure facilities include Played in Manchester (Inglis, 2004) and Played in Liverpool (Physick 2007). Indoor swimming pools were researched by Inglis for Historic England (Inglis 2009); the latter are under threat of demolition due to public sector cuts. Recent losses include a Victorian pool in Rochdale (the Broadwater Centre) and Whitworth Baths in east Manchester, both the subject of historic building recording prior to demolition (Barter et al, 2014) and the (AHP, 2016).  Many swimming pools also provided public wash houses for working people; those in Manchester the subject of a MA dissertation, focussed more on the social history than the buildings themselves (Worsley, 2000). There has been no synthesis of recent building recording of close or demolished public buildings, such as swimming pools and libraries. 

Victoria Baths, Manchester, Greater Manchester

Recognition of Blackpool’s national significance as a seaside resort prompted research into its townscape and buildings funded by English Heritage, carried out by AHP, and the resort has since been the subject of a Historic England publication (Brodie and Whitfield 2013). Earl and Sell’s national gazetteer of theatres includes several in the region, including in Blackpool where the Tower and the Winter Gardens have been the subject of conservation plans.  

The nineteenth century building boom encouraged the rapid growth of the architectural and engineering professions and also the founding of new architectural and construction journals; the Builder was founded in 1842 by architect J.A.Hansom as a weekly journal. Illustrations published in the Builder (1843-1883) have been indexed, available in the RIBA Library; as well as elevations and perspective views, journals often contain building plans that explain original room uses.  Other important sources for late nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings, particularly country houses and villas, public, institutional and municipal buildings include the Civil Engineer and Architect’s Journal that ran from 1837 to 1867, Building News from 1860, the British Architect and Northern Engineer from 1874, the RIBA Journal from 1893 and the Architects’ Journal from 1895.  

Published research on the buildings and architects of Greater Manchester include Archer’s work on the innovative architect Edgar Wood (Archer 1963-64), whose buildings in Middleton are the subject of separate study (Morris 2013). Archer contributed to the study of other buildings such as Manchester Town Hall and the Rylands Library (Archer in Hartwell 2001).  Other published monographs on architects include Hartwell on architect Richard Lane (Hartwell 2007),  Cunningham on Waterhouse and town halls (Cunningham and Waterhouse 1992), Holden on Stott & Sons (Holden 1998) , Lingard and Timothy on Bradshaw Gass and Hope (Lingard and Timothy 2007), and Pass on Worthington (Pass 1974; 1978; 1998).

Grey literature reports on buildings of this period in Manchester and other cities and towns are numerous; this research and survey work adds to previous knowledge but is rarely in the public realm and synthesis is needed. Whilst recording reports produced under planning conditions may be available via the HER, conservation plans and other strategic reports compiled to inform building management are often not in the public realm, but may contain the results of research and recording of wider interest. Manchester Town Hall has been the subject of several conservation plans and surveys which are not in the public realm, although building drawings by Waterhouse recently discovered by Kirsten McKnight of Stephen Levrant Heritage Architecture are now available in Manchester Archives, which holds an important collection of Victorian building plans approved by the City Surveyor (

Manchester Town Hall, Greater Manchester

For Liverpool, key studies include de Figueiredo’s research into the design and building of Three Graces (de Figueiredo 2003), Sharples’ studies into the nineteenth century gothic revival (Sharples 2007b; 2008), merchant houses and two Liverpool architects Culshaw and Sumners (Sharples 2012). The internationally important docks and dock warehouses are covered by a series of publications on different sections of the docks, beginning with the RCHME volume in 1984 (Ritchie-Noakes 1984); central docks are covered by Jarvis (Jarvis 1991) and other published studies include the 2014 report by OAN (Gregory et al 2014). Following the World Heritage Site inscription, Historic England published a series of short books on aspects of Liverpool’s architecture, covering dock warehouses, the central business district, religious buildings, workers’ housing in Anfield and Breckfield, institutional buildings, parks and recreation.  Reports produced in advance of building alterations include a study of the Main Bridewell on Cheapside, by de Figueiredo with recording by Morris (2015); the bridewell is a rare example of a mid-nineteenth century city centre prison and the largest to survive from this period nationally. It was designed by John Weightman, the architect of many other Liverpool municipal buildings.

Publications on other notable architects for this period in the rest of the North West include Georgian architect Thomas Harrison of Chester (Champness 2005), John Douglas (Hubbard 1991) whose timber-framed revival buildings define Victorian Chester, and Thomas Beckett (Hinge 1981). The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography contains authoritative entries on many of the region’s architects, compiled by academics and writers such as John Archer (entries on J H Sellers, Edgar Wood and the Worthingtons accessible at

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