A view of an office within a historic mill building featuring arches of exposed girders.
A workspace within the refurbished Beehive Mill, Ancoats. © Historic England
A workspace within the refurbished Beehive Mill, Ancoats. © Historic England

Levelling Up Case Study: Ancoats, Manchester

A case study for Local Authorities about levelling up in Ancoats, Manchester, using heritage led regeneration.

Project summary

Levelling Up Fund category: 1
Historic England region: North West

From a position of economic decline, Ancoats has become Manchester’s ‘des res’ place to live and do business. Its renaissance over the past 20 years is perhaps the ultimate story of heritage-led regeneration, at the core of which has been the renewal and reuse of its huge historic mills.


Ancoats was once the hub of ‘Cottonopolis’, Manchester’s great cotton industry. Its growth started in the late 18th century, when it embraced and pioneered steam-powered technology, triggering an explosion in mill building and cotton production. Within 50 years Ancoats was transformed from a quintessentially rural landscape into one of the most densely developed industrial landscapes in the world. However, by the 1960s the area was in decline. Numerous mills had become ghosts of their former selves: neglected, abandoned and unloved.


A key turning point came in the late 1980s with designation of the Ancoats Conservation Area, along with the listing of key buildings. However, the threats remained. In 1998, Historic England placed six Grade II* listed mills on its inaugural Heritage at Risk Register.

Regeneration takes a long time, but the securing of funding for the shell repair of Murrays’ Mills in 2003 represented a turning point. Now it is a vibrant district of Manchester, just a few minutes’ walk from Piccadilly Station. This transformation was made possible through a coalition of conservation and regeneration bodies - of which Historic England was part - that focused on both safeguarding and revitalising Ancoats’ past.

Historic England through grant aid, research and advocacy was able to put conservation at the forefront of discussions about the future of the mills with the multiple partners involved. Working with partners such as the North West Development Agency, Eastside Regeneration and Manchester City Council, our development advice facilitated the successful integration of modern development with historic restoration.


The economic renewal of the area has also given rise to new, eye-catching developments, continuing Ancoats’ deep-rooted tradition of inspiring architectural innovation. But its historic legacy, embodied most strikingly in its evocative redbrick mills, gives the place soul and identity.