Marlsbro House


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
52-54 Newton Street, Manchester, M1 1ED


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Statutory Address:
52-54 Newton Street, Manchester, M1 1ED

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Manchester (Metropolitan Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Factory, 1823, probably designed by millwrights and engineers Wren and Bennett as their own manufacturing shop, but possibly a re-purposed room-and-power cotton mill.

Reasons for Designation

Marlsbro House, a factory building of 1823, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as a rare early example of heavy-timber floor construction, a concept providing both robustness and fire-resistance which appears to have originated in Manchester and which strongly influenced the mid-C19 design of industrial buildings in the USA, in particular New England;

* for its unusual variation of a roof designed using both iron and timber elements, in this case including a cast-iron clerestory running the full length of both sides;

* unusually for its date also incorporating iron ring-beams in the walls, to which the timber cross-beams and the heavy floorboards are fixed;

* with little alteration to the technologically interesting structural fabric.

Historic interest:

* as an early-C19 factory in the centre of the world’s first industrial city, outside the clusters of mills in the suburbs of Ancoats and Chorlton-on-Medlock.


The building shows similarity to cotton mills from the turn of the C19, with the four central bays on Newton Street projecting slightly. This might reflect the earliest known development of the site, with a square building in the centre of the block, which is shown on William Green’s map of 1787 to 1794. This was probably the first phase of Samuel Barker’s mill (the owner of the first phase building on this site). By approximately 1822, a gazetteer of Manchester mills depicted a cotton-spinning mill spanning between Faraday Street and Hilton Street, of seven storeys plus a loft, with a four-storey rear engine house and a five-storey rear extension over a gateway to the rear. Unfortunately this mill suffered a fire in February 1823, which reportedly left ‘the whole building…reduced to a heap of ruins’. This strongly implies that the building was completely rebuilt after the fire.

The engineers Wren and Bennett occupied the building by 1831, when James Nasmyth rented space from them in the adjacent building, (then known as their ‘old building’, on the site of the present Newton Buildings). They described themselves in 1841 as millwrights, machine makers and engineers, and made components for iron-framed buildings, machinery for cotton mills and steam engines, among other items.

Although a drawing by Nasmyth does show a seven-storey structure in the 1830s, this was drawn from memory many years later and cannot be relied on. When the building was advertised for sale by Wren and Bennett in 1850, the details confirm that it was its present height, and its roof appears to be original to the fabric. Several Manchester mills of the period incorporate iron in their roof structure, and some incorporate iron beams, but no others are known with iron ring-beams embedded in the outer walls. The listed contemporary Manchester cotton mills are all between six and eight storeys tall, although shorter examples are known to have existed. It is possible that Marlsbro House was rebuilt as a cotton mill in 1823, and then sold prior to 1831. Fluctuations in cotton prices during the 1820s brought boom and bust conditions and could have forced a sale.

After the 1851 sale, some of the original 42-pane cast-iron windows were replaced with timber sash windows, and the main entrance was relocated to Hilton Street, surrounded by a stone façade. The 1888 Goad fire insurance plan shows that the rear outbuildings were cleared by then, except for the chimney, and the building was in use by J Critchley’s umbrella factory and HG Forshaw’s costume factory, as well as an unnamed shirt factory. The current fire escapes are not marked on that plan. Prior to an aerial photograph of 1932, the Hilton Street gable was built up to create a flat parapet which wrapped around the first bay of the rear wall. The 1931 and 1962 Goad plans confirm a variety of uses including offices, warehouses and clothing manufacture.

Around 1960, the building was altered to its present appearance, as a raincoat factory by the owners AG Garments. A new full-height reinforced-concrete stair and lift core was inserted in the south end and a new level-access entrance created at the south-west corner, sheltered by a wraparound canopy, now removed. Windows were replaced and the building was rendered front and back, with the large arched rear loading entrance filled in. What remained of the chimney was removed, and flat-roofed, rendered brick entrances were built for the rear fire escapes from the basement. The Hilton Street parapet was wrapped around the first bay of the front wall. More recently, internal partitions have created smaller spaces on all the floors except the loft, concealing much of the historic fabric from view.


Factory, 1823, probably designed by millwrights and engineers Wren and Bennett.

MATERIALS: red brick with applied cement render, some iron framing, slate roofs.

EXTERIOR: prominently sited at the junction of Hilton Street and Newton Street, in Manchester’s ‘northern quarter’.

The building is of four storeys plus a basement and loft, and 16 bays long. The front faces north-west, the central four bays projecting by approximately 200mm. Render is applied in a checked pattern of light and dark grey, with grey paint at ground floor level. Windows have modern metal frames, with external roller shutters at the ground floor. Slim concrete sills are visible, but no lintels. At the left is a gable parapet with kneeler. A short parapet rises above the third-floor windows, partly concealing the loft. The right-hand bay has a square parapet which rises to the ridge height of the pitched roof, reading as a stair tower. This is the principal entrance bay, with a mid-C20 entrance surrounded by grey mosaic panels. Another entrance to the ground floor is in the third bay from the right, with modern door and no surround. The pitched roof is slated with an applied coating. A clerestory is set back from the parapet, with cast-iron stays (actually principal rafters) running at a steeper pitch from the eaves above the glazing, out to the parapet.

Returning at the left, the north-east (Faraday Street) wall is four bays deep, with coped, kneelered gable, and matches the front in appearance.

Returning at the left again, the checked render continues only as far as the first windows. The rest of the rear wall is in plain grey-brown render. External metal fire escapes serve the second bay from the right and third from the left, accessed from altered window openings. A small chimney stack rises above the parapet between the fourth and fifth bays from the right, and another projects at the right-hand side of the left-hand bay, which is blind and check-rendered. Single-storey rendered-brick entrances project in bays (from the left) 7 and 11. The roof matches the front in appearance.

Returning at the left again, the south-west (Hilton Street) wall matches the front, with a matching entrance at the left, and a tall wooden door with applied moulded beads creating 18 panels, at the right.

INTERIOR: the main construction is of ‘slow-burn’ type which omits joists in favour of heavy floorboards (probably 7 inches deep) resting directly on the cross-beams, which are centrally supported by a single line of cast-iron columns. Unusually, this is supplemented by cast-iron ring beams built in to the brick walls at the head of each floor. These are formed of inverted T-beams, with iron quadrants across the internal angles of the building. On the third floor the quadrants have empty slots which probably accommodated vertical wrought-iron tie-rods. The beams also feature metal spigots which angle down into mortices in the ends of the timber cross-beams, with a bolt for securing the fixing. In the end walls the beam soffit exhibits bolts for fixing the ends of the heavy millboard flooring. The combination of these structural elements forms a diaphragm at each floor.

The roof structure is a composite of timber and iron, taking a mansard form. Iron I-section upper rafters are connected by an iron pin to the timber collar. A central wrought-iron tension rod runs from the ridge to the collar. Additional iron T-section rafters run at a steeper pitch down from the collar. The collar rests on cast-iron posts with a shoe for the purpose cast into their heads. A wrought-iron tension rod runs from the shoe to the timber tie-beam. The lower principal rafters are partly external as they rise through the lower-pitched roof below the clerestory, and are fixed to the external face of the shoe. The trusses are connected by cast-iron purlins with lugs to retain timber rafters in place, and which curve upwards at their ends where they are bolted to the principal rafter. Between the trusses, the loft wall is formed of a cast-iron framework which is pinned together, with a middle rail, posts forming three windows between trusses, and a top rail incorporating a gutter for the upper slate roof. The junctions of the middle rail display sockets which would accommodate vertical posts (now absent) supported off the tie-beam, thus supporting the clerestory. The structure now displays some distortion and cracking to the tie-rods and the rails. The wall below the clerestory is timber-boarded.

Much internal subdivision and lining out obscures the historic fabric, and no other features of interest were visible.


Books and journals
Williams, M, Farnie, D A, Cotton Mills in Greater Manchester, (1992), 58-65
Langenbach, Randolph, Better than Steel? (Part 2) Tall Wooden Factories and the Invention of “Slow-burning” Heavy Timber Construction, Conservationtech Consulting, 2010., accessed 19/10/2019 from's%2520resume%26%2520pub's%2FRL-publications%2FMilltowns%2F2013-ICSA-TimberMiniSymp-Keynote%2FLANGENBACHSlowBurningKEYNOTE.pdf&usg=AOvVaw2Mo4a4vaCnfa2-fiBHow3F


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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