This is part one of a three part series that details some of Manchester’s last remaining examples of 18th Century housing that survives in the city centre.
No. 67-71 Princess Street, Manchester
Behind this charming, symmetrical Georgian façade is “The Waterhouse”, a public house and restaurant owned by the J.D. Wetherspoon company. It is named after 19th century architect Alfred Waterhouse, who designed many of Manchester’s public buildings including the town hall (1877) which is located opposite the row of Georgian terraces. But what is the history of these buildings?
The buildings received a Grade II listed building status in October 1974. They have been greatly altered over the centuries, especially in their current status which has resulted in the opening up of internal walls between buildings to create a flowing environment for the pub. Despite this the there are still a number of architectural features within the properties which make them unique within Manchester.
The exterior of the building is a typical example of late 18th century building. The bricks are red brick with sandstone dressings and the variation of 12 and 9 pane sash windows define this houses of being of the Georgian period. It is interesting to note on the photo above the side windows facing Cooper Street have been bricked up. This could well have been done historically to avoid the window tax that plagued Britain from 1696 to 1851 (hence the phrase “daylight robbery”).
The three doorways all have Tuscan pilaster door cases with open pediments, there are Doric columns and decorative fanlights, again distinctively Georgian in design. The decorative door-casing reflects the prominence of these buildings as the homes of the wealthy. Another good indication of the wealth of the former residents of historic homes is to look for the chimneys. The more chimneys a building had, the more fireplaces it had and therefore we can assume the residents were wealthy enough to afford to heat their whole house. Each chimney pot also normally serviced one fireplace, so by going off this rule for example, Number 69 may have had as many as 12 fireplaces.
Internally a few period features survive. These include some fireplaces, cornices and other mouldings. There is a Gothick style window at the top of the staircase, however the staircase bannister is wrought iron and a nineteenth century installation.
The layout of number 71 is larger than the other houses as it an end terrace and is also incorporates what was once a shop. From archival records we know there was a timber yard on this part of Princess Street, so perhaps this shop could have been involved with that. Also built at the back of the terrace is nineteenth century pub, which opens onto Kennedy Street.
The terrace was built as residential housing in the late 18th century, to home the rising middle classes in the city centre. The houses are complete by 1794 as that is when the first residents are recorded in the local rate books.
The history of these particular houses has been quite difficult to trace given their age and their location in the ever-changing metropolis. Although the present day address of the buildings is 67-71 Princess street, these numbers have been adapted several times over the centuries as the landscape of the city has also changed. Throughout the 19th century, from the 1830s onwards the address was numbers 41-45 Princess Street. Earlier than this in the late 18th century they were numbered 20, 21 and 22 Princess Street (also sometimes recorded as Princes Street).
Amongst the first residents of these houses on Princess Street are the Mullion family, William Simmonds and Mrs Rayner, who are all recorded in the 1795 rate payers books. By 1811 the occupants of the houses have changed to John Matthews and T. Cardwell and there is no doubt that servants would have also resided here. The residents are each paying around £13 per year (about £1,200 in modern money). It must be remembered that at the time this was a very fashionable and wealthy part of the city to live in, as dictated by the name of the street and also with the Portico Library and the Art Gallery both being constructed on nearby Mosely Street at the same time.
In his book, Manchester: An Architectural History, John J. Parkinson-Bailey provides us with an insight into what sort of social lives our wealthy Princess Street residents would have had:
“Polite society could be conveyed in sedans to the Assembly Rooms on Mosley Street… an 84 foot by 34 foot ballroom lit by three pendant and twelve wall chandeliers, with seats upholstered in orange satin. The rules were strict: gentlemen had to change partners every two dances, no couples were allowed to leave a dance before its conclusion, and no refreshments were allowed in the ballroom.”
On 16th August 1819 the occupants of would have been first hand eye witnesses to the St. Peter’s Field Massacre (Peterloo Massacre) which occurred just yards from their doorstep. A peaceful protest of around 60,000 spectators demanding Parliamentary reform was crushed by the Manchester Yeomanry Guards which left between 15-18 dead and over 700 injured.
This perhaps marks the beginning of the end of the terrace as popular housing. The cotton industry was booming and the city was expanding further and further and therefore to escape the overcrowded, noisy and polluted city centre, the wealthy retreated further and further south. By 1834 the rate payers books reveal that houses along Princess Street have already been converted into shops and other businesses. At the same time developers were starting to plan middle class suburbs along Plymouth Grove and Victoria Park. By the 1841 census most of the street has been converted into offices and shops, thereby marking the second stage in the history of these buildings.
The 1851 Census actually records that number 67, at least at the time of the census, is being used once more as a residential property. It is home to 37 year old William Lambert, his wife Frances and their maid Sarah Marshall and the cook Martha Lynch. William’s occupation is a “Berlin Wool Manufacturer” which must have provided him with a steady income as he can clearly afford two domestic servants. William is still recorded as living there in 1861, this time is occupation is recorded as “Importer of Foreign Fancy Goods”.
Meanwhile in the 1850s Number 71 is recorded as a multi-functional building. Some of the upstairs rooms were the offices of a solicitors company;Slater, Heelis & Co., which is still recorded at the address as late as 1947. Recording his memories of Manchester from the 1840s onwards, Louis M. Hayes recalled Mr. Slater:
“Quiet, reserved and gentlemanly, he did not make much noise in the world but Manchester has learned to regard him as one of her worthy citizens. He had one physical peculiarity, he rarely, if ever, wore an overcoat; and only in the depth of winter was he to be seen with a black and white shepherd’s plaid thrown over his shoulders and hanging loosely down. Occasionally he did acknowledge the severity of the weather by having the plaid wrapped across his chest.
Then slowly, the once erect figure became more and more bent, his visits to the office irregular and fitful, until they ceased altogether, and the most he could manage to do was to creep quietly and carefully on the Sundays along to Kersal Church. But even then, feeble as he was, he could not help being a polite old gentleman, and when meeting any lady he would struggle into the roadway so as to give her the footpath, doing so with a natural and inherent gallantry which made you revere the man. Though he has now been many years dead, I still miss his kindly greeting, his earnest face, his bowed form and his brave struggle against the infirmities of old age.”
In 1854 the local newspaper also lists Number 71 as the warehouse for “E. Sedgewick’s Funeral and Family Mourning”. Death was big business in Victorian Britain as society had strict protocols regarding the mourning period of deceased loved ones. Mr Sedgewick’s business which presumably either provided service for funerals or dealt in goods related to mourning (such as black cloth) was one of many in Manchester.
From the 1860s onwards and well into the twentieth century the buildings were used as offices and shops for various different firms and businesses.
Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
At the outbreak of World War Two in September 1939, the British Government took an informal census of the population.These documents have been released as the 1939 Register and it provides us with another glimpse into the history of Princess Street.
From the record above we can see that Harry S. Sever (b.1879), an unemployed insurance agent is residing at number 67 and next door is Elizabeth Ryder (b.1874) who was probably working as a housekeeper for the owners of the building.
As mentioned earlier, the buildings were bought and converted by J.D. Wetherspoon and converted into the popular public house and restaurant it is today.There is something unique about these buildings and they retain their elegance even after 220 years and when you’re sat having a meal in one of the rooms of “The Waterhouse” or walking through the hall ways, it is quite special to imagine our Georgian ancestors doing the exact same thing two centuries ago.
Archives+, Central Library, Manchester
The Manchester Times, 22 February 1854, Issue 554.
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 19 January 1861, p.3
The Sussex Agricultural Express, 31 October 1947, p.2
John J. Parkinson-Bailey, ‘Manchester: An Architectural History'(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000) pg.10
Louis M Hayes, “Reminiscences of Manchester from the year 1840”, (Manchester: Sherratt & Hughes, 1905) pp.142-143