My next series of posts are going to focus on the hidden histories of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, which is one of my favourite areas of the city as there is so much art, history and culture (not forgetting excellent places to eat and drink) packed into the streets there.

This first post will explore the hidden histories of three Georgian houses, which amazingly have survived two hundred years of development in the city centre. They are tucked quietly away in a side street, nestled in between 21st century buildings.

Kelvin Street

Kelvin Street is located just off Turner Street and Thomas Street, towards the Shudehill end of the Northern Quarter. The Northern Quarter is the area which spans from John Street and Shudehill, to Great Ancoats Street to the west and almost to Ducie Street in the south, incorporating much of the area north of Piccadilly.

Despite the age of the buildings located there, Kelvin Street has only existed for almost a century as historically this street was known as Milk Street. Fortunately Nos. 1, 3 & 5 Kelvin Street were also numbers 1, 3 & 5 Milk Street; they retained their original numbering throughout the centuries.For the purpose of this blog post I shall refer to the buildings by their current address of Kelvin Street.

Map of Milk Street (Kelvin Street), 1890s (Source:

Eighteenth Century Origins

The area now known as the Northern Quarter began to be developed around the mid-eighteenth century and residential streets began to be laid out around 1760. They formed no pattern as such until the 1780s when Sir Ashton Lever sold his land to wealthy developers, such as William Stevenson, who began to try to refine the area, laying out new streets culminating with his the jewel in his development, Stevenson Square.

Weaving was a lucrative business in eighteenth century Manchester and it was still largely a ‘cottage industry’ meaning weavers worked from home. They were likely attracted to the growing town of Manchester by new houses which developers could charge higher rents for because of the additional space of cellars and attic workshops. Purpose built weavers houses were often built off main streets and in back streets, such as Kelvin Street. These types of weavers properties can often identified by the wide horizontal window located on the top floor of the facade, which allowed extra light into the workshop. The houses built on Kelvin Street are narrower than other surviving examples of weaver houses but they were built in a typical Georgian symmetrical style and include decorative features such as a fanlight above the front door.

Kelvin Street (Milk Street) was constructed in the late eighteenth century; Clare Hartwell suggests the dates as 1772-74.  Although only three houses still remain, there was originally Georgian style terraced housing on both sides of the street. The first residents on Kelvin Street are recorded in the Ratepayer’s book of 1795, they are: Hannah Howarth, Daniel Hatton, Martha Fisher, Charles Hargreaves, Thomas Hackinclose, Mary Wood, John Welch and Daniel Brown. By 1798 Martha Fisher and Daniel Brown have left the street and Edward Edwards and Alexander Sloane have taken over their properties.

Early Nineteenth Century

The 1841 census is the first surviving census of Britain. It reveals the Northern Quarter to have changed drastically from a semi-genteel area to an overcrowded industrial and commercial hub.

In 1841 the eight houses on Kelvin Street (Milk Street) are a mixture of singular and multi-occupancy household. At Number 7 (since demolished) was Robert Telford, a chain manufacturer, his wife Hannah, children: Sarah, James, Ann, Catherine. Living in a single room also at Number 7 is Esther O’Hara, a 75 year old “past labourer” born in Ireland and Jane Lord aged 20 and a cotton weaver. The household is completed by seven members of the Lynch family who live the cellar. James and Elizabeth Lynch were both born in Ireland and James works as a blacksmith. Their five children were born in England, the eldest is Thomas aged 14 and the youngest Ellen aged 7 months. This is a common example in Manchester of fifteen people occupying a house designed for one family.

Kelvin Street, 2016 (Source: Own Photograph, 2016)

Among one of the lucky families living in an entire house at Number 3 Kelvin Street is the Murphy family, who came over from Ireland about 1832. Daniel Murphy (b.1801) is a fustian cutter, as are his two eldest sons Martin aged 15 and George aged 10. The household is completed by his wife Catherine (b.1806) and two children Daniel, aged 7 and Ellen aged 2 who were both born in England. The rate books reveal Daniel Murphy is paying 5 shillings and 6 pence a week for his house and cellar (about £22 in modern terms).

Although it does not seem like much, it would have been a large chunk of the Murphy’s income, especially as the rents seems to rise with inflation. Just two years earlier in 1839, Murphy only paid 4 shillings a week (about £15.87). Historian Martin Hewitt has shown how the wages of fustian cutter’s wages were cut by about a third and a half in Manchester in the 1830s due to labour surplus. By 1850 a fustian cutter could only hope to earn around 6 shillings a week, which after the deduction of rent leaves very little else to survive on.

Within a decade the Murphy family have left Kelvin Street and Number 3 is now occupied by Abraham Appleton, a 28 year old cap maker and his wife Lenia, aged 24 and their 8 month old daughter, Mary. Both Abraham and Lenia were born in Prussia according to the census (the unification of Germany did not take place until 1871). The influx of migrants from different countries such as Ireland and the German State of Prussia, shows the Northern Quarter to be a solidly working class area. However unlike other working class areas in Manchester in the 1850s such as the distinctively Irish-based Little Ireland and the Jewish population of Strangeways, the Northern Quarter appears to have been a melting pot of different cultures.

1861: A Snapshot in Time

By 1861 the fortunes of the street have definitely not improved. At Number 1 Kelvin Street (Milk Street) is the Dutton family. James Dutton, an agent, is the head of the household and lived with his wife Sarah and their three infant children; Sarah Ellen aged 4, Jimina (possibly Jemima) aged 2 and James aged 4 months.

Next door at Number 3 is Thomas Bentley, his wife Alice and their children; Sarah, Mary Ann, Emily and Alice. Also living in a room in the house are lodgers Betsy Scholfield, Besty Shaw. In another room is Edward Rourke, Ellen Rourke, James Edward Rourke and Susan Mullen. Living in the cellar of Number 3 is Thomas and Ellen Holland and their own lodger, Mary Taylor. Thomas Bentley worked as a labourer, Betsy Scholfield, Betsy Shaw, Edward and Ellen Rourke all worked as weavers and Thomas Holland was a earthenware dealer.

Number 5 Kelvin Street was the most crowded building in 1861, with 18 people living in the one house. Here are the separate households within the one property as they appear in the census (each household separated by the plain line) :

Alexander Calvert (b.1827) Head Packer
Mary Calvert (b.1831) Wife Tape Lapper
James Calvert (b.1852) Son Scholar
John Arkwright (b.1794) Lodger Small ware weaver
Ann Arkwright (b.1809) Wife Small ware weaver
Jeremiah Graham (b.1821) Lodger Labourer
Elizabeth Graham (b.1821) Wife Calico weaver
Jeremiah Graham (b.1854) Son
William McAnany (b.1839) Lodger Hatter
Mary Jane McAnany (b.1840) Wife Braid tenter
Sarah Tucker (b.1808) (widow) Lodger Charwoman
Charles Tucker (b.1840) Son Tape lapper (hat)
John Tucker (b.1842) Son Umbrella manufacturer
Ellen Pickervant (Pickerbank on census) (b.1789) (widow) Head (household occupies the cellar)
Alice Whitmore (b.1817) Daughter Winder of bobbins
Philip Davenport (b.1843) Grandson Grocer’s porter
Thomas Talkington (b.1845) Grandson Letterpress printer
Alice Davenport (b.1847) Granddaughter Umbrella coverer

The 1861 census is a window into the past and provides us with a good study of Kelvin Street in this year. The street is clearly overcrowded, in numbers 1,3&5 alone there are 37 people. The area can be defined as slum dwellings, although the occupants of the houses are somewhat lucky as each house has its own privy (outside toilet). There were located behind the houses in a courtyard space, which was completely surrounded by buildings on all four sides. Unfortunately, the 18 residents of Number 5 would have to have shared one toilet whereas the privy for Number 1 Kelvin Street was only used by the five members of the Dutton family.

All the residents appear to be in employment with the exception of the young children and the elderly Ellen Pickervant. It is clear from the household arrangement of Number 5 that the occupants appear to support each other, for example William McAnany works as a hatter and Charles Tucker and Mary Calvert both work as tape lappers also in the hat making business. Likewise John Tucker is an umbrella manufacturer and Alice Davenport works as a umbrella coverer, so its likely they worked together too.

The Rate Books for 1861 reveal a little more about the residents of Kelvin Street at the time. The house and the cellar are not treated as one single complete property, but as two individual properties, so scrupulous landlords could fit more tenants into their buildings. For their houses James Dutton, Thomas Bentley and Alexander Calvert pay 4 shillings a week (about £16 in modern terms) but don’t forget Bentley and Calvert also sub-let rooms in their homes to other lodgers, so this money would have gone towards the weekly 4 shillings too.

The view down to the cellar of Number 1 Kelvin Street. Ignoring the litter, the depth of bricks give us a good idea about how low this room was below ground level. Thomas Keane lived here for four years in the 1860s. (Source: Own Photograph, 2016)

For their cellars the Holland’s and Mary Pickervant pay 1 shilling and 3 pence a week (about £5.30).Even the Dutton family at Number 1 had the cellar under their house let to a Thomas Keane later in 1861.  It seems quite incomprehensible 156 years later to imagine whole families living in a cellar, especially Mary Pickervant who was aged 72 at the time and living in cramped, damp conditions underground with her daughter and three grandchildren. The Common Lodging Acts of 1851 and 1853 made it a legal requirement for landlord to provide their tenants with a the basic necessities of a fireplace and access to a privy. Further legislation from Manchester City Corporation prohibited cellar dwellings in a Local Act of 1853 and subsequently 454 were closed between 1854 and 1861.

This surely had an effect on Kelvin Street and the Rate Book of 1863 reveals only one cellar dwelling at Number 1 Kelvin Street (still occupied by Thomas Keane – he is still there in 1865). It must be noted that when the City Corporation closed a cellar dwelling, no alternative accommodation was provided for the residents.

The Late Nineteenth Century

By the next census of 1871, the street has changed dramatically from a decade earlier. Only four houses on the street are still used as residential properties, Numbers 6 & 8, Number 3 (still occupied by the Bentley family and lodgers) and Number 5 (still occupied by the Calvert family). Some of the residents of Kelvin Street from the 1860s haven’t moved far. For example Sarah Tucker and her son John have moved just feet away to Back Turner Street.

Upon his death in 1893, Alexander Calvert (now a widower living alone) was the sole residential occupant of the street, still at Number 5 having lived there since 1849. His occupation in the 1891 census was recorded as a shop keeper, perhaps a business he ran from his property.

Advertisement of the Shakespeare Manufacturing Co., in Milk Street (Kelvin Street) (Source: The Weekly Telegraph, 9 May 1896)

The rest of the street is now commercial warehouses. Some are new buildings, built in the late nineteenth century, which also fronted onto Turner Street but other warehouses are in the former domestic homes themselves. This was certainly the case for Number 1 Kelvin Street (Milk Street) which in 1896 was home to the Shakespeare Manufacturing Co. The Company specialising in ladies costumes and drapery (see above).

In 1905, Kelvin Street was the scene of a fatal accident. Harry Rutter was crushed and received fatal injuries when playing on a hoist on one of the buildings on Kelvin Street (then still known as Milk Street). The owner of the hoist, a Mr Wadsworth stated that Harry deserved what he got, as he had climbed over a wall over three feet high to reach the hoist. The jury however returned the verdict of accidental death and made it known they though Mr Wadsworth was negligent and at the very least morally responsible for Harry’s death. Harry was just 16 years old and working as an office boy for Thomas Ford & Co. on Fountain Street. It is likely he was just indulging in some innocent fun which ultimately led to his death.

Kelvin Street Today

During the 1910s there was a great deal of construction work on Kelvin Street, which including demolishing the former houses on one side of the street and erecting a new building there. It was about this time as well that the street changed its name to Kelvin Street, from Milk Street.

In the 1950s, numbers 3&5 Kelvin Street were the offices of carriers Star Express Co. Ltd. In June 1996, Number 1 Kelvin Street was granted Grade II listed building status. Number 7 Kelvin Street, an early nineteenth century small warehouse was also given a Grade II listed building status at the same time but, as of January 2017 that building is being demolished. Only Number 1 received listing as Numbers 3 & 5 were in a poor condition at the time.

By 2008 all three of the former Georgian terraces were in a very poor state of repair, luckily they were renovated and restored by 2012 and today they are used as offices.The row of three houses are now dwarfed in between twenty-first century buildings. Although a quiet street, Kelvin Street still occasionally appears in the press, for better or worse, as the most recent example shows. In September 2015 the Daily Mirror reported a woman exposed her naked breasts to a passer-by on Kelvin Street during the daytime.

Today the smart symmetrical facades of the building look similar to how the buildings would have looked when they were first built, well over 200 years ago. However the bricks and mortar hide the secrets of Kelvin Street and the residents that lived there. It is extremely rare to find buildings in Manchester that were once overcrowded dwellings, especially with the cellars still intact. Kelvin Street, tucked quietly away in the Northern Quarter, stands as a legacy of a bygone era.

Researched and Written by Thomas McGrath