History of Ancoats Hospital

Up to 1825 the Manchester Infirmary situated in Piccadilly since 1755had been the only medical institution in the city. Attracted by the prospect of work, people flocked to the city and the population of Ancoats increased so that from 11,000 in 1831 by 1861 it had been increased to 56,000. Ancoats was built in a hurry to house the thousands of workers and families who came to work in the mills and factories. Medical needs outran supplies and the Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary was one of three medical charities along with Salford and Chorlton upon Medlock to provide medical services. James Kay who was one of the first Doctors at the Dispensary in 1828 and who was to write his infamous book ‘The Moral and Physical Conditions of the Working Classes employed in the Cotton Manfacture in Manchester’ during his time working in Ancoats. He wrote “I was brought into contact with one of the poorest parts of Manchester inhabited in the main by Irish labourers and factory workers. Manchester in 1828 was an accumulation of social evils. Lack of sanitation resulted in cellar dwellings so poorly drained that the floors were often under water and sometimes I had to walk on bricks to reach my patients bed with dry feet. Streets were where refuse was dumped, no supply of water, no drainage, no control of slaughterhouses, no protection to women and children in the factories. These were the conditions of the poor in Ancoats Manchester. The workers lived to a great extent upon oatmeal and potatoes spending their surplus earnings on drink and especially on whisky.” As the cholera epidemic spread across Europe, it reached Manchester and it was owing to James Kay that precautions were taken. A voluntary committee was set up, houses were visited, insanitary conditions reported and streets were scavenged and lodging houses white washed. Temporary hospitals were set up and medical officers appointed to each. James was in charge of the Knott Mill Cholera Hospital. James continues to describe the conditions around a group of houses lying immediately below Oxford Road and almost on the level of the polluted Medlock. This was a colony of Irish labourers and consequently known as Irishtown. The epidemic and the conditions left a deep impression on James Kay and he was mainly responsible for the beginnings of a better way of handling social problems. The Manchester Statistical Society began investigations into conditions of the poor as well as the provision of education. The Ardwick & Ancoats Dispensary opened in 1828 at 181 Great Ancoats Street. In 1850 it moved to Ancoats Crescent at 270 Great Ancoats Street. Within all these premises it provided a basic level of healthcare for the benefit of the labouring poor. In 1872 it moved to the presnt site on Mill Street and for the next century was a beacon of hope to thousands. It was formally opened in 1874 following a bequest from a Miss Hannah Brackenbury of £5000 plus £2000 associated costs that allowed the hospital to be built. It was Venetian Gothic revival design with polychromatic brickwork, saddleback roof and a distinctive central tower together with a clock face. The architect was Daniel Lewis a young architect from North Wales and perhaps due to his early death in his 30s is rarely mentioned amongst Manchester architects. The building itself was granted Grade II listed status in 1974 and in 2011 was listed by the Manchester Victorian Society as one of the 10 ‘most at risk’ buildings in England and Wales.

Video - diary of a nurse

— still to be provided —

Painting by LS Lowry

The Story Behind ‘The Outpatients Hall’ painting by LS Lowry

Amongst the many surgeons who practised their skills at the Ancoats Hospital was Peter McEvedy a New Zealander. Mr McEvedy was very well respected by all he came into contact with, patients and colleagues alike. He was known to be not only a superb surgeon but on the side of the ‘underdog’.

Before the establishment of the NHS in 1948 the Lancashire Education Authority Committee paid the hospital £2991 per annum to carry out children’s tonsillectomies. Such funds after 1948 were not required and there happened to be a surplus remaining of £1800. It was decided to split this sum between the nine consultants at the hospital. For whatever reason, Mr McEvedy the senior surgeon, declined his share.

On his sudden death in 1952, his colleagues were so shocked and saddened that they wanted to honour Mr McEvedy and decided to commission an artist to paint a painting of the Hospital.


The artist chosen was LS Lowry and he was paid the sum of £500. Nurses we have interviewed remember Lowry sitting on one of the forms in the Outpatients Hall sketching in his notebooks. He would take off his hat, place this by his side and begin his work. No-one bothered him and he was left to ‘get on with it’.

The painting was to become one of Lowry’s most famous works, ‘The Outpatients Hall’ at Ancoats and is one of his few internal paintings. The painting hung in the Committee Room at Ancoats Hospital until 1962 when the Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield asked if they could borrow it for a Lowry exhibition. It was specially insured for £1000 for its trip to Sheffield. In the 1980s it was exhibited at the Barbican in London and then when the hospital closed in the late 1980s the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester held it in their archives. It was exhibited at Tate Britain in 2013 and is now held at the Whitworth in Manchester and can be seen by appointment.

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LS Lowry’s painting

— still to be provided —

Ancoats Hospital Closes


In 1979 the first threat of closure of the Accident & Emergency Services came due to the restructuring by the North Manchester Health Authority. The centralisation of services was considered to be essential and the closure of Ancoats Hospital was part of a long term strategy. A local protest began at this stage by a porter at Ancoats Hospital arguing that local people had not been consulted sufficiently. The campaign was supported by many people writing to the Health Authority, by ambulance drivers and by local councillors. The 1979 campaign was very different to that of future campaigns as it was not organised by local residents. It was largely due to the union of the Print workers on Great Ancoats Street that prevented the closure. The removal of surgical and emergency beds from Ancoats was gradual and not known to local people. So, by 1987 the decision to close the Accident & Emergency Department was taken. Local people in the area decided to protest about this decision and for the next two years with few resources, in some cases family conflict and ultimately exhaustion the ‘sit in’ they had organised came to an end. The most important outcome of the ‘sit in’ was that people had gained confidence, understood the health policies and had a determination to see things through. This determination led to a community health resource being set up as Ancoats Community Clinic. In many ways the protest in 1989 prepared the ground many years later for the Ancoats Dispensary Trust to continue the fight for the heritage and future of the Dispensary.

Demolition of Hospital

Ancoats Hospital in danger of demolition The difference with the campaign that began in 2011 was that there were no services to save but the Dispensary itself. In 2001 the Dispensary and hospital buildings were acquired by a Developer from the NHS Trust. By this time, the hospital complex was in poor condition and considered to be of low architectural merit and so was demolished. The Developer sought to retain and refurbish the building as part of a wider redevelopment proposal. A Masterplan for the New Islington project was drawn up. As various schemes came and went, the Dispensary awaited her fate stranded on the edge of what was to become the North East Manchester Regeneration programme.

In October 2003 a detailed application was submitted, proposals included new buildings (Chips), Shingles and Urban Barn together with the refurbishment of the Dispensary. The intention was that this work would be phased and approval was given by MCC in March 2004.

In February 2005 a re-designed scheme for the Dispensary was proposed introducing some commercial section at ground floor level. This was approved by the Council. Changes to market conditions meant that it provided difficult to justify the commercial viability of the new building Shingles which was intended to follow Chips. Ultimately the Dispensary conversion did not progress.

In April 2009 close to the completion of Chips, MCC raised concerns over the deterioration of the brick gables on Upper Kirby Street. As a result 3 pikes were removed and dismantled. In May an unsuitable scaffold structure used as a temporary retention was erected by the Developer to supposedly secure the elevation. This was in August 2009.

An approach was made to the then North West Development Agency to safeguard the building and they granted funding of One million pounds in January 2010. The funding was to be subject to obligations on Urban Splash to complete the conversion of the building for office use when market conditions made this viable and bank funding was available which met the NWDA funding criteria.

A new planning application and listed building application was not made at the time due to the need to progress work quickly and MCC planners suggested that repairs within the existing consents could commence and materials salvaged for use in re-construction. This funding from the NWDA was to allow the Developer to bring the building into a safe weather tight shell condition which could be effectively mothballed for future refurbishment. This work included repair to the roof, internal and external masonry walls, floors and windows. The full amount of funding was to be spent by the end of March 2010 but an extension was given until July 2010.

When the Coalition Government came into power, this meant funding for regeneration projects was at risk. The funding agreement between the Developer and the NWDA was not executed prior to the work starting although it is indicated in documents that the Developer was encouraged to carry out the work in full knowledge of this. So, despite having received One million pounds from NWDA for pre-approval expenditure, when the funding from NWDA was withdrawn and couldn’t be reversed, the Developer did not have the financial resources to continue with bringing the building into a safe weather tight shell condition. For some reason, the roof had been removed and once this had happened, the internal walls, floors window frames, staircases etc were exposed to the weather. Attempts were made to seek funding assistance from various heritage groups to no avail and the Dispensary went up for sale.

Image of ‘Building For Sale’ — image to be provided —

This was a Grade II listed building of significant historical importance to Manchester and particularly Ancoats. With no takers, the application to demolish this building began its journey through the Planning Department.

Fight to Save the Dispensary

Image of the March — image to be provided —

In 2011 without any proper public consultation it was purely by coincidence that the community discovered ‘their Ancoats’ was about to be demolished.

During a meeting of the Ancoats Residents Forum towards the end of 2011 a presentation was given by Urban Splash during which slides were shown of the proposals for New Islington and Ancoats. These included the Marina, canal side apartments with cafes and continental style images.

No-one could see the Ancoats Dispensary and so the question was asked.

“Where is the Dispensary in this presentation”?

There was a silence in the space before someone said very quietly “The Dispensary is being demolished.”

Present at this presentation was a resident of Ancoats and someone who had been a patient at Ancoats Hospital on numerous occasions. On discovering that the case for the proposed demolition was due to be heard at the Planning Committee in November 2011 the resident attended and objected to the proposal. The case was deferred until later that year. Again at the next meeting the resident this time objected due to the heritage and medical advancements that had taken place at Ancoats Hospital and that the area would lack any historical fabric should it be demolished. Again the matter was deferred.

Spring 2012 - News quickly spread about this within the surrounding neighbourhood and within the space of a few weeks a Public Meeting was arranged , a telephone tree was established to alert the group of volunteers should any movement or road closure take place and a campaign was formed that was to last until 2017. Made up of volunteers from all walks of life, this campaign began without any money, without a plan, without a base to work from but committed to challenging the proposed demolition of the Dispensary. They recognized that something precious was about to be swept away. A part of their working class cultural heritage was about to be cast aside without any detailed public consultation. During one of the early meetings a member of the group suggested that a presence should be mounted at the Dispensary to give her protection. At that meeting The Vigil was created and ‘Fight to Save the Dispensary’ became the official title of the group.

The Vigil

Vigil Set Up

With the threat of demolition continuing into early 2012 several meetings were held to discuss a plan of action that would alert more people to the plight of the Dispensary. Letters were written to the Planning Department, articles in a local magazine informing people of the proposed demolition, letters to the Government Minister for Culture were sent as well as the Minister for Communities. Radio North Manchester FM invited members of the group to speak out about their concerns about the Dispensary so that the message would reach more people in the surrounding areas.

Images of the Vigil
— images to be provided —

Within the space of a few days in early July 2012 this crude primitive, yet highly effective structure of the vigil would be built every morning by the more practical members of the group. The provision of odd shaped pieces of wood, hammered together, as well as plastic sheeting for shelter during wet weather, emerged. This structure was taken down each evening and the same process would be repeated the next day. This would, and did, send out a clear message not only to the local community but to those in power, that there would be resistance regarding the proposed demolition. The vigil became a powerful symbol of community action. Despite demolition being ‘waived’ in May 2013, the vigil became a semi permanent fixture and from where several milestones throughout the years were celebrated. Everyone was invited to these celebrations. The vigil remained a presence until late 2017. It is hard to imagine this taking place anywhere other than Manchester but as the saying goes “We do things differently here”. With a cup of tea and offer of biscuits, the vigil became the space, on the edge of contested territory, where anyone, whoever they were or wherever they were from, could visit, find out what was happening, take photographs, discuss and generally show their support. Visitors from all around the world came to the vigil, such as academics visiting Manchester for conferences relating to Medicine, Science and Industry. Students from both Universities in the city were inspired to focus their work on this unique protest.

Public Consultation 2013

Questionnaire Result – on pie charts

Formation of Ancoats Dispensary Trust

Image of Group from the World.

A petition began in July 2012 and over 5000 signatures were gathered from not just outside the Vigil but from lots of community buildings throughout the neighbourhood. The petition was handed in at First Street.

The campaign group felt that we should commission a Surveyor to survey the Dispensary and report back on whether the building was beyond repair or whether it could be salvaged and brought back into usage. Without any funds there was only one option and that was to ask the community to donate towards commissioning a surveyor. We were not disappointed as we discovered the goodwill to support the saving of the Dispensary was tremendous. We managed to raise £600 to pay for the survey.

Result of survey – Verdict. The building had been partially demolished and not retained for future refurbishment.

This was all we needed to know and under the Freedom of Information Act we applied to see all the documents relating to the Ancoats Dispensary. We wanted to understand how it had reached the situation it had and who had been involved in the decision making.

In the meantime a local architect had offered to assist us in our efforts pro bono, on the understanding that should we be successful in saving the Dispensary from demolition, his application would be considered when procurement took place. This architect was instrumental in organising a Stakeholder meeting in

MAY 2013 – Present were Urban Splash, Manchester City Council Planning Department, Homes & Communities (replacement of NWDA), English Heritage, MCC Regeneration representative and members of the campaign group.


At the time a new Heritage Scheme had been created – The Heritage and Enterprise Scheme. Due to the state of the building it would be too costly to re-build but a new building within the original building complete with all its heritage features, a building that would be sustainable for the future. The condition of this scheme was that we would need to partner a Development Company and we were fortunate that Igloo Regeneration Company offered to be our partners.

It was at this point that the campaign group became a Development group to engage and promote the project.

A SPECIAL PURPOSE VEHICLE was set up between ourselves and Igloo and this became a Limited Company - Ancoats Dispensary Limited into which all the funds and finances went. Representatives from both organisations had regular meetings and the outcome or any issues were then shared amongst the group for discussion.

The Group changed from being a Campaign Group to a Development Group so that local organisations, individuals, funding organisations, professional organisations could promote our cause and support us in our efforts. We became the Ancoats Dispensary Trust

Fundraising Events

In July 2013 We applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the North West so that we could begin to set up and develop a Governance structure and pay the legal costs for setting up the Special Purpose Vehicle. To have the capacity of attending Heritage events and courses and pay the fees for any professional advice that would eventually lead to applying for Stage One funding to safeguard the building. The funding also enabled us to employ an Outreach Worker for 10 weeks so that they could engage with local community groups and promote the Dispensary as well as carrying out Needs Assessments as to what the community thought and felt about what the Dispensary should become. The funding also paid for 3 members of the group to attend the Locality Conference in Leicester – meet other organisations with similar aims and objectives and share ideas. What works, what doesn’t and what are the pitfalls.

In this we were successful and in October 2013 were awarded £10,000 Start Up Grant.

Burger Night

Party in the Park

Fundraising Events and Party in the Park and other locations - Images

Andy Hickmott Poem

Share the Vision

Lucy Powell’s Video


In September 2013, the Manchester Metropolitan University invited Ancoats Dispensary Trust to take part in a groundbreaking project. The University were, for the first time, inviting academics to partner a community group of their choice and explore the ways in which they could assist the group in whatever their aims and objectives were. The project was entitled ‘Creating Our Future Histories’. Apart from the academics, one of our Patrons June Rosen also took part in the process whenever she could. A student attending the MMU Creative Writing Course also attended as he felt he could contribute to the project. Ultimately, the project continued through the Spring of 2014 with members of ADT meeting at week-ends at the Peoples History Museum where workshops with other groups took place. The project resulted in an exhibition being held at Halle St Peters entitled ‘Creating Our Future Histories’. The academics did all the research about Ancoats and the Dispensary and to promote and engage the public they produced a ‘blog’ for our website. It was during this period that Andy Hickmott became our ‘Poet in residence’ as he became so inspired by the story of the Dispensary that for one of his final pieces of work he wrote a book of poetry entitled in:dispensable Andy had his book published and donated them to ADT for fundraising events. These are a few of his final poems about the Dispensary with ‘Annie Coates’ as the building.

In the same year 2013, a young group of film makers (Bad Bug) asked us if they could be of any help. We asked them to take part in a project with the Manchester School of Art & Design who were interested in supporting the Ancoats Dispensary Trust.

The students were asked to work on conceptual ideas for the Dispensary, bearing in mind sustainability and employment

This is the film that Bad Bug made of the project.

— film to be provided —

Manchester Histories Festival 2016

Manchester School of Art - Film Production

Glass Exhibition

Ancoats in 100 Objects

Stage 1 Funding Approval


Crowdfunding began as we journeyed towards Stage One to safeguard the Dispensary. Assisted by a Crowdfunding organisation a member of the group with research skills developed a Crowdfunding strategy. This ran alongside the fundraising events organised by the group itself. In order to achieve Stage One funding the group had to ‘match fund’ whatever the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded. This was a considerable amount but the group were helped by donations from the public as well as a large donation from Great Places Housing Trust. (MEN Newspaper article with photograph of man who was grateful for Ancoats Hospital and he donated £1000). The Crowdfunding began in November 2014 and continued up to May 2015 when the match had to be raised otherwise Stage One could not have proceeded.

In the meantime the group felt that rather than submit the application for Stage One and then wait for the decision that may be unfavourable we should celebrate and hold an event to share with the public, our success up to this point

The procurement process was moving forward and Purcell Architects were commissioned as the Architects and Heritage Consultants, should we be successful at Stage One. Purcell had an excellent reputation and wanted to become involved in the Dispensary having completely understood the importance the building had for not just Ancoats but Manchester itself.

One of the architects produced a poster to promote the event we agreed to hold at Halle St Peters entitled, ‘ Share the Vision’. The event was held in February 2014 and was a great success. Our two Patrons attended i.e. John Henshaw and June Rosen, the Bishop of Manchester, the son of John Pickstone (founder of Manchester Histories), the Head of RIBA – Royal Institute of British Architects, Igloo our partners, guests from various organisations, music played by musicians from RNCM and a Chinese Dragon Dance to include the Chinese community who had expressed an interest in supporting the Dispensary campaign. Singing was provided by the Golden Voices Community Choir and refreshments were served. A painting by the artist Julian Bovis of the Dispensary was auctioned at the event and raised £600.



Not to be daunted, we re-submitted the application following adjustments and in July 2014 the decision was that we had been successful.

The match funding still had to be raised to match the funding awarded for Stage One to proceed and along with various fundraising events held by the group including the Crowdfunding being carried out, the shortfall remained of £28,000.

In May 2015, at the last minute Ancoats Dispensary Trust received an anonymous donation for this amount and Stage One was able to proceed and Purcell formally appointed. Business Plan preparations began in earnest. (image of MEN Article)

Funding granted – last minute donation


Money was used for professional fees and safeguarding works.

Stage 2 Funding Rejection

Unable to meet the funding target – HLF rejected Stage Two Restoration With a time-frame of 18 months we recognized that raising the match funding of approximately £800,000. for Stage Two, seemed impossible and given we were a small group of volunteers who had secured Stage One, to reach Stage Two required a high level of expertise in not only fundraising but in developing relationships with high net worth individuals and trusts. We appointed two professional fundraisers but in fairness to them the time was too short and many of the funding bodies they applied to didn’t understand the Heritage & Enterprise Scheme. The fundraisers were on the back foot, having to explain the complexities of the scheme before even submitting an application. When it came to the final decision, we had a shortfall of £800,000. The Stage Two application was unsuccessful and the Dispensary was returned to Urban Splash.

Building returned to MCC

That decision was taken in 2017 and since then the Dispensary has passed from Urban Splash to the Manchester City Council.

It is our understanding that MCC are in talks with Great Places Housing Trust about the future of the Dispensary and hope that even now the Dispensary having survived this long will not be demolished but sensitively retained as a reminder of her importance in the history of Manchester.

What’s happening now?

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