Acres Field on which St Ann’s Square stands had been the site of Manchester’s annual fair since its begins in the thirteenth century.
A report of an old man written in 1781 remembered the square as being a cornfield.
The corn was cut in the autumn in this rural environment between a row of rural houses that marked Deansgate and a few taverns at the Market Place at the end of Market Street.
The harvest marked the beginning of St Matthew’s Eve and the fair.
Corn, potatoes and hemp were grown in the square whilst at the annual market, it was recalled that horses and cattle had to pay a toll at Toll Lane, where the toll collector would administer an oath to the owners of the livestock that if they returned that way with them unsold, the levy would be returned.
The fair continued to be held after the square was being developed into the eighteenth century but eventually the shopkeepers and residents began to complain of the nuisance that the fair incurred in what was becoming a busy thoroughfare in the town.
What more disgraceful act of vandalism than this could have entered into the heart of man to conceive? This beautiful greensward, this children’s paradise, over whose broad expanse they can play and roam is to be turned into a sea of mud where every blade of grass will disappear for years under the iron heels of a crowd of bucolics gaping at an over fed pig or the latest invention of sausage making machines.
The Lord of the Manor agreed and from 1823 there were to be no fairs and livestock markets to be held in Acres Field.
The development of the square.
Daniel Defoe in his journey around Britain, published in the early eighteenth century was the first writer to describe St Ann’s Square, when speaking of Manchester he wrote of the new square being planned around a church dedicated to St Ann.
In fact when Defoe visited Manchester the church had probably been built for around fifteen years.
The church was the work of Lady Ann Bland, a member of the Mosley family, Lords of the Manor of Manchester, daughter of Sir Edward Mosley, a fashionable lady around the town who married Sir John Bland in 1685 who would later desert her for another.
Ann and her family were firmly rooted on the side of the Hannoverian faction in the dispute that was splitting the town and the country over the succession to the throne, her great rival in Manchester society, Madam Drake supported the Stuart cause and the removal of the Hanoverians.
Ann, the leader of fashion in the town, so the story is told, fell out with her rival at a ball, and led her followers into the street where they continued to dance by moonlight
She had, with many others shunned the church of the Collegiate with its Jacobean leanings in favour of the dissenters of the Cross Street chapel, but on the death of Henry Newcome decided to build a new low church and with the backing of other prominent people in the town.
An act was passed in 1708 for the building of a church with a width of 30 yards and a square with fine houses, courtyards and gardens.
The plans said John Bryrom was a copy of the St Andrews in Holborn and the foundation stone was laid by Lady Ann the following year.
Link to St Ann’s Church
It was consecrated in July 1718 in a service which lasted four hours and which was conducted by Bishop Dawes of Chester, prayers were read by the Archbishop of York and its first rector Nathaniel Bann preached the sermon.
It was a great event for the town and a public holiday was declared.
The original church had a cupola but it was feared that it would fall, thus it was replaced by a steeple, which was objected to by the residents of the square and of King Street behind and was eventually replaced itself by a tower that we see today.
The eminent late nineteenth century writer on Manchester Swindells notes that when the church was built the graveyard was not enclosed with a result that by the end of the 1700’s it was
“ little better than a plague spot, all manner of nuisances being connected with it….in 1818 this disgraceful state of things was remedied by the erection of a railing around the area.”
The building of the square continued into the 1720’s and 30’s.In 1727 we know that alone of noble houses stood on either side with trees standing in front but the entrance to Market street was still cut off by a line of medieval houses with overhanging gables. The building of the first exchange finally opened up the far end of the square in 1788.
The trees were planted at the formation of the square we are told, two were uprooted by a mob during a political demonstration but one was removed by Mr Holland a linen draper, the first person to introduce the shop window to the square as it obscured the views or his potential customers.
The approach from the Exchange and the Market place to St Ann’s Sq was about as mean and as bad as could be imagined.Foot passengers made their way thru a narrow passage over which ran a portion of the old coffee house rooms.So dark and dismal was the passage that even at midday, it became known as Dark entry.Townsfolk who knew its nature praised before entering to make sure that no person was coming in that direction, as such an incident as two persons meeting in the middle might have serious results.
It was here at Loxham’s Tavern and the surrounding coffee houses that the merchants of the town would meet, and the town would gather for its news, the forerunner of what would be the Exchange.
An act of Parliament in 1776 would finally open it up, the old houses torn down, the round-faced Exchange building taking its place and a splendid view across the square to the church was opened up.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century, commerce had replaced residence, many of the grand houses were now shops and St Ann’s alley and also been converted to commerce.
t was also the beginnings of the banks moving in The Manchester bad opened at he corner of the square and Bank St , the heywood bank at the corner of the square and St Ann’s street in 1874
For ten years Manchester’s first post office operated from the corner oF Toll Lane and St Ann’s square before the death of Mrs Sarah Willert in 1801 when it was taken over by Joseph Harrop and moved to his premises in Market Street.
Swindells talks of some of the old firms John Satterfield who moved there in 1794, Robert Owen would be one person who would find employment at the drapery
Binyons the tea dealers in 1817, Thomas Sowler who in 1825 issued from his shop the first edition of the Manchester courier.
The church was falling into neglect, sand blocked its drains and the elements were being ,et in.Only in 1837 did Canon McGrath take control of the situation spending £2000 on repairs.
The nature of the church was also changing.Originally the congregation had been the residue of the Collegiate, it was said they went there in the morning and to St. Ann’s in the evening for services.
By the late 18th century, the parish was large enough to sustain the church by as people began to move away, it became the church for commerce, something that it retains to this very day.
In 1909 a deputation of local signatories descended on the Lord Mayor’s office to demand improvements to the square. The main compliant was the amount of traffic, especially cabs and there were moves to repave the square and improve the street lighting.
In the last decade of the 1800’s the land to the north and west in the square which had hitherto been enclosed with railings was thrown open to form a public highway.
The memorial to the Boer war was placed in the middle of the square in 1907, its base reduced in size so as to accommodate the passing traffic.
The statue to Richard Cobden was unveiled in 1867
The square was the meeting place for Whit Monday processions and was in 1832 the scene of the first hustings in Manchester where before the ballot box was used, the candidates would address the crowd from a makeshift platform and votes would be by hand.
Procter describes the hustings such
“The novel field of candidate consisted of five, the various party colours representing Mr Mark Philios, the right Hon Charles Poulet Thompson later to become Lord Sydenham, Mr Samuel Jones Lloyd, Mr John Thomas Hope and Mr William Cobbett who entered the square in procession heralded by a band of music…..many shops being closed and numerous waving aloft gave the town a holiday appearance.St Ann’s square was crowded to suffocation not omitting its dotted roofs and gay balconies.We arrived early and luckily as we tonight secured a central position near the hustings but as the rime approached for business the multitude gathering around became uneasy swaying forward and backward like an agitating sea.Repeateddly we were forced among the guarding constables, triple lined and as rudely forced back to our place.”
The candidates supported by proposers seconders and most prominent partisans being all duly arranged in their several compartments silence was proclaimed and the writ read out.
The borough reeve then advanced to the front of the hustings being reviewed with general cheers . He warmly congratulated the people on the possession of their new privalegde hoping that they would exercise their trust in such a discreet manner as to form a precedent for future elections.
This however was not the case. No sooner did a gentlemen step forward to propose a red candidate than the nature of the blues and greens became manifest-they hooted and howled until not an angelic word could be heard.They could not however prevent their rivals from drowning the discord with prolonged cheers ….. When the blues in turn essayed to speak, the Reds repaid them in in the same clamorous coin and with such vigorous interest to boot that their eloquence was speedily reduced to dumb show and shorthand…. The uproar reached its climax with the address of the stranger candidate Mr Hope who wa persistently refused a hearing.
- Philips 2923
- Thomson 2068
- Loyd 1832
- Hope 1560
- Cobbett 1305
Philips would serve the town for 15 years dying in Stratford upon Avon in 1873
Thomson was appointed Governor General of Canada the following year and was raised to the peerage. He died in 1841 fatally falling from his horse and the age of 42 and was buried in Kingston Lake Ontario, his title buried with him.
As for Cobbett his obelisk would stand in Mr Scholfields yard in every street the foundation stone laid by Fergus O’Connor.
The first attempts at making the square into a pedestrian only zone with street cafes were attempted in the early 1960’s but the plan was thrown out over concern that it was being traffic congestion with it.
Eventually the traffic was banished and with it came the attempt to recreate the Georgian Square. The banks are still there along with an assortment of small shops.
At the Cross street entrance to the square with St Ann’s church to the left is the former Constitutional Club while opposite a block of buildings that was once the British Dominions Insurance Company.
On the corner of the square stands the Royal bank of Scotland.This dates from 1848 and was Benjamin Heywood’s Bank. It was designed by J.E Gregan, three storeys high and is fronted with Pale Sandstone. Hartwell regards it as one of the finest examples of the Palazzo inspired buildings in the city.
While on the corner of Old Bank street stands Harry S Fairhurst’s 1925 building for Manchester Liners