Manchester Metrolink Excavation

Project Profile

Project Title :

Manchester Metrolink, Pollard Street, Ancoats in Manchester

Client :

Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive

Type of Work :

Watching Brief, Excavation, Post-Excavation Reporting and Analysis

Project Gallery 

Soho Foundry Works - engine house and crane base   Soho Foundry showing forge building and courtyards   Pollard Cotton Mill, engine house   Excavations at Pollard Cotton Mill   Excavating main mill hall   Excavating erecting shop and courtyard  


Manchester Metrolink

Ancoats, Manchester - one of the world's first industrial suburbs

As part of an extension to the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive's Metrolink, NAA was asked to investigate a number of areas along the new route from Piccadilly station in the centre of the city, eastward to Droylsden. The new line passes through several areas of early 19th century cotton mills, iron foundries and other factories. The mills, many of which have been demolished during two centuries of development and change, established Manchester as a world leading centre for textiles, and coined its nickname Cottonopolis.

The first area investigated lay at the west end of the line in Ancoats, where work for a tunnel below Great Ancoats Street would destroy several major industrial features. The excavation revealed extensive and well-preserved remains of the Pollard Cotton Mill, the Soho Iron Foundry and two branches of the Manchester and Ashton Canal, between Great Ancoats Street and Pollard Street. These were all constructed in the early 19th century, when Ancoats was developing at an incredible rate, transforming from an essentially rural landscape at the eastern edge of Manchester, into possibly the first industrial suburb in the world. As the manufacturing heart of Manchester, the principal industry of Ancoats was textile production, particularly cotton, but other dependent industries, especially engineering, were drawn to the area. The development of the canal network was another vitally important factor in Ancoats' development, allowing transport of raw materials and finished goods as well as providing water for the steam engines powering the mills and factories.

Jonathan Pollard built his cotton spinning mill in around 1802, beside the newly constructed Ashton Canal. At 8 storeys in height it was one of the largest mills in Manchester. After Pollard's death, the mill changed ownership several times and had been demolished by the end of the 1870s, after which it became the Manchester Corporation depot. However, well preserved evidence of the brick built mill still survived, buried beneath over a metre of demolition rubble. Some of the walls still stood between 0.5m and 1m in height, and cellared buildings survived to a depth of 2m in places. Within the main mill hall, the regularly-spaced stone plinths, which once supported the cast iron support columns, could still clearly be seen and the mill's engine house, boiler house, and a gas-production house were also revealed. Although no original equipment remained, the gas house had brick walls 1m thick and 4m deep. The mill buildings were adapted a number of times during the first half of the 19th century as larger steam engines, boilers and new gas-making equipment were installed. Essential details on how power was transmitted from the engine house to the machinery in the mill were also revealed.

The Soho Foundry was built in 1804, but was acquired six years later by the firm of Peel and Williams, who established an international reputation as manufacturers of gearing, steam engines, boilers, and gas-making equipment. The firm built a second foundry (the Soho New Foundry) beside the original buildings in 1829, and enjoyed continued success in the decades which followed, including building two locomotives for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

The excavation revealed portions of both elements of the foundry, including several more substantial brick-built buildings with walls again surviving up to 1m in height. Within the original foundry, part of an engine house for turning and boring machinery was uncovered. This featured a floor of stone blocks 0.75m thick, under which ran water channels linked to a system of brick-lined drains leading to the Ashton Canal. Parts of two further ranges of buildings were also revealed, centred on a large courtyard. Within the New Foundry, the remains of three further ranges of buildings were excavated, although the function of these structures remains unclear.

Both the Pollard Cotton Mill and Soho Iron Foundry are amongst the most important examples of their representative industries in the Manchester area and are associated with the rising importance of Ancoats at the turn of the 19th century. Impressive remains still survived at Pollard Street, despite successive phases of demolition and redevelopment. The excavations at Ancoats have revealed a great deal about the layout and function of each of the individual buildings on the site, as well as how they interrelated as an industrial complex. This kind of information is contributing to a greater understanding of our industrial heritage; the processes, technologies and transport systems which made Britain one of the greatest economic forces in the world.