The Story

A Brief History

Ancoats Dispensary

Having been established in 1828, the Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary moved twice before permanently finding its home in 1874 at 94 Mill Street (Ancoats, Manchester). It officially became the Ancoats Hospital and Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary, but usually shortened to Ancoats Hospital. Other buildings have come and gone, leaving the original building standing alone. Having stood proud at the centre of Ancoats for 140 years, the Victorian Society in 2011 listed The Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary as one of the 10 most at risk buildings in England and Wales [source].

The Trust's Story

Olympics Industrial

The Trust began as a reactionary, grassroots movement in 2012 to the proposed demolition of the Grade II Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary. A local group of concerned residents from this moment dedicated themselves to the future restoration of the Dispensary and objected to the proposed demolition tirelessly. A vigil immediately became stationed on Old Mill Street outside of the Dispensary.

The Dispensary, once a beautiful Venetian Gothic centre for the community to be treated medically, now stands a mere shell of its golden years. These golden years have never been forgotten by the local community and its generations of support it provided. As an emotional touchstone for thousands of native Mancunians, who may or may not have moved to other corners of the world, The Dispensary remains a historically important social feature. It can be credited for numerous medically advanced activities. It is here, in a small part of the industrial capital of the world of Manchester, that a small building made globally significant medical improvements in public health concerning fractures, the development of physiotherapy and the discovery that pollen caused symptoms of common hay fever. The Trust represents a community that sees a future in the successes of their past. Having stood neglected since it was abandoned in 1989, The Dispensary has suffered long enough and it is time for remedial work to be undertaken.

The history of Ancoats is largely hidden away in the vaults of places such as the John Rylands University Library, and historians themselves have largely neglected Ancoats despite it being at the centre of Manchester’s 19th century Industrial Revolution. This revolution transformed the United Kingdom into a world leader in mechanical and engineering advancements, and Ancoats can proudly claim to be the beating heart of this process.

2011 Onwards

2011 was the year that the foundations of Ancoats Dispensary Trust were laid. A number of key people were involved in the early formation of the group. These were Linda Carver, Nicholas Bowles, James Headifen and Gillian Potter-Merrigan. 

In May 2011 at a local residents meeting, attended by Co-ordinator Linda Carver, regeneration proposals of the ‘New Islington’ area neglected the inclusion of the Ardwick & Ancoats Dispensary. Within a heartbeat of the word ‘demolition’ our movement was born. Unbeknown to Linda at the time, Nicholas Bowles was also actively highlighting the plight of Ancoats Hospital (Ancoats Dispensary) on his social history of Manchester blog, HistoryME. In particular, voicing his opinion to the Chief Executive of English Heritage, Simon Thurley and gaining the influential support of the then president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Angela Brady, eventually inviting her up to the Dispensary to meet the group. 

Personal connections to the former Ancoats Hospital motivated Linda to become involved with its survival. She quickly became a regular attendant at Planning Committee Meetings at Manchester Town Hall whenever the Ardwick & Ancoats Dispensary was on the Agenda. Her immediately involvement became concerned with raising awareness of the cause - letters, articles, communication with local councillors and general engagement with the community to raise once again the profile of a building that means so much more than it has been given credit for with its recent abandonment. Her tireless dedication paid dividends very quickly – significant objections were continually raised to the proposed demolition of the Dispensary – and the decision regarding the Dispensary’s future was deferred three times.

Disappointingly, in July 2012, the Planning Committee agreed to grant permission to demolish the Dispensary subject to Section 106. They agreed to defer making this official until the outcome of a public meeting with the then Member of Parliament for Manchester Central Anthony Lloyd.

On July 23rd, a public presentation was given by the Co-ordinator and other supporters to the local MP and concerned members of the public. These members of the public expressed an interest in initiating a grass-roots organisation dedicated to saving the Dispensary – this was to be known as Fight2SaveAncoatsDispensary. In the mean time Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, referred potential demolition back to the discretion of Manchester City Council. A peaceful vigil was quickly established outside of the Dispensary, on the 9th August, to counteract the imminent threat of demolition. The vigil continues to this day, and operates Monday to Friday from 12:00 – 15:00.

With limited resources the group gained over five-thousand signatories on an official petition, marched into the City of Manchester to raise awareness, made and designed banners, created a photographic record of the campaign, wrote articles, appeared on BBC Breakfast Television and numerous other awareness related activities, helped enormously by dedicated supporters and volunteers. Public consultations revealed extremely positive results concerning the attitude of the Ancoats community with the restoration of the Dispensary for community use requested by 98% of those involved. The group became heavily involved with radio broadcasts, conference attendance, carried out a Local Needs Assessment, acquired an official bank account and a written constitution, and has recently updated its public image – including a new name, the Ancoats Dispensary Trust, a new logo and a new professionally designed website.

Generous donations by members of the Trust and the public have contributed significantly towards the running and maintenance of the Trust’s operating costs. Financial support from the public allowed the Trust to commission an independent structural survey of the Dispensary which revealed promising and positive information concerning its structural integrity. A selection of merchandise has been created by a member of the Trust – 100% of revenue from sales will be reinvested back into the Trust to strengthen our position both financially and socially.

A highly respected conservation architect kindly offered his expertise in supporting the group with its application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. He is not alone - various prestigious organisations are now willing to support our credible and sustainable plan for the Dispensary’s future. This is the position at present and the Trust would hope that all the major stakeholders, including Manchester City Council, will vehemently support the restoration of the Dispensary that once again will become the beating heart of Ancoats.

The Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary is no ordinary building… it physically healed people and transformed their lives both medically and psychologically. Several literary and artistic connections were born of this fact. James Kay, who served as a physician at Ancoats Hospital, used his experiences of medical rejuvenation when he authored his famous work ‘The Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes Employed in the Cotton Manufacture in Manchester.’ Elisabeth Gaskell famously writes about the conditions faced by the working classes in ‘Mary Barton - a Tale of Manchester life’. The character of John Barton is chosen to represent the local trade union in delivering the Chartist petition to London. Referenced in her work, the Dispensary justifiably stands proud at the centre of Ancoats. L. S. Lowry famously painted the inside of the Dispensary, titled “Ancoats Hospital Outpatients’ Hall”, a work available to view at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester.

The potential of Ancoats, situated to the North of Manchester City Centre, is waiting to be unleashed. The Dispensary, once renovated, will unleash this community potential through the following ways: 

  • Provide a civic and social space for community use
  • Provide culturally diverse opportunities for personal development
  • Provide a creative platform to heal community fragmentation

  • Provide intergenerational projects to remember the successful years of the Dispensary

  • Provide commercial space for small local business to fund the Dispensary’s running costs

  • Provide flexible rooms for events such as celebrations, therapy and creative arts

Our ideas are the product of social interaction. Several public consultations have revealed the needs of the Ancoats community. This is our opportunity to provide for a community in need of the retention of its heritage.

Ancoats Hospital Waiting Hall (1952) L S Lowry, Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester Ancoats Outpatients Department (1960s)