Manchester Histories Festival

Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants 42-44 Britannic Buildings

Saturday 16 April 2016

Manchester's Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants are going to be part of Manchester Histories Festival's Heritage Window Project from the 3-12th June, when they will be telling the histories of the site where their business now stands.  They have put together this fascinating blog on what they have learnt and giving a taster of what their Heritage Window will feature:

In the 12th century descendants of Norman Barons, the Gresle family would look out from their fortified manor house with a glass of mead, local beer, cider or highly prized wine from the motherland and toast the prosperous market town developing across the Hanging Ditch. This formed the defensive watercourse (possibly built by the Romans) which included the Rivers Irk and Irwell connected by the Hanging Bridge.

Churches, Church of England, Manchester Cathedral, Manchester. 1950s interpretation of medieval Manchester    map

There are several theories over the name which may derive from the Old English hen, meaning wild birds and the Welsh gan, meaning between two hills. A textile and tannery industry proliferated here and fabric was hung along the embankment to dry.Another more macabre suggestion was that regular public hangings took place outside the manor walls for those who fell foul of the Barons.

The current bridge probably dates when Thomas de la Warre was granted a licence from the Pope to establish a collegiate church to St Mary, St Denys and St George in 1421 having inherited the land through marriage. A landing stage had been constructed on the Irwell nearby for traders bringing their wares to the Corn & Produce Exchange outside the manor walls.

Old Hanging Ditch: Its Trades, Its Traders & Its Renaissance BY H. B. WILKINSON (1910)

describes how “alongside of this quay the sailing ships were moored which brought the butter and cheese from Holland, and the Cheshire cheese from Chester in the days before steamships were known.”

Churches, Church of England, Manchester Cathedral, Manchester By the late 1700’s much of the “old medieval housing, taverns & alehouses” in the area were wiped away as Manchester grew from small  market town to the world’s first industrial city, creating pressure on land, and the ditch itself was built over having become a putrid dumping ground for waste.

An iron foundry complete with tall chimney stood next to the church and whilst a typically Mancunian architectural juxtaposition of elegant building and pragmatic economic want the chimney is believed to have taken the full force of a catastrophic lighting strike which demolished all but its base yet protected the church spire.

By 1840 the base of the old chimney had been retained and several buildings constructed around it including Slack & Brownlow Aquariums and Water Filters and a number of residential properties. The adjoining building was said to have been the medieval home of apothecary Thomas Mynshull who had died here in 1689 (according to the legend carved on the stone window bay of the existing the Grade II Listed Mynshull House built in 1890).

As the middle classes grew so did changes in trade in the city, with a more commercial and consumerist economy of showrooms for local manufacturers, accountancy & legal services as well as food & drink establishments catering for those now arriving at Victoria and Exchange Railway Stations. Trams and buses ran along Deansgate and a steam package landing quay was located by Victoria Bridge where tickets could be purchased for passage, first to Liverpool and then, to the New World.

A statue of Oliver Cromwell proclaimed Manchester’s independence of ideas and commercial activity flourished.

From the MCC Local Image collection we can record a variety of business which occupied 42-44 Victoria Bridge in the 19th Century.

Cateaton Street      Manchester Cathedral, south west, Manchester

Ironmongers retained a presence with the John Roaf Buss & Sons Ltdshowroom offering “cutlery, electroplating” and specializing in corkscrews!


German photographer Franz Baum (1849-1923) was a Member of The Royal Photographic Society.

Noblett's Confectioners were named after original founders of Everton Mints in Liverpool.

C Garnett Confectionery & Chocolates- included “Tea and Luncheon rooms.”

Storrie Dentistry took one of the upper floors- presumably profiting from the sweet delights sold below.

Simpole's Ltd Cabinet & Furniture showcased products made in their factory at the other end of Deansgate near Knott Mill.

Roscoe Phrenology “felt ones bumps” in a branch of medicine which exploited the numerous ailments of Victorian society.

Themans & Co sold Tobacco and Cigars.

Dr Fraser Watson provided optician services.

Around 1900 the buildings forming 42-44 Victoria St were demolished, revealing the Hanging Bridge for the first time in over a century. It became a tourist attraction before being covered over again. Its replacement was built for the Britannic Assurance Company Ltd with both Theman’s Cigars and C Garnett confectioners returning at street level during the first half of the 20th Century as Manchester fought a losing battle against its industrial decline.

Hanging Ditch Miraculously the building came away unscathed from the Manchester Blitz of Christmas 1940 which did so much damage to this quarter of Manchester including the neighbouring buildings of the Deansgate Hotel, Chetham’s Hospital, Victoria Buildings and the Cathedral itself.

A brief post-war hustle and bustle returned- as depicted in LS Lowry’s Exchange Station (1960) painting- before the closure of the station in 1969 together with land clearances left the area almost on the edge city and trade dwindled.

The famous Oliver Cromwell statue was moved to Wythenshawe Park as political sentiments changed.

A gentleman’s hairdresser would occupy the old Theman’s & Co Cigar & Tobacco unit in the 1960s but chocolates and confectionery were still sold and a Butcher’s Shop took a slice of the Mynshull House ground floor.

By the early 1990s it was mainly offices including Liefman, Rose & Co Solicitors which 1990's Hanging Ditch occupied the upper floors, with a newsagent the only retail use. A company providing dental repairs linked back a century to Mr Storrie’s attempts at addressing the damage done by Noblett’s Confectioners and C Garnett’s chocolates.

Following the IRA Bombing in 1996 the regeneration of Manchester gathered a pace with Harvey Nicholls and Exchange Square bringing life back to the area and by the turn of the millennium the Hanging Bridge had been revealed once more and is now incorporated into Manchester Cathedral Visitors Centre.

Hanging DitchIn 2007, the site including the adjoining Mynshull House was acquired by Nikkal Property Development & Investment. They transformed the buildings into offices whilst restoring a residential use with apartments above and created a retail unit which became the Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants, designed by local architect Roger Stephenson OBE.

Manchester is a city in perennial flux as the waters of economics and architecture flow through it.

Today Exchange Station and Greengate are being reborn with offices and apartments and the Medieval Quarter is finally being celebrated once more with development plans for both the Cathedral and Chetham’s School at its heart; so why not pop along to the Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants and we’ll raise a toast to the independence of Mancunian trade with a glass of fine wine, beer, cider... or even mead!

A display showcasing the history of 42-44 Victoria Bridge will be created for Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants as part of Manchester Histories Festival 2016 Heritage Window Project between 3-12 June.

Manchester Histories wants businesses across Greater Manchester to get creative and create displays of anything from objects, photographs, plans, and maps, to the stories of their employees and customers, and showcase their links in the City region. Find out more here. If you want your window to be included in the Heritage Window project and Manchester Histories Festival and included on the website and the social media campaign, email or call 0161 306 1982 by 5pm on Friday 29 April to register your interest.

Images courtesy: Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council and Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants.

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