Murrays' Mills
In Brief

Manchester Life Development Company Limited


December 2019

Murrays’ Mills is the oldest surviving steam-powered cotton mill in the world.

Our brief to restore and transform the Mills was relatively simple; to create a new community, and to let the buildings’ layout, character and heritage inform how this was achieved.

The mill range, begun in 1798, composed two parallel 7-8 storey mills, linked by a more recognisably Georgian administrative building and enclosing engine houses, a canal basin, a chimney and sculptural stair towers.


The key design challenges included: the conversion of the cotton mills into modern-day dwellings;  finding the form and character for a new building which would replace the former Wing Mill (destroyed in a fire during the 1950s) and thus complete the mill courtyard once more; and the re-purposing of the mill courtyard, which is dominated by a canal turning-basin which though historically significant and visually intriguing created a number of constraints.

The outcome is an oasis in Ancoats; 124 diverse dwellings surrounding and activating the mill yard, which is designed as a water garden and a place for play, rest and meeting each other.  

Design Approach

Working carefully with the character and structure of the existing mill buildings to find the most appropriate dwelling typologies has resulted in a portfolio of one, two and three-bedroom homes.

The central courtyard is brought to life by people using the front doors and shared circulation cores to the duplexes arranged around it. Typical upper apartments are dual-aspect to maximise daylight. The design retains the external appearance of the existing buildings, and creates a new ‘fourth side’ building, Wing Mill, that both complements and contrasts the original structures.

Narrow Module Image

The mill buildings are characterised by their elegantly proportioned façades, unified by repetitive window arrangements. These unapologetic façades are softened by their weathered hand-made brick construction.

The new building, Wing Mill, is constructed from a similar soft red brick. In response to the load-bearing masonry walls of the mills, the new façade also expresses its structure. This contrast between the historic and new buildings, unified by the same material, creates a striking setting.

Narrow Module Image

The mill courtyard design responds to its functional history whilst providing the right setting for living. The canal basin shape is marked out by verdant planting and a calm landscape of granite sets and pavers.

The intended effect is one of a unified landscape, which in the detail provides settings for play, relaxation and socialising. 

Narrow Module Image

In 2014, Simon Thurley, then head of English Heritage, placed Murrays' Mills in the top ten most important buildings in Britain.

The buildings’ Georgian street architecture concealed state-of-the-art industrial processes that would help drive the largest economy the world had ever seen. Since their heyday the Grade II and II* listed buildings had fallen into sad disrepair.

In 2006 restoration works halted the decay, and in 2014 Manchester Life commenced the regeneration project which would be a flagship for their work in Ancoats.

Narrow Module Image
Ancoats Regeneration

In 2014, the Manchester Life Development Company was formed to spearhead the urban regeneration of Ancoats and New Islington, and create the necessary momentum for wider regeneration to take hold.

In as little as five years the transformation is astonishing. FCBStudios has delivered three projects in Ancoats with Manchester Life: Murrays' Mills, One Cutting Room Square (tl + r) and Smith’s Yard (bl) and the neighbourhood continues to evolve at pace. The original density and vibrancy of Ancoats has returned, though now via fine new buildings knitted in among their elegant predecessors, and the buzz of theatres, bars, and cultural venues.

Narrow Module Image

RIBA North West Award

Civic Trust Conservation Award, Regional

Building bridges between old fabric, new uses and new buildings, the practice has established a subtle but resilient order capable of holding the Ancoats line well into the future.

Ellie Duffy, Architects Journal

Structural Engineer:
Environmental Engineer:
Acoustic Engineer:
Fire Engineer: Arup
Quantity Surveyor:
MAC Consulting
Project Manager: 
Landscape Architect:
Heritage Consultant:
KM Heritage
Planning Consultant:
Deloitte Real Estate




Narrow Module Image
Explore more Residential projects:
Explore more Creative Re-use projects: