In the Manchester cotton trade, a warehouse was not so much a back-end storage facility as a front-end sales facility.
The Manchester merchants displayed their wares in extensive, prestigious premises, with floor after floor of merchandise available to view.
Orders were dispatched and packed through the basement and delivered by road cart, rail and canal.
One of the most endearing surviving examples is the great palazzo of Samuel & James Watts on Portland Street on Portland Street.
James Watts was the socially ambitious owner of Abney Hall, Cheshire, where he hosted Prince Albert for the opening of the 1857 Art Treasures Exhibition. His firm’s prosperity was founded on wholesale drapery, and it was said that at one time the Warehouse had £10,000-worth of ribbons in one room.
Designed by the architectural partnership of Travis & Magnall from 1851 and eventually opened on March 16th 1858, its successive storeys are in Egyptian, Italian Renaissance, sixteenth-century Dutch, Elizabethan, French Renaissance, Flemish and Gothic styles.
Construction dates are uncertain, but it is likely that work started early in 1855 and was largely complete by the end of 1856. It was said to have cost £100,000.
Modern visitors take some convincing that this was in fact a warehouse.
After ten years under threat of demolition, the Grade II*-listed Watts Warehouse became the opulently decorated Britannia Hotel, opened in 1982 [http://www.britanniahotels.com/hotels/manchester]. Many of its internal spaces are divided and its ceilings lowered, but the building is intact and in use.
If you pass it, take a look at the magnificent staircase, original to the building and intended to impress the clients who came to do business.
For background information on Watts and other Manchester warehouses, see http://www.manchester2002-uk.com/history/victorian/Victorian3.html.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Manchester’s Heritage, please click here.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals: past views of English architecture, please click here.
The 60-page, A4 handbook for the 2019 ‘Manchester’s Heritage’ tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.