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Anchor Mills

Marcus Binney

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Anchor Mill ©Princes Foundation

Victorian cotton mills, by virtue of their sheer size, rank among the principal landmarks of their age, with rhythmic beauty in their ordered tiers of windows and imposing water towers.  Anchor Mills, forlorn and empty, looked an impossible challenge until the Prince’s Regeneration Trust devised an imaginative scheme of mixed use which quickly filled the building.

The rescue and conversion of Anchor Mills is the most ambitious and successful revival of a great cotton mill yet completed. In the 1950s and 1960s there were still hundreds of giant cotton mills in Manchester and surrounding towns like Oldham and Rochdale. They are familiar features of many of Lowry’s best loved paintings. They were the giants of industrial architecture, rivalled in size only by the largest warehouse complexes like the Albert Dock in Liverpool and great power stations such as Battersea and Bankside.

Anchor Mill before restoration
Anchor Mill before restoration
Anchor Mill before restoration
Anchor Mill before restoration

As cotton manufacture declined after World War II many of these mills closed. Often they were less than a hundred years old and being robustly built took on a second life, notably as mail order centres for which their large open plan layouts were well suited.  Even so, by degrees, dozens were abandoned and often demolished with the help of Government regeneration grants, intended to create land for new industry though usually replaced by warehousing, if anything at all.

Anchor Mills is therefore a beacon, the more significant as it is based on a scheme of mixed use. This was devised by Kit Martin, the well-known rescuer of great country houses, working for the Phoenix Trust (now the Prince’s Regeneration Trust). It follows on from his highly successful conversion of Stanley Mills outside Perth into apartments, also for the Phoenix Trust.

The sheer size of the mill placed it beyond the resources of a building preservation trust. Kit Martin therefore evolved a partnership between the owner, Renfrewshire Council, Scottish Enterprise and Historic Scotland. The £12 million redevelopment was carried out with Persimmon City Developments providing the investment.

Anchor Mill ©James F Stephen architecture
Anchor Mill ©James F Stephen architecture
Anchor Mill ©James F Stephen architecture

Funding came from sales, with contributions from Historic Scotland, Scottish Enterprise Renfrewshire and Morrisons (who were building a store in an adjoining brownfield site). The design team was led by Doug Reed of James F Stephen Architects. The construction began in June 2003. The restoration respected the original structure of the building and made good use of the final central, colonial style atrium to maximise natural light and ventilation.

“ Victorian cotton mills, by virtue of their sheer size, rank among the principal landmarks of their age with rhythmic beauty in their ordered tiers of windows and imposing water towers.”

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