Manchester is a city bursting with iconic architecture, historic spaces and landmark attractions, many of which have seen dramatic change and adaptation over the last few decades. To see just how much the city has changed, we’ve taken some of Manchester’s best-loved and most recognisable features and created fascinating ‘Then and Now’ comparisons. Simply drag the slider bars in each image below to reveal the incredible changes the city has seen over the years.
Piccadilly Gardens has seen perhaps the most dramatic and extensive transformations compared with the rest of the city. Many of us have seen photographs of the beautiful floral gardens that occupied the space in the 1950s, but did you know that Piccadilly Gardens was home to a series of WW2 bomb shelters before then? This incredible shot from 1940 shows how the space used to look during wartime, with sunken air raid shelters sitting beneath the main ground level. You can also see the iconic Woolworths building in the background, which remains standing to this day despite extensive bomb damage to the area during the WW2 air raids, and despite the building’s fire disaster in 1979.
Since the 1940s, the Gardens have seen many changes but have always been used as a public recreational space, now home to the light-up fountains, a playground, a bus interchange and the infamous ‘Wall’.
As one of Manchester’s busiest thoroughfares, Oxford Road has witnessed a great deal of change over the years. In this fascinating shot from 1959 you can see the city’s famous Regal Twin Cinemas on the right. This iconic art deco building was later converted into a five-screen cinema complex before being abandoned in 1980. The building was later restored and reopened in 1990 as The Dancehouse Theatre, which it remains to this day. You can also see the former Daily Herald building just before it, a newspaper that had been printed in Manchester since 1930 – we now know it as The Sun.
This historic shot also brings to the fore another significant then-and-now change, which is the traffic. Notice how few cars there are on the road? This slow-moving scene is certainly a far cry from the bustling main road (known as Europe’s busiest bus route) that we know today.
Manchester’s Northern Quarter has seen an extensive and constant pace of development over the decades; a fact that is demonstrated quite clearly in our ‘now’ shot of Stevenson Square compared with how it looked in 1960. Despite all the construction work, the buildings themselves are largely unchanged between our two Stevenson Square shots – you can even see building work being carried out on the Grade II listed Marlsbro House, originally a factory building as was much of the Northern Quarter’s older architecture.
Just a short stroll through this historic area of Manchester will show you that a great deal of the Northern Quarter’s Georgian brick-built workshops, Edwardian textile warehouses and Victorian pubs are still standing to this day, while the addition of 20th century department stores and modern apartment buildings have made up the majority of the area’s more recent regeneration projects.
The Arndale Centre has been one of the city’s best-known attractions since its phased construction between 1972 and 1979. Sadly, the most notable part of its history is tied up in the 1996 Manchester bombing, during which it suffered extensive damage and was subsequently refurbished and redeveloped – another phased project which spanned a total of 10 years.
In this 1983 shot you can see the original Brutalist-style architecture of the shopping centre on the left, looking up Cross Street in the direction of the Royal Exchange Theatre and Albert Square. On the right-hand side of the shot you can also see the original Marks and Spencer department store, which has since also been redeveloped but still remains home to M&S.
The Great Northern Warehouse, a former railway goods warehouse built in 1885, is one of the most recognisable features of Manchester’s landscape. It is also one of the best examples of Manchester’s knack for regeneration and repurposing, with the warehouse’s original construction and character having been sympathetically retained. In this incredible shot from 1986 you can see what was the rear car park of the warehouse, the site of which has since become home to a leisure complex including a cinema and casino, built during the warehouse’s redevelopment project in 1998. This complex is visible from our ‘now’ shot, taken from AXIS, which sits just behind the warehouse.
The upper floors of the original warehouse building are currently being used as a multi-storey car park, while the front ground floor units of the warehouse are home to a series of restaurants.
Opened in 1903 to serve the nearby Manchester Central Railway Station, the Midland Hotel remains one of Manchester’s most treasured buildings, not to mention a head-turning example of Edwardian baroque architecture. Unsurprisingly designated a Grade II listed building, the Midland Hotel’s exterior has remained largely unchanged over the last century, though its interior has been gradually updated and restored over the years to modernise the hotel and include several high-end restaurants.
Though the building itself has not seen much change, the area surrounding it has altered dramatically even just over the last 20 years. This is evident from the stark contrast between our then and now pictures, with the extensive changes in the area now making it impossible to get a current shot from the same photographic angle. That sub-level car park in our 1986 shot is now the site of a hotel, while the Tommy Ducks pub, seen here just in front of the hotel, is no longer standing.
Despite being renamed as Manchester Central in 2007 this iconic former railway station is still referred to as G-MEX by most Mancunians. Testament to the sensitive redevelopment efforts since its abandonment as one of Manchester’s busiest railway stations in 1969, the facade of the centre has remained largely unchanged. The main curved structure and iconic clock face both remain, despite the building having been redeveloped as a concert venue in 1986 and, more recently, as a convention and exhibition centre in 2007.
After being derelict for over a decade, the main structure needed a great deal of renovation before the new concert venue could be opened. The main structural additions following this include the addition of the Manchester International Convention Centre (MICC) in 2001, and a new foyer at the front in 2008.
This historic area of Manchester has a rich (and bloodsoaked) history, bearing witness to the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 and once home to St Peter’s Church (replaced now by the Cenotaph), from which the square gets its name. Its more recent developments can be seen from our dramatic then-and-now shots, with the original shot from 1991 showing the construction of the original Metrolink network through the city centre. Since then, St Peter’s Square has seen further redevelopment, with the addition of the newer Cross Street Metrolink line and relocation of the Cenotaph, plus the construction of new commercial buildings.
A great deal of Manchester’s redevelopment and skyline changes have taken place much more recently, as is demonstrated by our final then-and-now comparison. The Deansgate-Castlefield skyline has been altered fairly radically during the last decade alone, especially since the addition of luxury high-rise, AXIS, which has added a sleek new modern feature to a previously red brick-dominated landscape. Seen here looking across Deansgate-Castlefield from the Bridgewater Canal basin, AXIS was completed in 2020 – more than 10 years after the original photograph in our comparison – and perches on the banks of the Rochdale Canal by the city’s popular Deansgate Locks area.