CWS Offices on Balloon Street and Garden Street

The Co-operative Wholesale Society still owns a number of large office/warehouse buildings in the area between Dantzig Street and Corporation Street.  Most of them are still occupied by the company in 2012, although the new headquarters building reaching completion nearby will mean that the employees will soon be moving out.  This building appears to be the first of a series of buildings to be built by the Society in this vicinity.  Ironically it is the one that didn't survive to the present day.

The CWS published an account of the Society's history in a book entitled "THE STORY OF THE C.W.S.
THE JUBILEE HISTORY OF THE CO-OPERATIVE WHOLESALE SOCIETY LIMITED. 1863-1913. BY PERCY REDFERN."  That document contains an account of the origins of this building.

"This year, 1866, appears to have marked a turning point, beyond which the federation was no more to be dependent almost for its existence upon timely and substantial loans from the more prosperous and friendly retail societies. Shares were accumulating out of retained dividends, so that in 1867 certain additional offers of money could be declined " on account of having too much in the bank." New developments quickly resulted from this condition, and still more warehouse room became urgently needed. Land was purchased, therefore, in the adjacent byways, Balloon Street and Garden Street, and in the next year powers were obtained to spend up to 10,000 upon building a warehouse of the Society's own.

It is notable that at this meeting, also, the Directors got into trouble for buying the Balloon Street land, presumably without the previous sanction of the delegates. While they were " exonerated from blame " (the ground has since increased hugely in market value)" the meeting objected to it being regarded as a precedent."

... the main business of the year 1868 was the erection, at a contracted cost of 4,040, of the six-storey building that still occupies the corner of Balloon Street and Garden Street. A special building committee was formed and the work pushed forward. Difficulties with an owner of neighbouring property led to legal action on the part of the latter. Their light and air " were being encroached upon by the vastness of the new building." But, rather than waste time and money upon going into court, the Committee offered "reparation," which was accepted. Without further delay the work proceeded, and, early in 1869, the six-storey, sky-scraping new warehouse, perilously huge and ambitious as it seemed, was ready for business.

Balloon Street since then has become entirely a possession of the "Wholesale;" and, as the formal address of the Society's headquarters, the street is now known far and wide. It is worth remembering, therefore, that the name is not meaningless, nor does it preserve incongruously the memory of some private speculator.  History is in it, even though of a mild character. Hereabouts, on May 12th, 1785, a certain James Sadler made one of the first balloon ascents witnessed in England. At that date obviously the area formed an open field. Very shortly afterwards the ground was covered with small houses ; but the feat that astonished Manchester was properly commemorated in the name since associated with the rise of the C.W.S. When the federation came to make its home in the street, all the vicinity had become, or was rapidly becoming, a slum. Garden Street, now chiefly a siding for co-operative wagons, retained nothing pleasant but its name, and a fading memory of the Royal Infirmary of Manchester originally having been housed in it. Clock Alley existed, since obliterated by the C.W.S. ; while Corporation Street only recently had been driven from Withy Grove through a maze of byways. The way to a small and congested Victoria Station went down and up the banks of the Irk, the stream (which now needs searching for) being crossed by a wooden footbridge. The Committee contemplated a ceremonial opening of the Society's first property, in the presence of a galaxy of statesmen, peers, professors, and philanthropists; but of the great men invited only such tried friends as J. M. Ludlow, Hugh Birley, M.P., the Rev. W. N. Molesworth (Vicar of Rochdale), G. J. Holyoake, Lloyd Jones, and others were present."


This account accompanied the drawing at the top of the page.

The 1840 map of the area, shown below, obviously pre-dates the CWS building but it does show the infamous Clock Alley mentioned above and the numerous dwellings in the vicinity. 

By the time the Goad Map of the area was drawn, circa 1880, the building can be seen occupying a large portion of the block as well as another building across Garden Street.

As you can see in the map above, the CWS shared the block with The Old Boar's Head Hotel, The Crosby Hotel, Kilvert & Sons Lard Refining Works and the Evening Chronicle. 

Below is an image taken at a reunion of the Past and Present Directors, Auditors and Scrutineers in the Balloon Street Old Dining Room, August 23rd, 1905

By the time the 1933 map of the area was published, the block seems to have become simplified with the Chronicle having become a much larger occupant and the Old Boar's Head being replaced by a bank.


If the World War II bomb damage maps in the Manchester Local History Archive are accurate, it appears that this building survived the carnage that occurred around it during the Christmas Blitz.  I don't know when the building disappeared from the corner of Balloon Street and Garden Street but I have seen a photograph in the Manchester Image Archive that shows it in 1964.  However, at some point between then and the end of the 1990s the former newspaper offices on Withy Grove and the CWS building site were incorporated into a modern entertainment centre called The Printworks.

You can see the block today in the image below.  You are looking at it from the Withy Grove end.

Below is an image taken from the Shudehill Interchange looking towards Balloon Street.  The back of the Printworks can be seen on the left.  This would be the same corner shown in the drawing at the top of this page.

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