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Cobden House, 19 Quay Street

A Grade II* Listed Building in Manchester, Manchester

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Latitude: 53.4786 / 53°28'42"N

Longitude: -2.2521 / 2°15'7"W

OS Eastings: 383365

OS Northings: 398011

OS Grid: SJ833980

Mapcode National: GBR DHJ.10

Mapcode Global: WHB9G.CTTM

Plus Code: 9C5VFPHX+C5

Entry Name: Cobden House, 19 Quay Street

Listing Date: 3 October 1974

Last Amended: 5 November 2018

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1247447

English Heritage Legacy ID: 456845

Location: Manchester, M3

County: Manchester

Electoral Ward/Division: City Centre

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Manchester

Traditional County: Lancashire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater Manchester

Church of England Parish: Manchester St Ann

Church of England Diocese: Manchester

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Town house, 1770s with later additions and alterations during its use as a college in the mid-C19 and a county court from the late C19; refurbished in the 1990s for use as a set of barristers’ chambers.


Town house, 1770s with later additions and alterations during its use as a college in the mid-C19 and a county court from the late C19; refurbished in the 1990s for use as a set of barristers’ chambers.

Number 19B Quay Street attached to the west and the late-C20 rear-yard brick gateway attached to the south-east corner are not included in the listing.

MATERIALS: a Flemish-bond red-brick building with stucco and ashlar detailing, covered by a main double-pile and side-wing slate roofs.

PLAN: a rectangular double-depth main range orientated east-west, with a rear south-east wing.

EXTERIOR: a three-storey brick building over a rendered basement level. It has a symmetrical five-bay front elevation with a slightly projecting central bay. It is topped by a modillioned eaves cornice and parapet. The double-height central entrance has a late-C19 doorcase with pilasters, frieze and cornice. The windows have plain reveals, raised sills and flat-arched heads, with twelve-pane sashes at ground and first floors and nine-pane sashes at second floor; the basement has segmental-headed windows. Attached to this elevation is a circular blue plaque commemorating the building’s association with Richard Cobden and Owens College. The seven-window left return wall (to Byrom Street) has blind windows next to the front, a doorway and two round-headed stair-windows at the junction with the rear-wing extension, various other sash windows with glazing bars, and a ramped parapet. Also attached to this elevation is a timber-framed war-memorial plaque moved to this location from elsewhere on the building in the early C21, and a circular Royal Society of Chemistry blue plaque commemorating the work of Sir Edward Frankland and Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe. The rear elevation faces onto the southern yard and includes a central tripartite Venetian window, a full-height canted bay to the left and, to the right, the east wing with a gable end topped by a brick stack. The basement-level contains a set of French windows which open into a sunken courtyard enclosed to the south by an attached brick wall and steps. The upper floors contain a variety of sash windows with glazing bars. The elevation is topped by a modillioned eaves cornice and parapet.

INTERIOR: the original plan consisting of rooms leading off a central ground and first floor stair hall is still evident. The main stair also leads down to a cellar level and a side stairway in the east wing provides access to the second floor.

From the front entrance a set of internal stone steps lead up to a timber and glass internal partition with double doors, opening into the main hall. Within the hall is an elliptical arch, with panel-detailing, in front of a substantial cantilevered dogleg staircase with a bottom curtail step; there is a further elliptical arch at the top of the stairs. The staircase has a simple timber handrail and slender wrought-iron looping balusters with foliate detailing. The hall ceilings have dogtooth cornicing embellished by egg-and-dart and floral decoration, and the main central hall ceiling and walls are further embellished with plasterwork decoration including festoons. The large Venetian stair window has Ionic columns supporting a decorative entablature. Most of the doors leading off the hall have deep timber architraves with broken pediments. The side staircase in the east wing rises from the ground to second floor; the dogleg stairway has a timber handrail and straight balusters with scroll detailing at the half-landing levels. The ground-floor stone-tile hall floor has been reinstated; some flagstone-floor tiles survive on the upper floors. There is a Classical-style fireplace in the north-east ground-floor room which is understood to have been added in the late C20 and there are at least two further fireplaces in two other former principal rooms which may be earlier. There are also decorative cornicing and dado rails in some of the principal ground and first-floor rooms. There is a further elliptical archway in the centre of the second floor. The basement has some barrel vaulted ceilings, and has been subdivided into smaller rooms.


Cobden House, 19 Quay Street was built in around 1775 as a town house for William Allen who purchased the land from Ann Atherton, the daughter of his partner Edward Byrom; they were co-founders of Manchester’s first bank, Byrom Allen Sedgwick and Place. Originally, Allen’s initials decorated iron railings on steps that led up to a raised central front entrance. Pevsner recognises the building as `the best-preserved Georgian house in the centre [of Manchester]’, and suggests that architectural detailing, including the Venetian window and plasterwork, indicate the town house was designed by Timothy Lightoler (1726-1769), who is also believed to have designed Platt Hall, Manchester (listed Grade II*) in 1764, where he employed similar detailing. In 1785 the building was sold to fellow bank owner William Hardman who added a single-storey music-room wing to the west. His son, Thomas, sold the building in 1828 to a solicitor, Oswald Milne.

In 1836 the house was bought by the manufacturer and politician Richard Cobden (1804-1865). Cobden was born in West Sussex and moved to Manchester where he became a prominent political figure as a member of the local Chamber of Commerce and for his role in the campaign for the corporation of the city. He played an integral part in the Anti-Corn Law League founded in 1838, campaigning against the high price of food brought about by the taxes imposed on imported grain. Initially started in Manchester, it soon became a national movement with Cobden acting as chief spokesman; the laws were eventually repealed in the 1840s. Cobden suffered heavy financial losses during the campaign and in 1848 he sold the house at Quay Street and moved back south.

In 1851 Quay Street became the first accommodation of Owens College, an educational facility initially named after the textile merchant John Owens (1790-1846) and which was the precursor to the University of Manchester. By the 1870s the college had outgrown the building and moved to a new purpose-built premise on Oxford Road.

In 1878, Manchester’s County Court came to occupy this building and soon after extended into buildings to the south along Byrom Street, including a set of late-C19 former county court offices built to the rear end of the site (listed Grade II). In the late C19, the raised central doorway on the main Quay Street elevation was replaced by the current street-level entrance and an internal stairway leading from street level to the ground-floor entrance hall was inserted. During the C20 the building gradually fell into disrepair. By the 1970s the activities of the court began to be vacated and the court moved out in its entirety in the 1990s; during this time various works occurred including the subdivision and demolition of parts of the county-court site to the south of number 19. In the late 1990s, 19 Quay Street became the home to a set of barristers’ chambers. The interior was refurbished including repairs to the existing fabric and the reinstatement of other classical-style detailing; some external windows were also reinstated. The wing attached to the west was completely demolished and in 1997 permission was granted to replace it with a three-storey premises designed by the firm Stephenson Bell; it became known as 19B Quay Street and was a separately-owned property with no internal access to Cobden House. Permission was also granted for the erection of a brick wall and gate at the entrance to the yard at the rear of the building.

Reasons for Listing

Cobden House, 19 Quay Street, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:
* as a good survival of an elegant former Georgian town house with Classical-style detailing including decorative cornicing, a symmetrical front elevation and a well-detailed rear Venetian window;

* for its surviving high-quality C18 internal fabric including elaborate door cases, prominent central staircase with decorated cast-iron balustrades, and intricate plasterwork.

Historic interest:
* for its association with the prominent political figure, Richard Cobden, who lived here while acting in a central role for the national political movement, the Anti-Corn Law League.

Group value:
* with nearby late-C18 and C19 town houses on Byrom Street and St John Street (most Grade II) and the associated late-C19 former county court offices on Byrom Street (Grade II).

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