Building Secrets: KAMPUS

It's one of the city's newest developments but there's some seriously weird history going on here too!

By Ben Brown | Last updated 30 March 2020

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Anyone walking anywhere near Canal Street nowadays will notice the frankly quite massive KAMPUS development that’s taking shape over there. It’s quite difficult NOT to see actually.

As I was writing about their new garden space though the other week, I stumbled upon a few tidbits about the area in which it’s located, an area that has a rather interesting history, as well as some impressive buildings.

Around the area you’ll find a fair few references to two names. One is Aytoun, the name of the street and also the name of the MMU campus that was once in place here. The second one is Minshull, as in the Minshull Street Crown Courts – the destination for many a criminal in the past – as well as a few innocent people of course.

Well, let’s start with the Aytoun bit, because it leads directly onto the Minshull bit too – coming together to form a story that even Steven Spielberg couldn’t make up – no matter how many bags of Reece’s Pieces he shoehorned into it.

So it’s the late (ish) 1700’s and a Scottish bloke has just marched into Manchester. At 6 foot 4 he was an absolute monster at the time, and he was someone who liked to use his massive frame to his own benefit.

He notoriously enjoyed competitions and gained himself the nickname ‘Spanking Roger’ for his fondness for getting into fights with blokes in the pub. Probably because he won all the time.

He also liked to take part in a race on Kersal Moor (over in Broughton) that required contenders to run around stark bollock naked – something which attracted an ageing widow named Barbara Minshull.

They were soon married in a ceremony that saw Roger so bladdered that he needed assistance to stand at the wedding. Babs didn’t care though, she was widowed, she was old and by all reckoning she just wanted a big bloody bloke to look after her until she snuffed it.

The thing was though, Roger wasn’t that kind of fella and he was only after one thing – her money. Left to her by her late husband, Roger would go and spend all of her bunce on booze and gambling, pissing most of it up the wall until Barbara died 14 years later.

So these two are remembered through two streets in the city centre, streets that both jut out of Portland Street and then join up further down, where KAMPUS is now being built incidentally. This area was home to not just the MMU Business School  (or College of Commerce depending on your age) which shared the same name as Roger, but also some rather interesting buildings that functioned primarily in the shipping of goods on the canal.

Let’s start with the MMU campus though, as there’s one major architectural gem that has been saved by KAMPUS and is currently close to being complete for residential units. That’s the 60’s Tower.

Not exactly the most attractive of buildings, the 60’s Tower was nonetheless a Brutalist marvel (in a few people’s eyes) and would in fact have just been cheaper to bulldoze than to refurbish it. But the team at KAMPUS decided that they wanted to keep it, to preserve the history and heritage of the area – even if it was a bit of an eyesore.

Similarly, two listed Victorian warehouses, Minto & Turner and Minshull House, have also been stripped and refurbished, again, against the better judgement of many of those involved. Minto & Turner in fact was nearly condemned – laid empty for decades until KAMPUS took over.

These two structures served as warehouses for cotton in the 19th Century, the sites of frantic loading and unloading during the busiest days of the Industrial Revolution. With the decline of these industries in the city though, the two warehouses were re-purposed and eventually left to rot.

KAMPUS will be turning the warehouses into 59 loft apartments and ground floor independent commercial units, which lead onto the long forgotten Little David Street, another small curiosity in this small corner of the city centre.

Gated up for decades, Little David Street runs off Chorlton Street and down the back of Minto & Turner, and was once home to a row of 14 back-to-back houses – probably housing workers in the warehouses and their families.

This little street is now set to be transformed into a new ‘destination’ in the city – lined with independent bars, cafes and restaurants and if the impressive CGI mock-ups are to be believed – it’s going to look amazing.

So from a pissed up fighting Scottish bloke to a 60’s MMU campus, right up to a multi-million pound re-development scheme – this area around Minshull & Aytoun looks set to become one of the city’s newest neighbourhoods, and hopefully go a long way to improving a rather forgotten part of the city.

For more information on the KAMPUS development, visit their website here.