Manchester Society of Architects Archive

Scope and Content

Extensive archive of the Manchester Society of Architects. The archive dates from the foundation of the Society and includes the records of the Manchester Architectural Association with which the MSA merged in 1890-1.

The archive includes minutes of the Society's Council, general meetings and sub-committees (with some gaps for the early period), annual reports and Kalendars, a modest collection of financial records, and membership records. There are also records relating to the Society's educational initiatives including minutes of education in architecture committee, 1891-1951 and student examinations and travel grants. There are also papers relating to professional practice, and relations with RIBA, other architectural societies, trade bodies and public agencies. There are some records relating to the Society's library.

Professional practice records include the Society's campaign to regularise Manchester's building bye-laws, and devising protocols for public competitions. There is also a small group of records relating to the reconstitution of the Society in 1890-1.

The more recent accrual of archives (MSA/ADD) consists largely of general subject files compiled during the routine day-to-day running of the Society. These files contain correspondence and other material, such as council and committee papers, circulars and leaflets, appertaining to every aspect of the Society's activities. In addition there are some volumes containing minutes and accounts.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Manchester Society of Architects (MSA) has enjoyed a long and distinguished existence in the city. Founded in 1865, the Society is still active today.

The earliest group for architects in Manchester was a short-lived affair which existed between 1837-42. In 1860, the Manchester Architectural Association was established. In 1865, a group of leading Manchester architects including Isaac Holden, William Mangnall, Alexander Mills and James Stevens decided that new group was needed which would be more actively directed to defending their professional interests. A meeting was held at the Clarence Hotel, Manchester in April 1865, and this approved an organising committee for the new group. The Manchester Society of Architects then held its inaugural meeting in June 1865. The MSA’s first president was Holden, with Alfred Waterhouse as vice-president (Waterhouse was based in Manchester, but enjoyed a national reputation) and James Murgatroyd as the honorary secretary.

Like other professional associations of the time, the main objectives of the MSA included regularising the standards of their profession, both in terms of qualifications and professional practice. This meant more clearly defining who could properly call themselves architects. It also promoted a code of practice and agreed scale of charges for its membership, and arbitrated in disputes between architects and employers. In this, the MSA worked closely with the national organization for architects, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

The Society promoted architectural education, encouraging young architects and promoted improved systems of training and examination. It supported architectural competitions for trainee architects and helped educate architectural assistants. The Society was also a lobby for the profession; one of its main ambitions was to regularise Manchester’s system of building bye-laws, something which finally achieved in 1890. Other work included improving the standards of public competitions for new buildings and encouraging better relations with builder’ groups, such as the Manchester branch of the General Builders’ Association. The Society also built up a library.

In 1887, RIBA changed its charter allowing provincial societies to federate, something which the MSA did. The MSA's success indicated that Manchester could not sustain two separate organisations for architects, and in 1890, the Manchester Architectural Association, which focussed less exclusively on professional standards and was not affiliated to RIBA, agreed to merge with the MSA. New bye-laws were issued in 1891, with the Society’s membership then standing 130 individuals.

The Society did not have an established base until the early twentieth century when it purchased a lease at the Geographical Building, St Mary’s Parsonage, using the bequest of a former president, Alexander Mills. It remained at this location until 1963. In the inter-war period, the Society improved conditions for its student members, began to admit women members, and also supported public lectures on architectural topics. It established a joint consultative committee with Manchester, Salford and District Building Trades Employers Association. The Society also worked more closely with town planners. In 1960, it supported the creation of the Manchester Building Centre in Portland St. Manchester, which brought together architects, quantity surveyors and builders.

The Society moved its headquarters to this location in 1963. In 1962, the Society revised its constitution in line with RIBA requirements introducing a more formal committee structure. RIBA members in Manchester were automatically registered as members of the MSA.

Following the reorganisation of the RIBA into thirteen regions in 1967, the RIBA North West Region opened its headquarters at Knutsford in Cheshire. The MSA became one of the Region's seven branches in 1969, being known officially as 'Manchester Society of Architects - a branch of the RIBA'. Although retaining some autonomy, the Society receives an annual grant from the RIBA and is responsible to the central RIBA Council through the North West Regional Council, to which it sends three representatives. This council meets monthly and is constituted by equal representation from each of the seven branches in the region.

The changes made in the 1960s to subscription rules mean that all members of the RIBA in the Greater Manchester area are automatically members of the Manchester Society of Architects. Around half of the RIBA members in the North West Region as a whole are members of the MSA. Elections to the council of the Society are held annually by postal ballot of all corporate RIBA members of the Manchester branch. One third of the council are elected annually and members serve for three year periods. Officers such as President, Honorary Secretary, Honorary Treasurer, and such other posts as are deemed necessary are elected annually from among the members of the council.

The activities and concerns of the Society since 1969 reflect a continued interest in such central issues as professional standards and services, conservation and the urban environment, and education and training in the field of architecture, as well as in promoting the status of the profession as a whole. In 1977 the Society stated that "within the RIBA North West region the aims of the Manchester Society remain, namely, `to support and protect the character, status and interest of architects practising in, or in the vicinity of Manchester, and to promote personal acquaintance and good feeling between members of the Society.'" MSA/ADD/1/2/2/7, RIBA Northwest Region Yearbook and Diary 1977/78, 54. Facilitating social and professional dialogue between architects in Greater Manchester continues to be the main aim of the Society.

Since the regional reorganisation of the RIBA, however, the responsibility for providing professional help to architects has been taken over to a large extent by the RIBA North West Region which has a secretariat of permanent staff, giving it an advantage over the Manchester Society which has no salaried employees, being wholly run by honorary officers. The MSA has also been squeezed from below with the formation in the 1970s of two local chapters which receive a grant from the Society, and which enable architects to meet in their own locality rather than in the centre of Manchester.

Despite this, the Society continues to be active in the city and membership currently stands at 900.


The original accession of the Society's archive was arranged in the early 1990s, and it is unclear to what extent original order was preserved. Records were arranged into four functional groupings (MSA/1-MSA/4) for administration, education, professional standards and reconstruction of the Society in 1890-1, plus a separate section for the Manchester Architectural Association's archive (MSA/5). These groups were then organised into constituent series. The arrangement of the original archive tended to avoid further sub-division into subseries, and hence in some cases, single series may include different genres of records based on a similar subject matter.

The accruing archive arrived at the library in 18 boxes. Some of these contained files and bundles while others were filled with loose papers, in no apparent order. Some of the files from the period 1976-1983 appeared to be part of an original filing system, being numbered and arranged by subject. Other files and bundles had apparently been put together retrospectively and labelled with the relevant subject and dates. The records had presumably been created by various different officers, since it is customary for the Honorary Treasurer to keep financial records, the Secretary to keep administrative and council records, and so on.

It therefore proved impossible to reconstruct a coherent original filing system, although original files have been kept intact as far as possible and the original order of documents within them retained. In other cases bundles of material on related subjects have been created by the archivist. Throughout the list, all items are original files created by the Society except where stated otherwise, and original file titles have been used wherever they exist. The term `bundle' is applied to papers which have been grouped together by the archivist.

The material has been arranged into subfonds according to the main functions within the Society, although records created after 1983 have been allotted a separate subgroup since they are sparse and not easily slotted into other categories. The subgroups are as follows:

  • MSA/1 Administration
  • MSA/2 Education and training
  • MSA/3 Professional standards and services
  • MSA/4 Reconstruction of the Society
  • MSA/5 Manchester Architectural Association
  • MSA/ADD/1 Administration.
  • MSA/ADD/2 Professional standards and services.
  • MSA/ADD/3 Education, training and exhibitions.
  • MSA/ADD/4 Post-1983 material.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

The collection includes material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 2018. Under the Act 2018 (DPA), The University of Manchester Library (UML) holds the right to process personal data for archiving and research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, UML has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018, and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

Open parts of this collection, and the catalogue descriptions, may contain personal data about living individuals. Some items in this collection may be closed to public inspection in line with the requirements of the DPA. Restrictions/closures of specific items will be indicated in the catalogue.

Other Finding Aids

The finding aid for the initial accession has been published: Alison Kenney, Catalogue of the Archives of the Manchester Society of Architects, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 74, no. 2 (1992), pp. 37-63.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive.

Custodial History

The Society maintained its archive at its premises until they were transferred to the University Library in the 1970s. Following the initial deposit of archives catalogued by Alison Kenney, this subsequent collection of additional material was deposited by the MSA in the Library in early 1994.


Accruals expected.

Related Material

The University holds papers of architects associated with the Society including: Thomas and Percy Worthington (GB 133 WOR) and the architectural academic Reginald Cordingley GB 133 RCP.

Manchester Central Library has a set of RIBA North West Region Directories dating from 1984 to the present, which contain some information on the MSA and architectural matters in the region.

The Society's historic library is in the custody of Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections.

Geographical Names