Barton Arcade, Manchester


Barton Arcade was once known by some as Manchester’s “Little Crystal Palace,” because of its domed roof of glass. The glass ceiling still features today, with the gaze drawn up towards it by the three levels of iron balconies that run around the 3-4 storeys of this 1871 arcade.

The upper floors are no longer accessible to the public, though many of the old shop fronts and offices still have their original numbering above the door, with probably many an original feature still in place up there. The nearest access without a keycode is via the upper floor of the football shirts shop, which is something of an institution in Manchester itself, its staircase taking you up to the first floor, from which the balconies can be seen.

Half the shop units on the ground floor were unoccupied at the time of our visit in 2023, though the biggest current tenant, a very successful coffee shop called Pot Kettle Black, was taking advantage by laying out much-needed table space in front of some of the empty units.

Aside from coffee and football shirts (this shop has an extraordinary range, with the biggest price tag actually being of an England kit from Italia 1990, but never worn in the World Cup itself), Barton Arcade today boasts a trendy barber, some designer shoes, a restaurant, and a clothes boutique with a quirky notice up: “The R Store only stocks stuff we like – if you do not appreciate this, please go directly to the Arndale Centre” (nearby modern shopping mall).

The glass frontage at the Barton Square end of the arcade is impressive, though the name Barton Arcade seemed quite hard to read in the morning sunlight; the Deansgate entrances (two of them) have clearer names under a stone frontage, on one of Manchester city centre’s main thoroughfares.

My favourite shops today

Pot Kettle Black for great coffee and the buzz; the football shirts shop for its quirky shirts as well as the sneak views of the upper balconies; and the R Store just for its snubbing of the more modern shopping mall…

My pick of the arcade’s past

In 1874 a ‘fashionably-dressed lady, named Matilda Singleton was convicted of stealing a box of lozenges and several bottles of scent from the shop at No 1 in the arcade. The shopkeeper Mr Johnson had noticed his stock of perfume dropping more than it should from sales, but never made the connection to Mrs Singleton’s regular visits to the shop until his assistant saw her walking off with the lozenges. Mr Singleton ran a drysalting business in Manchester, and told the court his wife had shown signs recently of ‘mental aberration,’ since the premature birth of their 5th child. Poor woman was found not guilty of theft but for reasons of being of ‘unsound mind.’ She was sent to an asylum.

No 39 in Barton Arcade housed the Humane Society for the Hundred of Salford in the late 1870s. This organization was set up to provide life belts and other equipment designed to help save the lives of those who fell into the canals around Manchester and Salford. It also gave awards for anyone found to have rescued people from the canal waters.

Joanna Lumley formally reopened Barton Arcade after a major refurbishment in 1990. The grandson of the original Barton (a cotton manufacturer) was also present. Edwards Shoe Shop was the only remaining original tenant of the arcade to stay in Barton Arcade after its refurbishment (sadly it, too, has now gone).

This arcade in films or books

Strangely, for such an iconic arcade in a major city like Manchester, I have found no views of Barton Arcade in films or mentions in books I have read. Can anyone help to pinpoint something?

What’s your favourite shop in the arcade today?

What memories do you have of visits in years gone by?

Have you got any good stories to add on the past of this arcade?

Have you seen Barton Arcade in any films of books?

Is there a website for this arcade?

Sadly not, and the social media pages have also been inactive since 2018, though some of the businesses in the arcade are active on social media.

2 responses to “Barton Arcade, Manchester”

  1. Matthew says:

    Thank you for compiling this fascinating resource. I wondered if you were aware of a different arcade, perhaps close to Barton Arcade, and certainly near to the Arndale Centre in Manchester. It was open during our visits in 1988 while working in Manchester and I’m trying to recall the name and hopefully to find some photographs.

    The arcade was beneath street level, or at least partially below street level and wouldn’t have been far from the Arndale. I recall that we used to walk to it easily from the Arndale Centre. From the street, I vaguely remember a staircase leading directly down into the arcade. It consisted of two or three floors, as I recall, and inside, a number of antique and jewellery shops, together with possibly art shops and perhaps a tea or coffee shop. It conveyed a romantic and eccentric atmosphere — and mostly it offered something for the collector and a chance to step back in time.

    There was a Victorian theme and form of architecture. At the end of each level was a circular stairwell. The space inside was smaller than what appears in pictures of Barton Arcade, but of course I’m aware that the mind can play tricks. Could it be Barton Arcade had a basement?

    Incidentally, since I’m from Leicester, are you aware of Leicester’s Silver Arcade? Would be lovely to have a chat by e-mail, if possible.

    Thank you again.

    • Simon Duffin says:

      Not sure what your memory is recalling, to be honest. The base book I work from was published in 1983 and makes no mention of an arcade like that in Manchester; she just had St Ann’s Arcade, which is still there, but doesn’t sound anything like what you describe. he 1983 book speaks of 4 arcades in Manchester having been demolished, but doesn’t say when: Deansgate, Exchange, Lancaster, Victoria, but if your memory dates from 1988, your arcade would have been in MacKeith’s 1983 book, surely? Let’s see if any Mancunian reads this and has an idea… As to Leicester, yes definitely on my to-do list and I have two arcades to visit there, I think?

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