St. Ann's Square was laid out in the Georgian period, early in the 18th century, and is one of the main spaces in the city centre. The church, which dominates the southern end of the Square is the only surviving building of that time in the area, the remainder being later replacements which continue to enclose the Square in a satisfactory and coherent manner. As these buildings were constructed in various styles over a long period, they create a rich tapestry of built form.
Each new building has been designed with due regard and respect for the others that were already there and together they create an imposing 'street wall'. This is also true in other parts of the conservation area. King Street in particular has the rich variety that comes with renewal and repair of individual properties over a long period. Most have narrow frontages, so if one is replaced the street still manages to retain its character. John Dalton Street, however, has been subject to more radical redevelopment, and although Victorian frontages remain, few of the buildings have the narrow frontage which characterises other parts of the city centre.
The rectilinear street pattern that Manchester has developed over the centuries is not a 90 degree grid system. Some streets are parallel to others but there are also subtle changes of direction that give rise to irregular sites and to the non-rectangular plan form of buildings. This adds interest to the townscape and can be witnessed in this conservation area in John Dalton Street, Exchange Street and Barton Square.
The typical Manchester characteristic of acknowledging the corners of buildings, usually for an entrance, is well represented in most of the buildings in this area which are built on street corners. The surface of St. Ann's Square has been replaced with a modern bold paving pattern that aims to reinstate the character of the Georgian original. This scheme also extends into the streets around the Square, some of which are very narrow.
The conservation area is traversed by a pedestrian route which links Victoria Station with Albert Square. Along its length the narrow passage from King Street to South King Street has been brightened up by the use of incidental sculpture fixed to the walls. The route continues through an arcade in the Old Exchange, down St. Ann's Alley to St. Ann's Place on the left and St. Ann's Churchyard on the right. This route is suitable for pedestrians only.
Vehicles may enter St. Ann's Square, St. Ann Street and King Street on a restricted basis only. The result is an extensive area dominated by pedestrians, possibly reverting to what it was like before the days of the motorcar. In the designated conservation area, stone is the predominant material used for building, but there is also a rich variety of other materials including brick, stucco, mock-Tudor timber-framing and glazed cast-iron framing.