Most of the conservation area is on level ground, but there is a slope down Millgate Lane, Kingston Road and Stenner Lane where the higher land gives way to the lower level of the Mersey flood plain. This is mostly used for playing fields, whilst buildings are generally confined to the upper level or the sloping land.
The original centre of the village is at the point on a pronounced bend in Wilmslow Road where it is joined by Stenner Lane. At this location the road is wide where formerly there would have been a green, but now there is only hard paving. Two public houses and a restaurant are located here, and in the distant past a number of shops also existed. This was Didsbury Village long before there was a settlement at the present village a kilometre to the north.
Architectural styles vary from the Perpendicular of St James's Church to the Classical and Gothic of public buildings and of the more grandiose houses. Remnants of older and more modest houses exist in simple vernacular character.
A great variety of building materials is used in the conservation area. Most common is red brick for walls and blue slate for roofs. Stone dressings, in conjunction with brickwork, are used extensively, and several buildings are built entirely of stone, notably the two churches.
Several buildings are finished in stucco or rough-cast render and one, Lawnhurst, consists of red brick with yellow moulded terra cotta dressings.
The grounds of the Shirley Institute, originally parkland to the Towers, have recently been developed with glass office blocks. The large variety of building materials to be found in the area is not as discordant as would first appear.
The whole of the conservation area, with the exception of playing fields, is well wooded. The trees serve not only to screen one group of buildings from another, but to provide a unifying, leafy backdrop to the whole area.
Most of the existing buildings in the area are characterised by vertically proportioned sash windows which are used singly or in groups. In older buildings, sashes are sub-divided by glazing bars into smaller panes.
Entrance doorways help to create the character of the area. Perhaps the most notable entrance is the semi-circular arched gateway to the grounds of the former Fletcher Moss Gallery and the door to the building itself, which is set in a rustic frame. Other doorways range from the 18th century Ionic door-case at Broome House to a range of arches to entrance porches. A flat entablature on Ionic columns over a glazed and panelled door with rectangular light at the Elms contrasts with simple entrances without porches or canopies which are found at the cottages on Millgate Lane. Few of them have their original doors.
The forecourts of some Millgate Lane cottages are paved with cobbles, and the change to tarmacadam is all that distinguishes the property boundaries. Elsewhere, most houses have gardens enclosed by brick or stone walls, although the height varies up to about three metres. Some properties have fences or hedges, mostly in addition to or above the wall. Walls with railings in particular make a significant contribution to the character of the conservation area. Hedges on their own are not usual in Didsbury St. James. Garden gates are wrought iron or timber, supported by stone or brick piers although many gates are now missing.
Roads and footways have been re-surfaced over the years so that original setts or flags may be seen in very few places, though some original stone kerbs are evident.
Street lighting is a relatively recent innovation compared with the age of Didsbury village. Cast-iron standards were installed at some time in the past, but have been replaced by a variety of steel and concrete columns of different heights. The ideal would be to install an appropriately designed fitting throughout the area, in order to create a sense of identity, but this is not feasible for economic and technical reasons.