This Grade II listed mansion, formerly named ‘The Firs’, is located along Whitworth Lane and Moseley Road in Fallowfield. This manor house and the Firs Botanical Gardens were built in 1850 for Sir Joseph Whitworth, (1803-1887), a pioneer of mechanical engineering.
The building was designed by the esteemed architect Edward Walters, who was also responsible for the Free Trade Hall on Peter Street. In 1845 this area was offered in plots for 'respectable residences'. During this time, Fallowfield attracted significant individuals and families to build homes on what became known as ‘Oak Drive’; such as ‘Barcombe Cottage’, which was created by and for Alfred Waterhouse, and ‘The Oaks’, which belonged to the Behrens family.
Whitworth was living at The Firs when the standardised Whitworth screw thread enjoyed immense success. His mechanical genius was evident at the Great Exhibition of 1851, where he won numerous awards for his exhibits. From 1854, at the request of the British government during the Crimean War, Whitworth experimented with new designs for rifles. He demonstrated them in the grounds of his Manchester home. ‘The Firs’ was set in 52 acres of grounds and accommodated this shooting gallery. His innovative guns proved highly profitable. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1857 and in 1869 he was made a baronet – Sir Joseph Whitworth.
Whitworth resided at The Firs until 1870 when, largely retired, he moved to his newly built home in Darley Dale and leased the estate to C. P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian. C. P. Scott was a journalist and Liberal Member of Parliament, who held the role of editor of the Guardian newspaper from 1872 until 1929. At his retirement from this role, he was 83 years old and had held his editorial position for 57 years. While Scott lived at The Firs, he entertained guests including David Lloyd George and Henry Asquith. He often made his journey to and from the Manchester Guardian offices by cycling and he continued to do so until his eightieth birthday.
In accordance with Joseph Whitworth’s wishes, the estate was gifted to Owens College on Scott’s death. The mansion subsequently became home to the Vice-Chancellors of the University until 1991 when it was transformed into Chancellors Hotel and Conference Centre.