The original Great Ancoats Street based Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary (opening 11th August 1828) was a voluntary hospital largely funded by industry in the Ancoats area and by middle-class people living in nearby Ardwick.
Medical historians Roger Cooter and John Pickstone note that ‘the Dispensary did not even claim to be an expression of "community" within Ancoats; rather it expressed a dependence. Ardwick ... was twinned in philanthropy with its poorer neighbour. The subscribers of Ardwick (and beyond), including those who owned factories and businesses in Ancoats, would fund a medical charity for the hand-loom weavers, the factory workers and the labourers of Ancoats. Ancoats was a "very dependent district", meaning, of course, that the surplus value created there was returned, in part, as the gift of those who lived elsewhere.’
The Dispensary was intended to relieve the overburdened Manchester Infirmary (MR), which was spending more money on the area than was received from it.
A dispensary on a similar model had opened at Chorlton-on-Medlock around 1825–1826 because the MR - which at that time was the only Mancunian medical institution - was unwilling to extend its services to that area due to lack of subscriptions.
Another such dispensary had opened in Salford in 1827 and thus that at Ancoats was the third in the Manchester area. The formation of these dispensaries came at a time when there was an increasing debate among medical professionals and society more generally regarding the charitable model, partly because of concerns that it created a culture of dependency among the poor, and partly because the growth of medical schools and universities, together with the influx of large numbers of medically qualified people who had previously been engaged in the Napoleonic Wars, was having a detrimental impact on medical incomes.
George Murray, the wealthy owner of a substantial textile mill complex in the area, was the Ancoats Dispensary's first president; the first physician, and one of the founders, was James Kay, whose Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes (1832) was in large part based on his experiences there. Kay was one of many who perceived detrimental effects regarding charity, arguing in 1834 that it promoted poverty rather than assisted in its relief. As a dispensary, there were no beds and all treatments were carried out in the homes of patients or on an outpatient basis. With an expenditure of around £400 per annum, by July 1833 the Dispensary had treated over 13,000 people. The demographics of the area in which it was situated — densely populated, industrialised and socio-economically deprived — caused it to deal with a lot of accidents and infectious diseases. Those who worked for the institution became familiar with the public health issues.
The Dispensary had moved premises to Ancoats Crescent in 1850. When that site was bought for development by the Midland Railway, in 1869, the Dispensary relocated to to its present site at 94 Mill Street (now Old Mill Street).