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Industrial heritage in Manchester Liverpool and the North West: Where to visit, what to see

I received a message from Ronny Ellingsen in Norway, asking for advice about visiting the places connected with the industrial heritage of North West England. He also asked what was the best way to travel. I had a quick think and came up with a list of places, and I recommended the train as the best way to get around. Read the full article.

From: Ronny Ellingsen
Subject: Industrial Revolution
Dear Aidan, Thanks for a great website. I will visit Manchester and Liverpool a week in March to see the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. Can you please give me some advice on where I can find information about what I should see? (Buildings, structures, museum etc) I plan to spend a day, both on the journey to and from Liverpool. Can you recommend a way to travel to get the most out of these two days? Is it impossible to travel on the canal between Manchester and Liverpool in March? It'd been nice if you could take the time to answer this.I am Norwegian and hope that you understand my English.

Thanks very much for your question. Very glad you're interested in the industrial heritage of the North West of England (or Englandsnorthwest as the tourist authorities like to use).

The two main conurbations in the north west are Manchester and Liverpool and there are also other cities and towns all around which are important in the history of industry. It's stated that this area is the 'cradle of the Industrial Revolution'. I've picked out some attractions:

Air and Space Museum, part of MOSI
Air and Space Museum, part of MOSI

The Museum of Science and Industry, MOSI, Manchester: This museum presents many artifacts to do with local industrial history - working factory engines, a reconstructed early steam locomotive, the oldest railway station in the world - the one that was at the eastern end of the Manchester and Liverpool Railway, opened in 1830. Definitely a must, MOSI is in Manchester city centre just a short walk from the shops, offices and railway stations.

Ancoats - first industrial suburb in the world: Once a place of industry with mills, factories, workshops, today it's under development. The old mills have been converted into apartments. It's interesting to see how Manchester's industrial heritage has been adapted for contemporary times. Where factory workers toiled, now professional workers and students watch tv or sleep! Sadly many of the old mills in the Ancoats area have been demolished. Manchester City Council planning policies have led to the loss of many important buildings and the destruction continues: Ancoats Hospital - actually just the exterior of the Victorian building that was once Ancoats Hospital - may be demolished. Visit while it's there!

Ancoats mills 1998 before restoration
Ancoats mills 1998 before restoration

The Lowry Museum in Salford - a 20 Metrolink tram ride away from the city centre - displays the celebrated paintings of LS Lowry, which give a personal view of the streets and buildings of the old Manchester and Salford, which I remember from my childhood. Streets full of terraced houses, factory buildings, industrial landscapes, blackened church spires, and everywhere the stick figures which populate his paintings. This is a 'must-see' to learn how Manchester looked in past decades.

By the way, 'mill' in northern England means a factory building, often for weaving textiles.

If you'd like to see interesting relics of Britain's aviation history, you will find them at the Aviation Viewing Park, on the west side of Manchester Airport. There is a preserved Concorde airliner as well as other famous and sadly defunct British aeroplanes!

Liverpool is the other great city in north west England, and in my opinion, superior to Manchester in many ways, but that's my own biased opinion!

Liverpool Waterfront with Queen Mary 2 and the Liverpool Museum
Liverpool Waterfront with Queen Mary 2 and the Liverpool Museum

The Museum of Liverpool is in my opinion one of the best city museums in the world. It contains fascinating collections relating to the history of Liverpool, its industries and its ports, as well as its music and culture of course. There are more trains, including a railway carriage from the Liverpool Overhead Railway, which very sadly was closed in 1956. Now it remains a popular memory.

The other Liverpool Museums, including the Maritime Museum and Slavery Museum have valuable collections relating to local industrial history.

The World of Glass, in the town of St Helens, to the north east of Liverpool, has all kinds of displays and exhibits to do with the manufacture of glass, particularly at the famous Pilkingtons, still a major presence in glassmaking in Britain, (though now owned by a Japanese company).http://www.worldofglass.com/ Catalyst science discovery centre, situated to the south of Liverpool in Widnes, has information about the North West chemical industry, which is centred on this area. Not far from here is the Stanlow Manufacturing Complex, including a major oil refinery, and also the chemical plant at Runcorn.

Runcorn Bridge, spanning the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal
Runcorn Bridge, spanning the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal

The best way to view these and other major industrial areas of the North West is from the deck of the Manchester Ship Canal Cruise, operated by Mersey Ferries. The six hour canal trip operates in the summer months between the Pier Head in Liverpool and Salford Quays, close to the heart of the Manchester conurbation. I've taken it a few times and it is fascinating. I can drive along the M62 between Liverpool and Manchester in 30 minutes, this takes six hours but if you're interested in the subject of industrial history, the time flies!

Manchester Ship Canal Cruise, Irlam high level railway bridge
Manchester Ship Canal Cruise, Irlam high level railway bridge

Those are my 'prime picks', the ones that spring immediately to mind, but there are others. Maybe I'll have a think and add some more.

Hope you enjoy your trip to the North West of England, one of the key places where the Industrial Revolution began.

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2012-10-11

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