One of the perks of living and working in Greater Manchester is that when I finish work at 1pm on a Saturday, I can hop on the V1 and be in Manchester City Centre within an hour. Normally I like to simply sit in a coffee shop while watching the world go by, but this Saturday I decided to revisit one of my favourite childhood spots: The Museum of Science and Industry.
The Cotton Industry
Having lived in Bolton, Bury, Rochdale, Halifax, Leigh and now Wigan (that’s not even all of them!), I have grown up surrounded by industrial buildings. The cotton industry is a major part of Greater Manchester and thus it has quite a grotesque place in history as it relied heavily on the Slave Trade.
Prior to my visit to the museum, I was aware of the intertwining of the Slave Trade and the cotton industry, but the reason that Manchester was home to the cotton mills – and not somewhere in the Americas – was somewhat a mystery. I can only assume that this is British history’s way of diverting attention away from the central role that we played in slavery.
As with most things British, it all boils down to the weather!
The weather has nothing to do with the taking of people from Africa and making them slaves in the Americas. That is simply pure white Western greed and prejudice. The West Indes, however, where the cotton was grown and farmed have the essential levels of heat and dryness for the cotton plant to grow. Unfortunately, dry air is not optimal for spinning the cotton ready to be woven into the fabric, and so the third corner of the triangle – Manchester – is added., and so the cotton mills were born. Manchester, I learnt, is the prime location to process the cotton plant into sheet fabric due to its most famous feature (no, not Old Trafford!): rain!
In order for the cotton fibres to bind together correctly, the air needs a high level of moisture making this city perfect for processing.
If you want to see a loom from this era in action (using the Flying Shuttle) then head over to my Facebook page (link in the sidebar).
The cotton industry is just one aspect of the industrial revolution that Manchester had a central role in.
Situated on Liverpool Road, MOSI is housed within a number of original industrial buildings. One of these is the oldest surviving terminal railway station in the world!
I’m not personally a train fanatic, but I’m fascinated by the Victorian era and the impact of industrialisation in particular on society. As a literature graduate, it was great to view the station with the knowledge of how the railways influenced reading cultures.
The building itself is incredible, and you can use your inner imaginative eye to bring to life the hustle and bustle of the increasingly popular railways.
What surprised me the most was how few people walked over to visit this part of the museum! The emptiness allowed me the opportunity to capture photographs free from my fellow visitors, but it made me sad that this was a part of the museum that was being ignored.
The Other Bits
The relationship between Manchester and industry doesn’t exist solely in the Industrial Revolution. One of the first things that you encounter in the museum is ‘Baby’, the world’s first stored-programme computer that was developed in Manchester in 1948.
While I was there, there was also an exhibition dedicated to communication; that is television, print media and the telephone. It’s definitely worth a visit and will no doubt whet the appetite of anyone looking to visit the National Media Museum in Bradford.
The two parts that I didn’t spend much time in were the Engine Room (does what it says on the tine: it’s a room full of engines. Although I did learn that the first diesel engine was introduced in 1928, much earlier than I’d previously thought!), and the Air and Space building (I didn’t actually make it in here as I ran out of time and so I can’t substantiate the claim of a four-year-old I encountered that there might be a Fire Engine in there!).
This museum is free of charge to enter, but it does rely on donations to keep running. The suggested donation amount is £3 and you are kind of guided towards paying it on the way in. There is a donation box on exit (this is the option I took, if I paid the minimum on the way in I’d have never thought to add a little extra on the way out being so grateful of my experiences) if you wish, and of course it is a non-compulsory fee.
If you’ve been to the museum or are planning to go let me know down in the comments what your favourite part is!