An anchor point on the European Route of Industrial Heritage, the Science and Industry Museum, Liverpool Road, Manchester, houses extensive displays that tell the story of the North West’s part in the development of Britain’s textile, engineering, industrial machinery and aviation industries.
It also looks at the pivotal role the area played in the development of computing and communications.
The London Road site is famous in its own right. It includes Manchester Liverpool Road, the world’s first passenger railway station. It opened on 15 September 1830 as the eastern terminus of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway – the first railway in the world to be constructed with the intention of carrying passengers from day one.
Due to opposition from the Mersey & Irwell Navigation Co, it looked as though the terminus would have to be located in Salford on the west side of the River Irwell. However, a last-minute deal enabled the railway to purchase a site on Liverpool Road, which at the time was on the outskirts of Manchester.
To reach Liverpool Road, the railway had to climb 29 feet (8.9metres) so the River Irwell could be bridged at a height that would allow sailing barges to pass underneath. (The location of the station is shown on the map below.)
Water Street also had to be bridged and this proved to be more of a problem for the line’s engineers. The alignment ruled out any chance of an arched bridge. The only option was for a flat span, but the distance was initially considered to be beyond the engineering capabilities of the time.
Step forward William Fairbairn who, along with his business partner Eaton Hodgkinson, was developing cast iron “T” section girders partially as an aid to fireproofing mill flooring. Fairburn cast the Water Street spans at his foundry in Ancoats and they were tested before being brought to the site for installation.
An existing house on Liverpool Road was purchased for use by the station agent. Next to it the railway constructed a two-storey building for use by Liverpool-bound passengers. Because of the alignment, the platform was level with the first storey.
Facilities were basic. Passengers for Liverpool were protected from the rain by a simple canopy. Those arriving from Liverpool detrained on to a basic platform on the western side of the Water Street bridge. They had no facilities as they were not expected to hang around. It was not until 1837 that an arrival station was built.
Intending passengers could avoid rubbing shoulders with the lower orders by taking advantage of the railway’s horse-drawn conveyance from the company’s office in Market Street. The station was reasonably close to the Old Quay Wharf on the Irwell and the Castlefield Wharf on the Duke of Bridgewater’s Canal for passengers using packet boats.
Though Liverpool Road is the world’s oldest purpose-built railway passenger station, it is not the world’s oldest station building. That record is held by Cuautla station in Mexico which dates back to 1657 when it opened as a convent. It was converted into a station in about 1860.
Liverpool Road had a comparatively short life as a passenger station. It soon become too small to cope with passenger numbers and closed on 4 May 1844, its services being transferred to the new station Manchester Victoria.
Liverpool Road continued in use as a goods station until closed by British Rail on 8 September 1975 whereupon the Grape Street Warehouse and several other buildings were bought by Granada Television.
In 1978, Greater Manchester Council purchased the earliest part site from BR for a nominal £1 and this was used in 1980 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. A direct result of the popularity of the celebrations was the creation of the Science and Industry Museum.