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By Sally MacDonald on

40 years of the Science and Industry Museum in Castlefield

As the Science and Industry Museum celebrate 40 years in Castlefield, we reflect on the past, present and future of our site of innovation and ideas that change the world.

A leaflet from 1983 for the Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry

On 15 September 1983, thanks to the dedication of many people and partners in saving globally significant objects and buildings, the Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (as it was then known) opened in Castlefield.

Its founders planted the enduring spirit of innovation in the museum’s DNA from the outset. One of the museum’s most unique features is the opportunity we offer visitors to experience exhibitions and events about world-changing science and technology, against the backdrop of one of the nation’s most significant industrial heritage sites.

The museum has always been devoted to exploring Manchester’s rich heritage and world-changing ideas, from the Industrial Revolution to today and beyond. We are uniquely placed to tell this story—sitting on the site of the oldest surviving passenger railway station (the Manchester terminus of the world’s first inter-city railway which transformed trade, technology, travel and time), in the heart of the world’s first industrial city, today alive with innovative discoveries in science and technology.

From its revolutionary beginnings, Liverpool Road Station expanded into a bustling freight hub, operating for almost 150 years as a gateway between Manchester and the world. After the station closed in 1975, it took years of dedication to reshape the site into the museum we know and love, and transformations continue to this today.

Black and white photo of a disused railway warehouse

In 1983, the museum was a welcome addition to help the regeneration of Castlefield, and a catalyst for the UK’s ‘first urban heritage park’, opening on the 153rd anniversary of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway with two buildings—Power Hall and 1830 Station—initially available to explore. Along with Roman Manchester and the junctions of historic canals and rivers, the hustle and bustle of activity began to return to the oldest part of the city.

40 years on and the vision and forward-thinking of the museum’s founders remains strong. We are at the heart of the area’s regeneration alongside Factory International’s Aviva Studios, the National Trust’s Castlefield Viaduct and the St John’s neighbourhood.

The ambition of one of our founders, Dr Richard Hills, was that the museum should spark ‘the interest of young people, to play a valuable role in helping to increase the recruitment and training of scientists and technologists and… to provide a convenient place for the meeting of arts and science minds’.

We are immensely proud that this mission of inspiring futures remains today. We welcome visitors of all ages to enjoy incredible collections and explore stories of current innovation in our permanent galleries, changing exhibitions, vibrant events programme and Manchester Science Festival.

Now part of the national Science Museum Group, we enter our fifth decade with ambition and innovation that we hope the founders of the museum would be proud of. One of the most significant heritage restorations projects in the UK is currently underway as critical repair works are making significant improvements to the museum’s collection of listed buildings and structures.

We want visitors to experience every part of the museum’s seven-acre footprint and are revealing new indoor and outdoor spaces and perspectives for all visitors to enjoy, play and learn in.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors have already enjoyed our new award-winning Special Exhibitions Gallery, the first new space to open as part of the project, which is now originating and hosting some of the world’s best science exhibitions in the North.

Together with work to re-open Power Hall over the coming years, we will be creating a new experience in the 1830 Station, a Wonderlab gallery for families, new routes through to Factory International and Castlefield, significant new outdoor landscaping and play, and a dedicated new STEM learning hub. This is all accompanied by huge environmental improvements happening across the museum.

Although we have had to make difficult decisions, including returning the Lower Campfield Market Hall (formerly our Air and Space Hall) to its owners, Manchester City Council, ready for its next chapter, we have forged new partnerships to enable the restoration of the site, including our partnership with the Landmark Trust to restore the historic Station Agent’s House as a beautiful venue for holiday lets.

Almost 200 years ago, the site was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Now, work is taking place to inspire innovators of the future to power the next (green) industrial revolution. This is supported by our sector-leading decarbonisation project that is creating a more economically and environmentally sustainable museum for the future. We are continuing to create a place where people feel inspired that they can do anything and to enable as many opportunities as possible for current and future generations of inventors, technicians, engineers and creators who will continue to change the world.

Thank you to everyone who has been part of this journey.

We have compiled a list of 40 of the highlights and hidden gems that are available to explore everyday while we undergo our regeneration to create a world-class museum for the future.