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By Kat Dibbits on

Rocket returns to Manchester for the first time in 180 years

Stephenson’s Rocket is to return to Manchester for the first time in over 180 years this September.

The iconic locomotive, which was built to run on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the world’s first inter-city passenger railway line, will be on display at the Museum of Science and Industry from 22 September until 21 April 2019.

Rocket secured its place in railway history after winning the Rainhill Trials, in 1829. The competition was to decide which locomotive candidate would be used to pull the trains on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, opening the following year. Rocket, designed by Robert Stephenson, won the competition and secured the tender for George Stephenson, his father, known as the “Father of the Railways”.

Stephenson's Rocket, a dark brass coloured locomotive with a tall chimney at the front

Rocket’s win not only secured fame and fortune for the Stephensons, it also decided the future of the entire rail industry by proving once and for all that locomotives, rather than stationary winding engines, were the best technology to pull trains on the Liverpool to Manchester line – and by extension across the railway network that followed.

This potent symbol of Britain’s industrial heritage is the second standout object from the collection of the Science Museum Group, which the museum is part of, to appear in Manchester this year, following the success of the national tour of Tim Peake’s Soyuz spacecraft.

The Museum of Science and Industry is a particularly apt venue, as it sits on the site of the terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and the Grade I listed booking office and first class waiting room are still open to the public.

The first class booking office at Liverpool Road Station - a room with pale floors and pale green walls, with a long wooden counter running along one side

Sally MacDonald, Director of the Museum of Science and Industry, said: “The story of Manchester’s role as the world’s first industrial city is one that is at the heart of our museum, and we are excited to be finding new ways to tell these huge stories in the run up to the 200th anniversary of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 2030.

“The arrival of Stephenson’s Rocket in Manchester for the first time in 180 years is a momentous occasion, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see this iconic symbol of the Industrial Revolution in the city where it sparked ‘railway mania’.”

Close up of the nameplate of Stephenson's Rocket locomotive - a black plaque with "Rocket" printed in capital letters

After a bumper year which saw visitor numbers to the museum rise by 6%, thanks to outstanding attractions such as the blockbuster Robots exhibition as well as Tim Peake’s spacecraft, the museum is also set to change its name to the Science and Industry Museum, to align it with the Science Museum Group family.

The change will come into place in September along with improvements to the visitor experience around the site, the same month as Rocket arrives in Manchester

Close up of the back part of the Rocket locomotive showing the wheels, gears and levers made out of a dark coloured metal

The museum joined the group in 2012 and now shares an internationally important collection with its sister museums, the Science Museum in London, the Science and Media Museum in Bradford, the National Railway Museum in York, and Locomotion in Shildon.

Sally MacDonald said: “As part of the Science Museum Group we have been able to bring incredible objects to Manchester, and I am looking forward to sharing these important moments with our visitors for many years to come.”

6 comments on “Rocket returns to Manchester for the first time in 180 years

  1. Great news will make a note of the date, pity Lion cannot join it but I have just seen her in Liverpool.

  2. Pity it can’t be taken on a trip – from MOSI (the Manchester terminus) through Rainhill Station (the site of the trials) and on to Edge Hill Station (the “Liverpool” terminus) – glad to see this important development being celebrated!

    1. Hi Jeff, we’d love that and you’re not the only person to mention taking Rocket to Rainhill. Unfortunately it isn’t possible for conservation reasons as it’s actually very delicate now – but I will ask one of the conservators to write a post about what we have to do to protect Rocket and the various challenges they face. Hopefully we will see you in September!

  3. Came to your museum on Friday. Had a brief tour with one of your staff but didn’t have much time. What I did see was brilliant. Although I live over 200 mls away I will be back in September to see Rocket. Silly really, I could have seen it in London any time but it will look right in Manchester.

    1. I volunteer at Brooklands Museum and we have the same advantage that you have. The original buildings have a huge impact on the way the exhibit is displayed.

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