Spaces of Industrial Heritage: a history of uses, perceptions and the re-making of Liverpool Road Station, Manchester

  • Erin Beeston

Student thesis: Phd


Built in 1830, Liverpool Road Station is the oldest extant passenger railway station in the world. For this reason, the Station was preserved and transformed into a science and industry museum in the early 1980s. Yet, the 'oldest station' story, perpetuated in the collective memories of local and national interest groups, has led to the neglect of other significant stories of this space of industrial heritage. The passenger service only operated for fourteen years, whilst the Station transported freight continuously for 145 years. Although strikingly visible in physical scale, freight infrastructure has been consistently invisible in responses to the Station across its history and in research, despite ultimately providing most of today's museum spaces. Inspired by Pierre Nora's concept of lieux des mémoires, I consider the 1830 portion of the Station as a site of memory, where a break with the past has fixed a narrow set of memories to this place. I demonstrate how commemoration embedded at industrial heritage sites can limit our understanding of their past. Popular narratives of place are essential in galvanising preservation, yet, their persistence disguises layers of urban memory. Treatment of the freight structures in museum interpretation is inconsistent, from the oldest, 1830 Warehouse, presented so that galleries bear some relation to its history to the 1882 New Warehouse, treated as merely accommodation for galleries. A focus for explanation is how and why the museum developed as a traditional science museum with science centre elements, despite occupying a site with the hallmarks of a living history or transport museum. I particularly highlight the intellectual influence of the original iteration of the museum, the North Western Museum of Science and Industry. Firstly, I establish how the Manchester terminus was memorialised between the nineteenth century and 1930s, showing commemoration was initially focused on the individual, George Stephenson, then locomotives and passenger railway 'relics', and only gradually associated with the Station itself. I suggest the Station can be considered materially a site of memory by the 1930 Liverpool and Manchester Railway Centenary. I then demonstrate what can be gained from researching the freight period, from tracing forgotten innovations and uncovering more typical aspects of the Station to its role in Campfield, a neighbourhood with diverse working class culture characterised by the civic elite as prone to 'nuisance'. This provides fresh perspectives on Manchester's urban history, such as the Railway's role in the municipalisation of Campfield. Finally, drawing on previous findings on commemoration and freight uses, I show how the museum came to develop its complex site narrative as visions for North Western industrial heritage and science galleries were awkwardly combined with railway priorities. As a collaborative doctoral student, I advised the current Museum, therefore interpretation proposals appear in Appendix A, aimed at remedying the longstanding disconnect between historic buildings and gallery spaces.
Date of Award1 Aug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCarsten Timmermann (Supervisor) & James Sumner (Supervisor)


  • Railways
  • Memory
  • University history
  • Museums
  • Heritage

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