A science museum to rival South Kensington or a memorial to Britain’s railway heritage? Competing narratives and contesting the re-creation of Liverpool Road Station
Liverpool Road Station was a railhead for Manchester in the post-war period at the centre of regional plans for freight modernisation. The site performed two roles in Manchester: one as a working goods station, the second as a landmark, a point of remembrance, a memorial to the railways as extant buildings included the ‘oldest station in the world’. I argue that the latter trope was well known and became crucial as the site was threatened with closure and dereliction following the failure of freight modernisation. The site was memorialised as the first railway station and marked with a plaque unveiled in 1930. A contested lieux de mémoire: to railway enthusiasts the site was sacred, to Manchester residents the place was situated in a longer narrative of industrialisation, to British Railways and the Council the site was a liability, whilst academics at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) regarded the buildings as of ‘little technological significance’. This complex set of perspectives clashed from the mid-1960s, when UMIST historians of technology needed a permanent home for their burgeoning museum collection of industrial and scientific artefacts. Ambitions to create a ‘science museum to rival South Kensington’ drove a range a plans for a large-scale museum site. During the 1970s, Museum staff, Manchester’s universities and the newly formed Greater Manchester Council (GMC) considered a number of possibilities. Once reconciled on Liverpool Road Station’s buildings for the Museum, a stalemate between the GMC and owners, British Rail, drove the establishment of a pressure group. In 1978, the Liverpool Road Station Society, made up of Victorian Society members and academics, quickly attracted both Manchester residents interested in local history and railway enthusiasts. This paper examines competing ambitions for the site. I argue that during this period the station was re-imagined as a distinctively Mancunian space for industrial heritage rather than as monument to railway history.