The museum comprises not just one, but five listed buildings, which together used to form Liverpool Road Station, the terminus of the world’s first inter-city railway. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened in 1830, and for over 140 years the station saw a constant flow of people, goods and raw materials travel in and out of Manchester. It played a key role in cementing the city’s 19th-century reputation as the ‘warehouse of the western world’.
When Liverpool Road Station closed in 1975, its buildings were dilapidated and unsafe. The exhibition Changing Places, Creating Spaces – currently on display in what used to be the First Class waiting room – picks up the story from there, exploring how the site has been continually conserved and transformed since the late 1970s. As a newcomer to the museum, this was a perfect project to introduce me to the fascinating history of this complex site. I still keep discovering hidden corners and passageways!
The site has been well-documented by museum staff over the years, a process that we continue today, as these photographs form an important record for understanding the museum and its infrastructure. This means there was a wealth of material in the archives to choose from when putting together Changing Places, Creating Spaces, and we decided to invite staff from across all areas of the museum to select their favourite images for inclusion. This collaborative process sparked some great conversations, as we tried to place the images and decipher what is happening in them. Although traces of the museum’s industrial past are visible everywhere, some of the buildings are barely recognisable in these photographs; they really convey the history of the place we work in, and the huge task of transformation that faced former museum staff.
The most popular images have been transferred to acrylic and are displayed in lightboxes for the exhibition, which brings out the fine detail in the photographs. Quotations from the staff who chose the pictures are displayed along with them, hopefully giving an insight into the many people who work to run the museum today, from Explainers to Archivists, Maintenance to Marketing staff. The photo that received the most votes is an atmospheric image of the basement of the Great Western Warehouse from 1987, the space stripped out and displaying its dramatic architecture (pictured at the top of the page).
The exhibition also felt like an opportunity to document the museum site in its present state, and so the museum’s current photographer has taken an expansive new panorama of the Upper Yard, which is on display alongside the historic images. As we prepare to embark on further improvements to the site, the photographic archive will undoubtedly continue to grow and form a fascinating document of a living museum.