by Oliver Harper
Stegneck Bridge is one of numerous bridges and locks along the peaceful Leeds and Liverpool Canal – a highlight of North West England
Industry has been at the heart of the North West of England since time immemorial. Even in prehistoric times, local craftsmen were fashioning tools from the region’s rock and then, during the first half of the first millennium, the Romans mined the area for salt, copper, iron and lead. The biggest impact of industrialisation occurred during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when Lancashire became the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, which transformed the fortunes of the entire country.
The Lancashire Mills
Wonderfully preserved old spinning looms at Helmshore Mills Textile Museum
North-western productivity was once the envy of the country and, indeed, the world. In Lancashire
, the mills produced textiles
that were exported worldwide and many of the buildings where these textiles were created remain intact, although generally with a different use. Many luxury apartment buildings throughout Lancashire and into Manchester were, at one time, cotton mills and because they were built close to the waterways are now in fashionable canal side areas. Some fine examples of Lancashire’s mill heritage remain on show, such as at Helmshore Mills Textile Museum
, where original machinery can be seen in action.
Liverpool’s Past on Display
Albert Dock in Liverpool
In Liverpool, evidence of its original industrial era is easy to find along the roads that skim the docklands. The restoration of the Albert Dock
in particular has been extraordinary and Victorian era warehouses
can be seen alongside chic restaurants, remnants of Liverpool’s glorious shipping-fuelled past and archives of its history, such as the Merseyside Maritime Museum
. Further northwards on the Mersey, there are beautiful but unrestored examples of industrial buildings, such as the old sugar refinery.
Cuttings and Canals
Red brick reflections at Leigh on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal
Some impressive examples of Victorian engineering prowess can be seen in the North West, such as the Leeds and Liverpool Canal
, which runs from Liverpool’s docks to Leeds via more than 90 locks. The canal was built to ease transportation of the products of the north-western mills and factories to the docks for export and, conversely, to bring in materials from abroad. Hundreds of thousands of people hear it referenced every year, as its route through Aintree
has given rise to the part of the racecourse known as Canal Turn
. However, the waterways were only part of the story, as the North West is criss-crossed by railways lines that have been in use since the first half of the nineteenth century. One railway tunnel in Liverpool is a Grade II listed construction; the Victoria Tunnel at Edge Hill connects to the Waterloo Tunnel and, although not currently in use, is scheduled to be part of future dockland redevelopment and can be visited by enthusiasts.
You could spend a month in the North West and still not have seen all there is to see, which is why you have to make careful selections. Go to places that sound interesting and they probably will be or go somewhere where there are a few places to visit that are close together; that way, if you don’t like one exhibition or museum, you can always move on to the next. As you travel from one place to another, keep your eyes open and you’ll soon realise that evidence of the North West’s industrial heritage is just about everywhere you look.
Photo Credits: bridge, looms, albert dock, canal reflection