Bolton Steam Museum is a gem of British industrial heritage. Operated entirely by volunteers from the Northern Mill Engine Society (NMES), this museum houses a stunning collection of 30 stationary steam engines that once powered the cotton mills of Northern England.
The historical significance of the museum extends beyond the preservation of these engines. These majestic giants are integral to the story of British industrialisation and have played a vital role in shaping the nation’s social, economic, and cultural landscape. By keeping them in operation, the NMES is bringing to life a crucial chapter in British history that might otherwise be forgotten.
The Bolton Steam Museum is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in the Industrial Revolution, British manufacturing history, or the wonder of ingenious engineering. The museum offers visitors a rare glimpse into a bygone era in a way that is both illuminating and entertaining. With free entry and the opportunity to support the work of the NMES, a visit to the Bolton Steam Museum is an unmissable experience.
Visitors can marvel at the country’s most extensive collection of working textile mill steam engines inside the museum. The machines, which range from small to gigantic, are a testament to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of British engineering.
- 1902 J & W McNaught Tandem Compound engine – The Tandem Compound engine was commonly used in textile mills and could drive up to 1000 looms. This engine originally came from Wasp Mill in Rochdale. It was moved multiple times before being acquired by NMES in 1967.
- Robey Cross Compound engine – This is a small example of the Horizontal Cross-Compound design used in textile mills. It was built by Robeys of Lincoln in 1935 for teaching and experimental purposes in the laboratories of the Manchester Municipal College of Technology (now UMIST). It was eventually purchased by a member of NMES in 1987. The engine features drop valves, a manually-adjustable trip point, and a small governor.
- Musgrave Non-Dead-Centre engine – The Musgrave NDC engine is a significant engine in the collection and the only surviving mill-sized example of its design worldwide. The machine has a twin-cylinder inverted vertical compound layout with only one crank and a triangular con-rod and pivoting links, creating a “Non-dead-centre” engine that always starts when steam is admitted to the cylinders. John Musgrave Ltd of Bolton obtained a license to build stationary engines to this design, and this example was supplied to A & J Hoyle Ltd at Park Street Mill in Radcliffe in 1893.
Visiting Bolton Steam Museum – Opening Times, Admission Prices
The museum allows visitors to view the engines on Wednesdays and Sundays when some can be operated on electric drive.
However, the real highlight for visitors is the regular steam days when the engines are brought to life by volunteers who carefully tend to the boilers and demonstrate the engines in motion. Visitors can watch in awe as the machines hum and whir to the rhythm of their giant pistons and flywheels.
Steam days are held throughout the year, mostly around bank holidays.
Steam days in 2023 are:
- Sunday 30th April, Monday 1st May, 10.00 am – 4.00 pm
- Sunday 28th May, Monday 29th May, 10.00 am – 4.00 pm
- Sunday 27th August, Monday 28th August, 10.00 am – 4.00 pm
- Saturday 28th October, Sunday 29th October, 10.00 am – 4.00 pm
- Thursday 28th December, Friday 29th December, 10.00 am – 4.00 pm.
The museum is disabled-accessible, with level floors and a lift.
The museum is at the Morrisons Supermarket site on Mornington Road in Heaton, Bolton. It is just 1 mile northwest of Bolton town centre. It’s behind the petrol station.
Enter and park in the supermarket car park. Parking is free. Owners of satellite navigation systems can use the postcode BL1 4EU to find it.
Visitors are advised to check the museum’s website before visiting to ensure it is open and events are going ahead.
Most of the space at the museum is devoted to the exhibits, but there are toilets. A small second-hand book shop and refreshment stall operate on steam days. The Morrisons store also has a decent restaurant, toilets and baby-changing facilities.
Admission is free, but donations from visitors are appreciated to help cover running costs.
You’ll also want to bring your camera, as there are plenty of opportunities to capture amazing photos of the museum’s exhibits.
History of the Museum and The Northern Mill Engine Society
The Northern Mill Engine Society (NMES), a registered charity, operates the Bolton Steam Museum, and its volunteers work tirelessly to preserve this valuable piece of industrial heritage. The society’s mission is to collect, conserve, and demonstrate stationary steam engines associated with textile mills, machinery builders, and engineering in the northern region of England.
Formed in 1966, NMES has grown from a small gathering in a Rochdale pub to an organisation that showcases the most extensive collection of textile mill steam engines in the UK.
The founders of NMES recognised that many historic engines were rapidly disappearing due to neglect or scrapping. Their passion for preserving these incredible machines led them to create an organisation dedicated to their conservation. Initially, they faced numerous challenges, including finding suitable premises to store and restore their growing collection.
In 1968, thanks to the generosity of the owners of Atlas Mills in Bolton, NMES was provided with space for its ambitious project. Over several years, members painstakingly restored five engines.
In 1983, after 15 years of hard work, the Bolton Steam Museum officially in one of the engine houses of Atlas Mills. It quickly became a popular attraction among locals and visitors alike. By showcasing these impressive machines working under steam power, NMES fostered a greater appreciation and understanding of engineering marvels from days gone by.
However, change came unexpectedly in 1990 when Morrisons purchased the mill complex to develop a supermarket. Morrisons were sympathetic to the NMES and gave them a new location in a former cotton warehouse on the edge of the site. Although this meant dismantling and relocating all exhibits, it became a blessing in disguise for NMES as it enabled further expansion.
With security now ensured through long-term lease agreements, society began rebuilding its numerous engines in the new location. Today, the NMES collection has grown to include 30 steam engines.
In 2006, a new boiler house was constructed, and a boiler was installed. This development paved the way for regular Steam Days, where visitors can witness these magnificent machines working under authentic steam power.
The NMES is a testament to its members’ dedication and passion, who have worked tirelessly over five decades to preserve an essential aspect of industrial heritage for future generations. By showcasing these spectacular steam engines in action, the society offers a unique insight into engineering history while promoting appreciation for regional textile industries’ rich past.
The Impact of Steam Engines on Bolton and Northern England
The invention and widespread use of steam engines in the 18th and 19th centuries profoundly impacted Northern England and towns such as Bolton. Steam engines transformed the textile industry, improved transportation, and contributed to the growth of urban centres in the region.
Before the advent of steam engines, the textile industry in Northern England was largely dependent on water power. However, the availability of water power was limited and inconsistent. Mills had to be located near rivers or streams to harness this power. This factor limited the industry’s growth and made it difficult to scale up production. The development of steam engines, however, provided a new source of power that was not dependent on water availability or location, allowing mills to be built anywhere.
Using steam engines in the textile industry permitted the creation of larger and more efficient factories, significantly increasing production. In Bolton, a centre of the cotton spinning industry, the use of steam engines led to the creation of large mills that could process vast quantities of cotton.
The impact of steam engines was not limited to the textile industry. Steam engines were also used to power transportation, including trains and steamships. These modes of transport allowed for faster and more efficient movement of goods and people, which helped drive urban centre growth.
The growth of industry and transportation made Northern England a hub of urbanisation in the 19th century. Cities such as Manchester and Liverpool grew rapidly, and smaller towns like Bolton experienced significant growth. The availability of jobs in the textile industry and other industries fuelled this growth, and the use of steam engines played a crucial role in facilitating the expansion of industry and transportation.
Other Museums in Greater Manchester and Lancashire
Greater Manchester and Lancashire are steeped in history, culture, and innovation. These areas have played pivotal roles in the UK’s industrial, sporting, and cultural narratives. To truly appreciate the depth and breadth of their contributions, you can explore museums in the areas. They include:
- Bolton Museum: Museum in Bolton known for its Egyptology and natural history collections.
- British Commercial Vehicle Museum: Located in Leyland, this museum celebrates the history of British-made road transport vehicles.
- Clitheroe Castle Museum: Set within the historic Clitheroe Castle, this museum offers insights into the geology, history, and people of the Ribble Valley.
- Fusilier Museum (Bury): Dedicated to the Lancashire Fusiliers, it tells the rich history of this regiment and its role in British military campaigns.
- Greater Manchester Police Museum: A fascinating look into the history of policing in Greater Manchester.
- Imperial War Museum North: Located in Trafford, this museum explores the impact of modern conflicts on people and societies.
- Lancaster City Museum: Situated in the heart of Lancaster, it showcases the history and heritage of the city and its surrounding areas.
- Manchester Museum: Located on the University of Manchester campus, it boasts extensive collections from the natural world, ancient civilisations, and more.
- National Football Museum: Situated in Manchester city centre, this museum celebrates the rich history and culture of football in the UK.
- People’s History Museum: A journey through the lives, art, and political movements of the working people of Britain.
- Portland Basin Museum: Set in a restored canal warehouse, it offers insights into the industrial history of Tameside.
- Queen Street Mill Textile Museum: The world’s only surviving steam-powered weaving mill, offering a glimpse into Lancashire’s textile industry.
- Science and Industry Museum: Located in Manchester, this museum explores the city’s contributions to science, technology, and industry.
- Smithills Hall: A Grade I listed manor house in Bolton.