A Cuts Scene Investigation Special: National Railway Museum, National Media Museum and Manchester Museum of Science and Industry to face closure or admission charges
The year is 2035. Manchester is connected to its recently opened High Speed Two line, which whisks Mancunians to the present day capital of the United Kingdom. It is possible to get a hourly HS2 service to London which takes 70 minutes. Elsewhere in the Greater Manchester City Region, it takes a similar amount of time to travel from Stockport to Ashton-under-Lyne by bus in the peaks on the 330 route.
With HS2, Manchester would be easier to access by rail for tourists and the few businesspeople who still have to travel to offices for their work. There’s every chance tourists would like to know the origins of the UK’s rail network. At the moment, at this point in 2013, these three places are in Northern England. One is close to the birthplace of the modern day railway, another is in one of the UK’s foremost rail centres. The other, marks the spot of HS2 technology 1830 style: Britain’s first Inter-City rail route, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
For rail fanatics, the Stockton and Darlington Line, the National Railway Museum and Liverpool Road station are the Holy Grail of the world’s railway history. They also survived Doctor Richard Beeching’s The Reshaping of British Railways. Their future didn’t even feature in the Serpell Report nor McNulty’s report.
Instead, our fellows at the DCMS, ultimate paymasters to the Science Museum in London which owns the above, aims to go further than Beeching and Serpell. By closing or introducing admission charges to the three locations. These being the National Railway Museum’s bases on Leeman Road, York. The Manchester Museum of Science and Industry in its entirety from the Liverpool Road station up to the Air and Space Museum. Plus the NRM’s outstation in Shildon.
Besides the railways themselves, where would the romance of our rails be without film? They aim to wield the axe to the National Media Museum in Bradford. The National Media Museum also hosts film festivals, has the UK’s only working Cinerama screen as well as an IMAX screen, and the archives of the Fox Talbot Photography Museum.
The DCMS’ long term aim would involve the sale of its museums to other partners (which could be anyone from universities to private enterprise), and concentrate their cultural activities on the Science Museum in London.
Which alienates the 40 million Britons who live outside London and South East England.
A move which would cost billions to the tourist industry throughout the North of England. Not only in the affected museums but the service industries, such as hotels and coffee shops. It would also reduce the attractiveness of Northern England as an alternative tourist destination. To sell off the Liverpool Road station would be akin to crushing The Great Pyramids for Yuppie Flats. This is not only Manchester’s history, but also a major part of our global history. Like Universal Suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement and the rise of computers.
It is this part of the past which is most important. Where would the adolescent pursuing a career in computers go if the Ferranti Mark I is mothballed, or priced too far beyond their means? How many rail enthusiasts were awestruck by seeing Mallard as well as Thomas The Tank Engine at the National Railway Museum, and went on to work for the railways? Would the average Northerner be forced to book a Transatlantic flight or travel further to see a Cinerama presentation?
All three museums are strategically important, not only for the future career prospects of young visitors, but also the regions they serve. Most of York’s collection came from the smaller railway museum in Clapham. Plus, Leeman Road had potential for expansion, something realised by Harold Wilson’s Labour Government in 1975.
The National Media Museum, hitherto the National Museum of Film, Photography and Television, came about in 1983. Its launch fulfilled a need to bring visitors into Bradford whilst filling space originally designated for a theatre. Cooperation between local and central government made that possible.
That is also true of the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. The closure of Liverpool Road goods station resulted in Greater Manchester County’s funding towards its restoration. It too opened in 1983, three years after the reenactment of the Rainhill Trials and the 150 Year Anniversary event of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. It grew from strength to strength.
It is also worth noting that the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry was part of a regeneration scheme, which led to Manchester becoming Britain’s third most visited city. Old buildings were restored to use, hence the Power Hall and 1830 Warehouse being restored and converted to galleries. Hence the Air and Space Museum’s acquisition of the former City Exhibition Hall. Neither of the buildings are replaceable, and moving any part of the Liverpool Road station to another site does a disservice to its visitors. (Should part of the MoSI complex be given UNESCO World Heritage Site status)?
The Return of Admission Charges?
Historically, the National Railway Museum and the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry have had charges for permanent and temporary exhibits. The latter used to have separate charges for the Power Hall and Air and Space Museum sites. Both museums, and the National Media Museum have chargeable extras which add variety to the visitor experience. The restoration of admission charges is one idea considered for the National Railway Museum.
Another idea considered has been changes of ownership of what the Science Museum regard as ‘non-core museums’. Museums shouldn’t be subject to competition nor private ownership: their presence should be for academic and public good. Universities are subject to funding pressures, hence most of them opting to charge the highest tuition fees possible. Other Government departments have been threatened with cuts, with more swingeing cuts made to arts departments and local government throughout Northern England.
The Manchester Museum of Science and Industry has its roots within the universities. It was originally the North Western Museum of Science and Industry situated on Grosvenor Street, opening in 1969. Could the might of Manchester’s universities save MoSI?
This leaves us with the private sector, in the vain hope private philanthropy would save the world’s oldest railway station or the like. Instead of philanthropy, could the nation’s museums be owned by businesses with interests in Foundation Schools? How could we ensure the impartiality of our collection if shareholders are placed before history? I doubt it. Could individual galleries be (Heaven forbade) franchised? Would the Electricity Gallery at MoSI be sponsored by EDF Energy with the lure of a toy Zingy for younger visitors?
Mutualisation, akin to a Management Buyout could be considered, with MoSI, NMM and NRM as Community Interest Companies. Even so, they are anathema to the concept of keeping key artefacts and buildings within the national collection. The possibly hitherto national museums would be seen as inferior in spite of having a world class collection.
Financially and temporally, we will all lose out. Would you like to see each display besmirched by the sponsor’s message? Would you like to bring up a child who might never see a Mallard locomotive in the flesh? Or the world’s oldest railway station? Or a film presentation in Cinerama.
Northern England – already at the sharp end of local government cuts – will lose even more money. The last three years has seen a drop in visitor numbers in the affected museums, and this has been due to depressed incomes. Instead of visiting more of the UK last year, it was cheaper for us to stay at home in our Olympic Year. Hence depressed footfall in the Lake District, thanks to reduced incomes, inclement weather and the lure of the London Olympic Games for overseas tourists.
Yet their near-million mark figures is still higher than a season’s attendances at most Football League grounds, which is commendable. Mere indices doesn’t make a museum’s success; it is the payback from success on national and local level. For a tourist to be forced to travel to London to see Ferranti Mark I, 194 miles from its birthplace, is a deception. Liverpool Road Station cannot be moved brick by brick to Salford Quays to suit sponsors’ requirements, nor the centre of London.
Manchester, York and Bradford are not distant suburbs of London nor villages (though some may argue HS2 might stretch London’s commuter belt to leafy Cheshire and Manchester). They are proud cities in their own right, all deserving of museums of national importance.
In an era when we need to grow instead of shrinking the economy, NCMS’ plans are a retrograde step. One which would further shrink the Northern English service economy. Admission charges would stretch the already stretched pursestrings of Northern households.
If their plans aren’t enough to disgrace the historian in you, kindly leave your computer or portable tablet and think again. Then return to your digital device once you’ve reconsidered.
Spread the word by distributing this article as widely as possible. Write to your MP, comment profusely on local and national newspapers’ websites or letters page. Tweet or retweet this article possibly with the following hashtags:
- Manchester Museum of Science and Industry: #SaveMoSI, #SaveLiverpoolRoadStation, #SaveAirandSpaceMuseum, #SaveThe1830Warehouse;
- National Railway Museum: #SaveTheNationalRailwayMuseum, #SaveTheNRM, #KeepOurNRMFree, #SaveLocomotion;
- National Media Museum: #SaveTheNMM, #SaveTheNationalMediaMuseum, #SaveOurCineramaScreen.
S.V., 03 June 2013.