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Manchester is built on cotton. Our Textiles Gallery tells the story of the people, products and pioneers that made it and their continuing legacy in our city and our world today.

Dubbed 'Cottonopolis', Manchester was once the international centre of the world’s cotton industry. The city imported up to a billion tonnes of raw cotton a year, towns like Bolton and Preston became manufacturing centres and Oldham’s Platt Brothers & Co. Ltd. built textile machines for mills across the world. The North West’s landscape and culture are still shaped by its textile heritage today.

Our Textiles Gallery paints a vivid picture of how cotton transformed Manchester into an urban metropolis. See everything from world-changing innovations like an original Richard Arkwright Water Frame—one of the machines that kick started the Industrial Revolution—to surprising, everyday objects like a pair of child-sized clogs from Charter Street Ragged School, a local charity that helped some of Manchester’s poorest inhabitants.

Follow the textiles story through innovations in design, printing and finishing, adventure through life in industrial Manchester and find out how the city’s cotton spread around the globe.

Meet the machines, people and stories that made Manchester the first industrial city and find out how ‘Cottonopolis’ changed the world we all live in today.

highlights in the Textiles Gallery

Machinery demonstrations

Experience the real sights and sounds of the cotton mills at our daily demonstrations. Find out why weavers learned to lip read and discover how to become a scavenger as our Explainer team run our original 19th century machines and take you from yarn to cloth.

Conversation space

Our new activity space invites you to get involved and share your stories with us. Take a closer look at objects from our stores, try your hand at weaving, meet real-life scientists and engineers, or even help shape the way your museum looks in the future.

Peterloo in the Conversation Space

From 16 August until November, the museum will be commemorating Peterloo with the display of three items that themselves commemorate that day in 1819: two jugs that were created as affordable souvenirs just days after the massacre, and the front page of the very first edition of the Manchester Guardian from 1821, a newspaper founded to report on the campaign for political reform.

In addition, visitors will be able to design their own commemorative chalkboard teapots in the Conversation Space. As part of the event, we have worked with Cheetham Hill New Testament Church Youth Group and The Cooperative Heritage Trust artist, Cat Jessop. They are creating a protest banner, inspired by Peterloo, that will also be on display from 21 August.

Three children looking at a museum guide

Textiles trail

If you're visiting with children, pick up a free activity trail and guide yourself through the gallery. With fun games and challenges, the activity trail will help you explore the objects in a fun and different way.

My Den

A quieter, more sensory space for families with babies and young children to play together. With projections, touch-feel wall panels and comfy mats, it’s the perfect place to try out our Blanket Bags and Treasure Baskets, or just take some time out.