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Textiles Gallery

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.

Science Stops

Look out for our expert Explainers while you explore this gallery. See them in action as they take care of our historic working machinery and get a taste of what it was like to work in a cotton mill amongst all the noise, dust and elbow grease. Talk to them about the cotton industry and discuss the stories of those whose lives it impacted, both for better and worse.

Conversation Space

Share your stories with us in the Conversation Space. Our current topic is sustainable textiles, exploring: 

  • Textile recycling, from the historic shoddy industry, which made lower-value products from cotton waste and other textiles, to cutting edge garment-to-garment recycling.
  • How you could reduce your carbon footprint by mending your clothes.
  • The environmental impact of fast fashion.

Activity 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.

We’re currently unable to provide pencils, so please bring your own with you.

Listen online

For safety reasons, we have temporarily removed the audio interactives from the Textiles Gallery. However, you can still listen to the recordings and read the transcripts below.


Part of the Science Museum Group