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Museum of Science and Industry

Cottonopolis

Williams & Peel beam engineManchester in 1800 was a town covered by a canopy of smoke pouring from tall chimneys.  Fifty steam-powered cotton mills dominated the skyline.  They were the skyscrapers of their day.  The town that people nicknamed Cottonopolis was taking shape.  Two hundred years later, no working mills remain.  A new skyline has emerged.

The Industrial Revolution brought a breathtaking pace of change to Manchester.  Factories and houses began to fill every spare scrap of land.  Many mill workers moved in from surrounding areas, creating a demand for new housing.  Outsiders were torn between wonder and horror.

Jacquard loomThe Lancashire cotton industry peaked in 1913.  Yet Manchester remained the hub of the world cotton goods market until the Royal Exchange closed in 1968.  Some firms adapted by turning to synthetic fibres, such as polyester and fibreglass.

Today, Manchester is still a city shaped by cotton.  Converted mills and warehouses have found new life as offices, hotels and flats, alongside new high-rise buildings.