A couple of years ago I was back in Bolton visiting family and after consuming a rather large greasy fry up in Morrison’s I was crossing the car park and was approached by a man who asked “Can you tell me where the steam museum is please? I understand it’s near Morrison’s”. Well after a bit of head scratching and a few more questions, we worked out he should have been at the other Morrison’s store in Bolton. Being friendly northerners (by birth, though not by current residence) we said “Follow us” and took him to the door. “Can’t believe we’ve never visited” we said to each other…
Fast forward a few years and we were back in Bolton on the annual Christmas visitation pilgrimage, we had a few hours free and decided to go along to the Steam Museum. Checking their Facebook page we discovered that we were in luck and the Museum would be in full steam – hurrah, I do love a steam engine! We headed over to the Morrison’s Store (the one on Chorley Old Road, not the one in the Town Centre), found a spot in the car park and made our way inside. The engine shed is in part of the old Atlas Mill site, from a time when cotton was king and the good folk of Bolton earned their money in the mill trade, now it has been transformed into a Mecca of mill machinery.
The delightful tang of warm grease and oil hangs in the air as the steam vapour adds droplets of dampness. The noise of pistons rising and falling, cranks turning and blasts of escaping steam set the scene beautifully. We were greeted by a friendly volunteer in a smart maroon overall coat who handed us a map with information about all the engines. The building is well set out with an obvious visitor route around the various displays. Simple and interesting interpretation adds to the story. A nice combination of engineering information and history including the information about the mills, people who worked the machines and how the engines ended up on display.We worked our way around the lower floor, which was very busy with visitors of all ages including a couple of children completely absorbed with the children’s trail! As a Bolton girl, I was particularly interested in the badges from mills and companies whose names I recognised. My partner – who is an engineer, was impressed with the scale of the engines and was astounded about how many of them were up and running on display.We made our way up onto the balcony and grabbed a sit down at the tea kiosk for a few minutes, refuelling on a Tunnock’s caramel wafer (only 35p!). My overall impression of the museum was the way it was cared for. The building was spotlessly clean, from the toilets to the engines, not a speck of dust or dirt. The volunteers were obviously dedicated to the place, chatting enthusiastically to visitors and each other, it felt like a big happy family. I was also surprised that the site had no grant funding and was funded entirely by donations, legacies and some money from the initial Morrison’s supermarket deal.
If you get the chance to go along when the site is in steam, it is an amazing sight. However, the information alone tells an excellent story and I am sure you could easily while away an hour, even if the engines aren’t running. Details of the museum are here http://www.nmes.org/ or visit their Facebook page for details of events https://www.facebook.com/BoltonSteamMuseum Support a small museum, full of heart, a wealth of knowledge and a fascinating story about Bolton (and other cotton towns) past.