CLOUDS of steam, the deafening clatter of huge, working machines and the smell of hot oil … just the recipe for an eight-year-old grandson on a day out in a 21st century city. And that's just inside!
Pop outside the Power Hall at MOSI, the Museum of Science and Industry in the heart of Manchester, and you can ride behind a gleaming, fully-operational replica of Robert Stevenson's 1830 Planet steam locomotive – and even book lessons on how to drive it.
The railway link is very relevant, for much-loved MOSI is housed in the buildings of the former Liverpool Road station, the world’s oldest passenger railway station and part of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, which opened in 1830.
Steam power in general was vital to the city's industrial development and the Power Hall, a former railway transit shed and one of five huge buildings in the museum complex, houses the largest collection of working steam mill engines in the world.
It also includes gas, oil, hot-air and diesel engines built by famous local companies and a towering 30-tonne hydraulic accumulator, as well as railway items including a replica of Novelty, which ran in the famous 1829 Rainhill Trials, and a massive Beyer-Garrett articulated steam loco, made in nearby Gorton in 1930 – almost 90ft long and weighing in at more than 150 tons – which ran on the South African railways into the 1970s.
MOSI, which has just won a welcome £800,000 investment for expansion, is now one of the most visited museums outside London, telling the story of how the modern world began. Its 15 galleries feature working replicas of iconic world firsts such as Arkwright’s water frame – the first machine for mass production of cotton – and the world’s first computer, built in 1948.
You can even experience underground Manchester and explore a walk-through Victorian sewer, but the real magic for grandson and granddad was well above ground in the stunning Air & Space Gallery, packed with full-sized aircraft including rarities like a Japanese piloted suicide bomb and a supersonic English Electric Lightning jet fighter.
Pride of place goes to aircraft made by A V Roe and Co – Avro – founded in Manchester by poetically-named Alliott Verdon Roe in 1910, who made the first flight in a British aircraft with a British engine in his Triplane I. A replica of this tiny, spindly flying contraption of linen, wood and wires contrasts with a looming, four-engined Avro Shackleton, built in 1954 at nearby Woodford and designed to locate and attack Cold War submarines.
Great fun, too, to have a space-age ravine race in a Morphis motion simulator, mercifully undertaken before an excellent snack lunch in the Great Western Warehouse coffee shop, chosen as a quicker option to the sit-down dining of the Warehouse Canteen.
After lunch, it was through the nostalgic Textiles gallery and time for some hands-on activities in the Experiment gallery – with grandson Nathan lifting a real Mini with the power of gears and having a bash at all sorts of wonders.
We headed homewards via an old-style helter-skelter and fairground rides on the cobbles outside, before it slowly dawned that although we had enjoyed an action-packed few hours, we had still only scratched the surface of what MOSI has to offer.
We hadn't even made it into two of the five onsite buildings … so when we got home, it was time to go online, checks the 'what's on' and 'what to do' sections of the website and rough out an outline itinerary for the next visit, which is already very much on the cards, and well worth the £3 requested donation.
Forget Harvey Nicks and the other posh shops in the city centre – just head along Deansgate and make for MOSI.