The waterways of Britain, both the rivers and canals, provide the principal means of transport for industry and commerce prior to the burgeoning rail system (and as a means of transport for exporting goods and bulk movement, past the Victorian era). It is no coincidence that the museum is situated at Ellesmere port where the Shropshire Union Canal meets the Manchester Ship Canal so that the products of the mills and factories could be ditributed throughout the Empire. The Museum is spread over 7 acres and includes so much that it is worthy of a full day's exploration. Set just aside from the rest of the museum, Porters Row and its traditional cottage garden present a lovingly recreated picture of domestic life through the ages in Ellesmere Port's canal docks. Originally built in 1833 the four cottages of Porters Row were, over the years, home to shipwrights, blacksmiths, railway workers and, of course, porters and their families. Today the cottages recreate homes from the 1830s, 1900s, 1930s and 1950s - each with the decor and features of its time, from oil lamps to electric light and from coal-fired coppers to early hand-operated washing machines. The blacksmith’s forge is where the canal company’s ironwork used to be made. Today, the forge is still in use and home to the museum’s resident blacksmith Alex Price. Alex is on site most days, Monday to Friday plus some event days. Whilst he is always busy with his work, he is also happy to be asked questions. And for people who really want to get hands on in an historic forge, Alex runs day long smithing classes.
Walking the seven-acre site takes you through a dynamic landscape of Victorian buildings, docks, locks, stables, cottages and canal basins. A treasure trove for those interested in industrial archaeology, the site is steeped in history and in fine examples of Victorian architecture and industry. With lots of green spaces the site is full of lovely spots to sit and watch the world go by, and the waterways attract a wide variety of wildlife and especially many wild birds. Ellesmere Port's docks played an important role in the development of England's north west into an industrial powerhouse. Visit the Viewing Point beside the car park to fully take in the site's remarkable location on the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey. From a 1,000 year old log boat to a concrete barge, a coracle to a steam powered dredger, the collection of boats from Britain's inland waterways illustrates the many different types of craft that have used our canals and rivers over the centuries. While some boats are exhibited as part of the museum's indoor displays, the majority can be found in the canal docks outside, where some of them are open to the public to explore. Looking after these boats is an on-going task and you will see boats and narrowboats in various states of repair. The Heritage Boatyard, which is located behind the Island Warehouse, is where a dedicated team of volunteers and young trainees work to care for and restore boats from this important collection.
The Island Warehouse (yes, it is on an island, reached by a pontoon bridge) is the main exhibition space at the National Waterways Museum, housing two vast floors of displays and hands-on activities. The Island Warehouse was built in 1871 as a store for grain. On the ground floor you will find displays about the history of boat and canal building. Alongside historic boats and re-creations of workshops there are ingenious hands-on displays and touch-screen interactives. Watch archive film of the spectacular launch of a narrow boat, find out how canal 'ice breakers' worked and see rich displays on the crafts and skills of boat makers. Upstairs, find out what it would have been like to work on the canal as a boat or dock worker in the exhibition Life on the Cut. Plus a special display on the history of the Manchester Ship Canal. The Power Hall is packed full of gleaming, beautifully maintained engines, all themed around water. Each engine was originally used to move water or drive things through it; or used water (hydraulic engines), or steam to drive boat engines. The engines are looked after by museum volunteers. If they are on duty when you visit (look for the men in the overalls!), they will be happy to talk to you about their work. The Pump House contains the mighty steam driven pumping engines, which supplied the power for hydraulic cranes and capstans throughout the dock at Ellesmere Port. The giant boilers had trouble with limescale, just like your kettle at home. But to clean these monsters a small person had to climb inside with a hammer and tap the limescale away by hand! There is wheelchair access (apart from the boat trip) and accessible toilets. Assistance dogs welcome. Wheelchair loan/hire (2 manual chairs available). Hearing loop (at the information desk). Special access to exhibits for visually impaired (tactile and large print maps available). Wheelchair access to interactive exhibits. Carers Free.
Location : South Pier Road Ellesmere Port Cheshire, CH65 4FW
Transport: Ellesmere Port (MerseyRail, National Rail) 10 min. walk. Bus routes 7 and 7A stop nearby. Ellesmere Port Bus Station has national connections.
Opening Times: Daily 10:00 to 17:00
Tickets: Adults £6.50 Concessions £5.50 Children £4.50 (under 5 free)
Tel: 0151 355 5017