Lower Campfield Market in 2006, c. Science Museum Group
The grade two-listed Lower Campfield Market dates back to the 1800s. Credit: Science Museum Group

Manchester science museum vacates Air and Space Hall lease

Julia Hatmaker

The Science and Industry Museum’s lease exit is the next step forward in Allied London’s £1bn St John’s district regeneration scheme.

News of the lease end is not surprising, as Manchester City Council approved a deal in May to surrender and dispose of long leaseholds at several sites to developer Allied, thus consolidating the ownership of the St John’s district. The proposed leases were Castlefield House and the grade two-listed Lower and Upper Campfield Markets.

Allied said it will refurbish and regenerate the buildings to make business workspaces and an events venue.

Lower Campfield Market has housed a plane collection since it became the Manchester City Council’s Air and Space Museum in 1983. The Science Museum Group took over the site in 2012, naming it the Air and Space Hall.

However, the historic hall has been closed intermittently to visitors for maintenance and conservation work since 2019. It closed again during the second COVID-19 lockdown and never reopened.

Returning the building to Manchester City Council was “the responsible thing” to do, according to Science Museum Group director Sally MacDonald. She cited the extensive repairs needed at the facility, as well as the challenges in sustainably displaying artefacts there as part of the reason for ending the lease.

Vacating the lease would allow the charity to focus more on looking after buildings that it does own, according to MacDonald. That includes the world’s oldest surviving passenger station and railway house.

Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, stated that the council would be working with Allied London to develop proposals for refurbishing the site, as well as the neighbouring Upper Campfield Market.

“This creates an opportunity to introduce new activities into the Lower Campfield Market building to help support Manchester’s economic recovery from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Leese said.

Plans for the Upper and Lower Campfield Markets will be brought forward in due course, according to Leese.

What’s happening to the planes?

Most of the bikes, cars and planes on display are being returned to their original homes since the museum only had them on loan. That includes the replica Roe Triplane and Avro 554 Avian IIIA, which both will go back to Ellesmere Port-based preservation group The Aeroplane Collection.  The English Eccentric P1A Jet is going to Boscombe Down Aviation Collection.

The Royal Air Force Avro Shackleton is off to the Avro Heritage Museum at the old Woodford Aerodrome in Stockport. It is a return to the plane’s “spiritual home,” as the museum is on the site of A.V. Roe & Co, which was the company that originally made the Shackletons.

Staying at the Science and Industry Museum are the 1905 Rolls-Royce motor car and the 1912 Ford Model T. The former is currently on display in the museum’s Revolution Manchester gallery. The Model T will be used in future displays at the museum to illustrate Manchester’s motor manufacturing history.

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What a shame, just for more inaccessible offices.

By YS

Sad that a quirky, informative and interesting collection is being disbursed to accommodate office and event space. Manchester city centre is becoming an increasingly bland and unimaginative place.

By A V Roe

What a pity really. All these are being sent to obscure museums or places scattered around the country, many with no opportunity to access them. Fantastic

Secondly those wonderful buildings will be used for completely inappropriate purposes like office space. Office space is great, but a market hall is meant to be used for public things.. perhaps like a market?

By Jo

Personally, I always thought this was a sad, dilapidated and outdated display and this move will allow for the refurbishment and repair of the listed structure which MOSI has let rot under its stewardship.

By Bradford

Another abysmal decision that MCC seem to be behind.

This was a unique space that offered something unique.

Liverpool absolutely trounces Manchester when it comes to museums.

By 1981

This is really sad news – this was always one of my favorite parts of MOSI and I think its loss diminishes the museum as a attraction.

By Manc Man

Doesn’t matter how MCC and MOSI spin it, this is a further downgrade on the museum’s offer when it should be consolidating and expanding its collections and display space in order to do justice to Manchester’s fascinating industrial and scientific story upon which the modern city was built and thrives.

Cultural philistinism once again. It seems the museum has only gone down the plug hole since being subsumed into SMG and MCC have been only too willing to let it happen.

By Not Leese

For a second I thought the whole museum was being closed. Sad though it is it will give the rest of the museum including the train station a chance to thrive.

By Anonymous

For the commenters that don’t know, Its worth noting that the Avro museum is only 30 mins drive from the city centre as its half way between Stockport and Macclesfield.

By Avro

People really love to comment without understanding any context, don’t they?
The museum would clearly love to retain this building, refurbish it and expand its offering. But it can’t afford to. Would anyone like to guess why? Central government funding to museums and local government has been slashed over the last decade – don’t point the finger at the people who are having to deal with funding cuts, point it at government. The only choice open to MCC to retain and refurbishes these buildings is if a private developer comes in on the lease. In any case, I doubt they will be offices.

Austerity Britain. Tory Britain. We apparently keep voting for it, so learn to live with it.

By MB

While some will point to cuts to funding to the art sector, and poor old MCC’s position versus Tory cuts, others (mainly me) will note the just sub £200m being wasted on “Factory”.

Especially noting the double in budget since first floated as a thing, and the ask for government bailout. All of which will eat into the available for both MOSI and museums across the north.

Perhaps if MCC spent less effort on enviously trying to crush any slight advantage its neighbour has, and more effort on making the best of what it already has, more enlightened spending choices would mean MOSI being better cared for.

By Jeff

It has nothing to do with austerity. MOSI has been flagging for years and long before the Tories came in. Hence them flogging off part of their site in order to build the Ordsall Chord.

The plane exhibition in the lower market has not changed in the 20 years I have lived here, so is it not a better idea to do something with the space which actually brings it back to life? The plan is offices and event space, so a market is not ruled out and would be a great idea. Get the people who run the Mackie Mayor/Altrincham food market in on it and it would be fantastic and was mentioned a while back. With the Castlefield Forum and St John’s residents on MCC’s back, it won’t just all be turned in to offices.
People are so unbelievably negative on here sometimes and fail to see the bigger picture. There is so much potential here if done correctly.

By Steve

Agree with Steve. A market there would be perfect with all the residential development. Just what Manchester needs along the lines of the ones in Madrid. The demographic around there can afford a stylish indoor market coupled with some decent food outlets, these days and with the new Highline garden coming soon, it would be a lively place to visit,plus Factory.

By Elephant

Steve, it is not compulsory for it to change use. Invest in the space, expand the space and improve its visitor appeal. Expand the number of exhibits but don’t discard it and reduce still further the appeal of the museum, which by rights should be one of our Crown Jewels cultural attractions. Unfortunately under MCC and Science Museum Group, it feels like the place is becoming increasingly marginalised.

By Not Leese

As a regular pre-pandemic visitor with my young family this is a very sad announcement. Children do not need the display to change every few months and they don’t even notice if paintwork is peeling a bit. However, they do seem to glow when they are inspired and I watched this happen many times as we have imagined flying and driving all the various vehicles in display; my daughter and I have been waiting until she is tall enough to try out the flight simulator too.
The complexities of our city’s economy are beyond my expertise as a designer but I feel strongly that places which inspire local children should be highly valued and it is sad to see this valuable asset being discarded.

By regular visitor paul

I don’t see how building a world class cultural centre (Factory) is a waste of money! Great asset for Greater Manchester and the wider North West.

By Anonymous

Make it Manchester’s Borough Market after the chance to do that at Smithfield was lost.

By Loganberry

Having surveyed the whole of the estate a few years back we noted defects in this building , but nothing major , which could not be fixed . MCC does seem to be fixated on major vanity projects .
This was my kids favourite part of the museum , as noted in another column they are do not worry about the building being dated and there not being whiz bang graphics . They just liked being up close to the planes , particularly as their grandfather was in the RAF .
A great loss to the city , which huge amounts of money spent on vanity projects will not replace .

By graham wilson