Experience the sights and sounds of Scotland’s industrial life.
Home to an amazing array of working machinery and interactive displays, the exhibition hall is a fascinating, hands-on glimpse into Lanarkshire’s history.
Take a Virtual Tour
This 360 tour of the Exhibition Hall was produced by Mallard Productions. Click on a target on the floor to move to the next viewpoint:
Around the Exhibition Hall in 20 Objects!
Let’s make a quick tour around the Exhibition Hall taking-in just a small selection of the star objects on display.
Pre-industrial North Lanarkshire
North Lanarkshire has been inhabited since the time of the very earliest human settlers of Britain. Prehistoric tools found on the Drumpellier Estate shows that the area was a haunt of hunter-gatherers in the Mesolithic period. Later, a crannog was built there in the Iron Age.
The Roman invasion pushed into the north of Scotland in the 1st century AD before the Antonine Wall frontier was established between the Forth and Clyde under the emperor Antoninus Pius. The wall had regularly-spaced forts on it that were usually close enough to maintain visual communication. One was sited on Croy Hill, where this rather crudely sculpted head was found during excavations.
The Lanarkshire coalfield was the largest in Scotland. The Monklands area had been mined since Medieval times when the Cistercian monks from Newbattle who farmed the area (and providing its name) started to exploit the easily-found coal.
The expansion of Glasgow in the 1700s led to increased demand, leading to the building of the Monkland Canal which opened in 1793. The arrival of the iron industry and railways led to a massive expansion in mining which peaked in the early 1900s.
Lanarkshire was an important centre for the fireclay industry. Bricks made from this silica-rich clay were highly resistant to heat. Firebricks were needed in the area’s furnaces and kilns as well as in domestic fireplaces.
Coatbridge became synonymous with the iron industry for a hundred years from the 1830s. The ‘Iron Burgh’ had the largest concentration of blast furnaces in Scotland. The ‘pig iron’ they produced was used in castings and could also be turned into malleable iron and, later steel.
The industry led to the rapid expansion of Coatbridge which soon rivalled nearby Airdrie in size.
Unlike pig iron, malleable iron could be shaped and formed to create everything from simple tools to great engineering feats like bridges. The puddling process made it possible to mass-produce malleable iron from pig iron. Begun in the 1830s Scotland’s first big malleable ironworks were both in North Lanarkshire, at Calderbank and Dundyvan.
The steel industry came to North Lanarkshire when ironmaster David Colville introduced open hearth furnaces into his Dalzell Works in Motherwell. The town was to become Scotland’s main steelmaking centre, a status consolidated with the construction of the Ravenscraig Works in the 1950s. Tubemaking was also a major industry with North Lanarkshire being home to the Scottish half of the tubemaking conglomerate Stewarts & Lloyds. Steelmaking ended in 1992 but the Dalzell Works continues to roll steel made elsewhere.
With the iron industry came engineering. Demand was driven by the iron and mining industries for specialised machinery, by the railways and the need for high-pressure boilers and cranes. Summerlee has a unique collection of machinery from Thomas Hudson and Company.
This part of the displays allows you to browse typical shops found in the area in the mid-1900s. It includes this scary-looking dental equipment!
Two world wars had a huge impact on the people of North Lanarkshire, despite the area escaping the worst of the bombing during the Second World War. The outbreak of war in 1914 was met with patriotic fervour and men rushed to enlist. One effect of this was that women found themselves asked to do many jobs previously only done by men, including factory work.
Protest & Reform
The museum collection includes an amazing collection or rare and fragile banners. It includes a Covenanters’ banner that was used at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679 and this incredibly rare reform banner from 1832. Alongside these are friendly society and trades union banners reflecting the struggles of working people in this highly-industrialised part of the country.
North Lanarkshire had one of densest railway networks anywhere in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Before the railways stagecoaches and mail coaches were a crucial form of inland transport. The teams of horses pulling them would need to be changed when they got tired and that would happen at a coaching inn.
Birkenshaw Inn was a coaching inn on what is now Old Edinburgh Road, Uddingston. This was a turnpike on the line of Roman Watling Street.
Leisure & Sport
North Lanarkshire is famous for the footballers and football managers it produced but it also has the world’s oldest curling pond at Kilsyth and produced a succession of champion and Olympic swimmers.
The museum collection includes Scotland’s national collection of cinema equipment and memorabilia. Production equipment includes this projector from a cinema. Summerlee is also famous for its Compton cinema organ – if you would like to come and play it please do let us know!
Lanarkshire was famous for its sweeties. This started with fruit drops made with leftover fruit from the Clyde Valley’s abundant orchards. Soon, though firms like Lees and King’s of Wishaw became household names.