Until the industrial development of the park began in the late 19th century, much of the area now known as Trafford Park was a "beautifully timbered deer park". Its 1,183 acres (4,790,000 m2) comprised flat meadows and grassland, and an inner park containing a tree-lined avenue leading from an entrance lodge at
Barton-upon-Irwell. It was the ancestral estate of the
de Trafford family, one of the most ancient in England,
 and then one of the largest landowners in Stretford. The family acquired the lands around Trafford in about 1200, when Richard de Trafford was given the lordship of Stretford by
Hamon de Massey, 4th Baron of Dunham. Some time between 1672 and 1720, the de Traffords moved from the home they had occupied since 1017, in what is now known as
Old Trafford, to what was then called Whittleswick Hall, which they renamed Trafford Hall. Their new home was a little to the east of where Tenax Circle is today, at the northwestern end of Trafford Park Road.
Trafford Park contained the hall, its grounds, and three farms: Park Farm, Moss Farm, and Waters Meeting Farm.
 From the original three entrance lodges to the park, at Throstle Nest, Barton-upon-Irwell and
Old Trafford, only the latter has survived, having been relocated from its original position opposite what is today the White City retail park to become the entrance to Gorse Hill Park.
The Old Trafford entrance lodge and gates to Trafford Park were moved to their present site at the entrance to
Park in 1922.
In 1761, a section of the
Bridgewater Canal was built along the southeast and southwest sides of Trafford Park. The canal along with the River Irwell, which marked the estate's northeast and northwest boundaries, gave the park its present-day "island-like" quality. In about 1860, an 8-acre (32,000 m2) ornamental lake was dug in the north of the park, close to the River Irwell.
A meeting held in 1882 at the
Didsbury home of engineer
Daniel Adamson began the estate's transformation, with the creation of the
Manchester Ship Canal committee.
Sir Humphrey de Trafford was an implacable opponent of the proposed canal,
 objecting that, amongst other things, it would bring polluted water close to his residence, interfere with his drainage, and render Trafford Hall uninhabitable, forcing him to "give up his home and leave the place". Despite Sir Humphrey's opposition the Ship Canal Bill became law on its third passage through Parliament, on 6 August 1885. Construction began in 1888, more than two years after Sir Humphrey's death, although a 9-foot-high (2.7 m) wall was built between the canal and the park, so as to block it off from view. Two wharves were also built, for the exclusive use of the de Traffords.
The opening of the ship canal in 1894 made Trafford Park a prime site for industrial development. During the following century, the park was built over with factories and some housing for workers. The deer were initially allowed to continue roaming free, but as the park's industrialisation gathered pace they were considered inappropriate and were killed, the last of them in 1900. Trafford Hall survived until its demolition following the Second World War.
On 7 May 1896,
Sir Humphrey Francis de Trafford put the 1,183-acre (4,790,000 m2)
 estate up for auction, but it failed to reach its reported reserve price of £300,000 (£31.9 million as of 2018).
[a] There was much public debate, before and after the abortive sale, as to whether Manchester Corporation ought to buy Trafford Park, but the corporation could not agree terms quickly enough, and so on 23 June
Ernest Terah Hooley became the new owner of Trafford Park, for the sum of £360,000 (£38.2 million as of 2018).
On 17 August, Hooley formed Trafford Park Estates Ltd, transferring his ownership of the park to the new company – of which he was the chairman and a significant shareholder – at a substantial profit. The initial plans for the estate included a
racetrack, exclusive housing and a cycle works, along with the development of the ship canal frontage for "all types of trade including timber". By that time the ship canal had been open for two years, but the predicted traffic had yet to materialise. Hooley met with
Marshall Stevens, the general manager of the Ship Canal Company, and both men recognised the benefit that the industrial development of Trafford Park could offer to the ship canal, and the ship canal to the estate. In January 1897 Stevens became the managing director of Trafford Park Estates. He remained with the company, latterly as its joint chairman and managing director, until 1930.
1924 map showing Trafford Park almost entirely enclosed by the Manchester Ship Canal and the Bridgewater Canal
The company initially chose not to construct buildings for letting, and instead leased land for development. But by the end of June 1897 less than one per cent of the park had been leased, and so the park's existing assets were put to use until more tenants could be found. Trafford Hall was opened as a hotel in 1899, to serve prospective industrialists considering a move to the park, along with their key employees. It had 40 bedrooms, available to "Gentlemen only". The hall's stables and some other outbuildings were used for stock auctions and the sale of horses, from 1900 to 1902, and the ornamental lake was leased to William Crooke and Sons, for use as a boating lake, initially on a five-year lease. A
polo ground was set up in the park in 1902, and 80 acres (320,000 m2) of land near the hall were leased to the Manchester Golf Club, who laid out a three-mile (4.8 km) long course. The club moved from Trafford Park to a new site at Hopwood Park in 1912.
 All of the open-field land uses were subsequently pushed out by industry.
In 1908 the Estates Company decided to reverse its earlier policy of only leasing the land, and began to construct what were known as Hives, 25-foot (7.6 m) wide subdivisions of a longer single building that could be internally reconfigured for each tenant's needs. A series of 19 were built initially, available to rent at £80 per annum (£8 thousand as of 2018).
Brooke Bond was one of the companies that took advantage of the Hives, before moving to its purpose-built factory on the park in 1922. The Estates Company also built large reinforced concrete warehouses, known as Safes. These buildings were fitted with sprinkler systems and were considered fireproof, which reduced insurance costs to 25 per cent of those of comparable warehouses elsewhere in the area. Each Safe had a capacity of 778,000 cubic feet (22,000 m3), sufficient to hold 50,000 bales of cotton.
Among the first industries to arrive was the Manchester Patent Fuel Company, in 1898. The Trafford Brick Company arrived soon after, followed by J.W. Southern & Co. (timber merchants), James Gresham (engineers), and W. T. Glovers & Co. (electric cable manufacturers). Glovers also built a power station in the park, on the banks of the
Bridgewater Canal. Most of these early developments were built on the eastern side of the park, while the rest of it remained largely undeveloped.
The first American company to arrive was
Westinghouse Electric, which formed its British subsidiary –
British Westinghouse Electric Company – in 1899, and purchased 130 acres (0.53 km2) on two sites. Building work started in 1900, and the factory began production of turbines and electric generators in 1902. By the following year, British Westinghouse was employing about half of the 12,000 workers in Trafford Park. Its main machine shop was 899 feet (274 m) long and 440 feet (134 m) wide; for almost 100 years Westinghouse's Trafford Park works was the most important engineering facility in Britain. In 1919, Westinghouse was sold to the
Vickers Company and renamed
Metropolitan-Vickers, often shortened to Metrovicks.
In 1903, the
Cooperative Wholesale Society (CWS), bought land at Trafford Wharf and set up a large food-packing factory and a flour mill. Other companies arriving at about the same time included Kilverts (
lard manufacturers), the Liverpool Warehousing Company, and Lancashire Dynamo & Crypto Ltd.
Trafford Park's southern entrance is marked by this bridge connecting
manufacturing plant to its warehouse. Kellogg's moved into the park during the 1930s.
The second major American company to set up a
manufacturing base in Trafford Park was the
Ford Motor Company, in 1911. Initially Ford used its factory as an assembly plant for the
Model T, although other vehicles were assembled there in later years, before moving to a
new factory at
Essex, in 1931. By 1915, 100 American companies had moved into the park, peaking at more than 200 by 1933. When the cotton industry began to decline in the early 20th century, Trafford Park and the Manchester Ship Canal helped Manchester – and to a lesser extent the rest of south Lancashire – to weather the economic depression from which the rest of
Lancashire suffered. During the First World War the park was used for the manufacture of munitions, chemicals and other materiel. Most firms at Trafford Park succeeded in avoiding bankruptcy during the
Great Depression, unlike the rest of Lancashire. Ford moved to Dagenham in 1931, but returned temporarily to Trafford Park during the Second World War.
Metropolitan Vickers set up Manchester's and one of the UK's first radio stations at their factory in 1921. The station's first broadcast took place on 17 May 1922. In October that year the company was one of six who formed the
British Broadcasting Company (BBC), which started broadcasting from the Metrovicks studio under the call sign
2ZY on 15 November 1922. Much of the station's content was musical, but news, plays, and children's programmes were also transmitted. Conditions in the small 30-by-16-foot (9.1 m × 4.9 m) studio were cramped, and the BBC moved the station to larger premises outside the park in 1923.
Sir Humphrey de Trafford had retained 1,300 acres (530 ha) of land on the western side of the ship canal after his 1897 sale of Trafford Park. Hemmed in as it was between the canals and "an increasingly urbanised Stretford to the east", as the industrialisation of the park neared its completion the Estates Company started to acquire parcels of the remaining de Trafford land, then in the control of family trustees, as did the Canal Company. In 1924 the Estates Company bought a half share in Dumplington Estates Ltd., a company set up to administer 38 acres (15 ha) of land bought from the de Trafford Trustees on which it was intended to build a garden village. In 1929 the Ship Canal Company acquired Dumplington Estates, and in return gave the Estates Company land to the south of Barton, the Trafford Park Extension. The Canal Company recognised the potential for a new dock on the land, giving the area its name of Barton Dock Estate, although no dock was ever built. The Barton Docks area was developed during and after the Second World War, but the land belonging to Dumplington Estates remained largely undeveloped until the construction of the
Trafford Centre, which opened in 1998.
Second World War
Trafford Park was largely turned over to the production of war
materiel during the Second World War, such as the
Avro Manchester and
Avro Lancaster heavy bombers, and the
Rolls-Royce Merlin engines used to power the
Mosquito and the Lancaster. The engines were made by Ford, under licence. The 17,316 workers employed in Ford's purpose-built factory had produced 34,000 engines by the war's end. The facility was designed in two separate sections to minimise the impact of bomb damage on production. The wood-working factory of F. Hills & Sons built more than 800
Percival Proctor aircraft for the RAF between 1940 and 1945, which were flight tested at the nearby
Barton Aerodrome. Other companies produced gun bearings, steel tracks for
Churchill tanks, munitions,
Bailey Bridges, and much else. ICI built and operated the first facility in the UK able to produce
penicillin in quantity.
As an important industrial area, the park suffered from extensive bombing, particularly during the
Manchester Blitz of December 1940. On the night of 23 December 1940, the Metropolitan-Vickers aircraft factory in Mosley Road was badly damaged, with the loss of the first 13 MV-built Avro Manchester bombers in final assembly. The new Ford factory producing aircraft engines was bombed only a few days after its opening in May 1941. Trafford Hall was severely damaged by bombing, and was demolished shortly after the war ended. At the outbreak of war in 1939 there were an estimated 50,000 workers employed in the park. By the end of the war in 1945 that number had risen to 75,000, probably the peak size of the park's workforce; Metropolitan-Vickers alone employed 26,000.
Decline and regeneration
One of a pair of 56-foot (17 m) high sculptures named Skyhooks
, at the eastern end of the park. They were designed by Brian Fell and installed in 1995, as part of the estate's regeneration.
In the 1960s employment in the park began to decline as companies closed their premises in favour of newer, more efficient plants elsewhere.
Ellesmere Port and
Runcorn at the western end of the Manchester Ship Canal were in the ascendency industrially and they overtook Trafford Park in economic importance. In 1967, employment had fallen to 50,000 and there was a further decline in the 1970s. In 1971, Stretford Council responded by setting up the Trafford Park Industrial Council (TRAFIC), membership of which was open to any firm in Trafford Park. One of TRAFIC's early initiatives was to encourage businesses in the park to address the general air of decay, by improving their own areas through landscaping and other environmental improvements. The park's decline was exacerbated by the decreasing use of the Manchester Ship Canal during the 1970s, which was unable to accommodate the newer, larger container ships then entering service. By 1976, the workforce had fallen to 15,000, and by the 1980s industry had virtually disappeared.
On 12 August 1981, 483 acres (1.95 km2) of Trafford Park – along with
Salford Quays – were declared an
Enterprise Zone by the UK government, in an attempt to encourage new development within the estate. The new status did little to reverse the park's fortunes however; during a 1984
House of Commons debate,
Member of Parliament for
Tony Lloyd, described the area's decline as "spectacular and disastrous". The target had been to create 7,000 new jobs over 10 years, but by 1986 only 2,557 had been created, not even enough to compensate for the ongoing job losses caused by closures within the park. On 10 February 1987 the
Trafford Park Development Corporation was formed to assume responsibility for a 3,130 acres (12.7 km2) Urban Development Area that included not only Trafford Park but also parts of Stretford, Salford Quays, and the former steelworks at
Irlam, now known as Northbank. Of the four redevelopment schemes undertaken by the corporation one, Wharfside, included 200 acres (81 ha) of the eastern end of the park as well as part of the ship canal docks and the area around
Manchester United F.C.'s
Old Trafford football ground to the east of the Bridgewater Canal. The intention was to build "a flagship site" containing prestigious accommodation for offices, shops, and "hi-tech" industries, capitalising on the area's proximity to Manchester city centre and mirroring the earlier success of the redevelopment at nearby Salford Quays.
Between 1987 and 1998, the
development corporation attracted 1,000 companies, generating 28,299 new jobs and £1.759 billion of private sector investment.
 The setting up of the corporation was intended to be only a temporary measure, terminating on 31 March 1997, but it was extended for a further year until March 1998 when responsibility for Trafford Park's development passed to Trafford Council. The park is once again a major centre of employment in Trafford, and its regeneration has led to a high start-up rate for businesses and low rates of unemployment in the area.
 As of 2008, there were 1,400 companies within the park employing an estimated 35,000 people.