The CIPS/Markit manufacturing purchasing managers' index jumped to 56.7 last month from an upwardly revised 54.6 in December.
It was the highest since October 1994 and well above analysts' forecasts for a reading of 54.0.
The improvement came as new orders rose at their fastest pace in six years – fuelled by stronger domestic and export demand – and output growth hit a peak last reached in June 2006.
The PMI survey has been signalling a recovery for several months but Britain only limped out of recession at the end of 2009 – growing by a slim 0.1 per cent in the last quarter.
Markit economist Rob Dobson: "The survey raises hopes that the sluggish recovery from recession signalled by GDP data in the final quarter of last year will have gained momentum as we move into 2010."
The CIPS UK Manufacturing PMI is compiled from 600 purchasing managers on production levels and new orders.
Howard Archer from Global Insight said: "The survey provides a very welcome, decent upside surprise - which is particularly encouraging following the disappointing fourth quarter GDP data."