Bolton Museum

Just a half hour outside of Manchester, Bolton is home to one of the most important Egyptology collections in England. The collection was started by Annie Barlow who was a member of the Egypt Exploration Society while she studied at the University College of London. She became the honorary secretary of the Bolton branch and was responsible for raising funds to support explorations in Egypt. The Egypt Exploration Society would donate artefacts found during their explorations to institutions, and Annie Barlow asked for her share to be donated to the Chadwick Museum, Bolton Museum’s predecessor during the Victorian age. Bolton Museum continued to support the Egypt Exploration Society and a large part of their collection has come from their archaeological digs. This is significant because it means that the collection at Bolton Museum has full provenience, which is not found in comparable collections in the UK. Today, the collections are used by scholars from around the globe for research, particularly those looking at Egyptian textiles. The first two curators, William and Thomas Midgley, were specialists in ancient textiles and were often asked to assess textiles found during excavations. Once the assessment was done, the textiles were often donated to the museum, creating an unparalleled collection of Egyptian textiles.

On September 22, 2018 Bolton Museum reopened to the public after being closed for two years for a £3.8 million renovation. The museum was able to complete these renovations due to a collaboration with Leach Studios, capital funds from the local council, contributions from Eddie Davies, and a grant from the DCMS/Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund. I was lucky to have been invited to the grand reopening and was blown away by the new exhibitions. Bolton Museum now has three large, permanent galleries on local history, Egyptology, and art. Previously, the local history gallery was the largest with a side room for Egyptology and another side room for art, which was also used to hold meetings. Now each gallery is expansive and truly allows the collections to shine. The Egyptology gallery is by far the shining star of the museum.

Egyptology gallery entrance
PHOTOGRAPH BY Stephanie Whitehead

Upon entering the Egyptology gallery you read about the phenomena that is the West’s obsession with “Egyptology” from past to present. Off of the entrance room is a room dedicated to the Chadwick Museum where on one side, there is a life-size, interactive “doll house” of the museum, and portraits of major key players, including Annie Barlow, along another wall. This room is an homage to those who created Bolton’s collection and tells the story of how the collection was accumulated. Back through the entrance room there is a long hallway that is breath-taking and immerses visitors into ancient Egypt. Glass exhibition cases arch overhead at regular intervals filled with artefacts and wildlife that would have been found along the Nile. Between each arch is a different theme about day to day life in ancient Egypt. There are interactive exhibits and dress-up areas for school groups, and objects at every height for visitors to get lost in. At the end of the hall to the right is a room dedicated to preparing for life after death. The room is darker, denoting a contrast between the hallway depicting life and this room which discusses religious beliefs, the mummification practices, and what the Egyptians believed would come after death. Once visitors have been acquainted with the customs and practices on preparing for the afterlife, they are lead to a recreation of the tomb of Thutmose III. Walking into this room is like walking into the tomb itself, with Thutmose III at the end of the room. Visitors can sit and watch a video depicting Amduat, the journey of the sun god Ra. This story is the same that was/is illustrated on the walls of the tomb. The Egyptology gallery at Bolton Museum was short listed for UK Permanent Gallery of the Year and it is clear to any who visit that is deserving of such an honour.

Beyond the Egyptology exhibit, the local history and art galleries are also impressive and worthy of venturing to Bolton for. Recently, Bolton Museum was honoured with being the only northern museum to host the Desire, Love, and Identity exhibit which depicted LGBTQ+ life and history in Bolton and the UK.

Bolton Museum is free to attend and attached to the local library and aquarium! It is a fantastic day out for people of any age and has something for everyone. Some of the collection is available to explore online at Bolton Museum also oversees two historic homes, Hall’i’th’Wood and Smithills Hall, which are both worth visiting. If you are interested in seeing more of the collections and a behind the scenes tour of the store rooms you can contact Pierrette Squires, Conservator, or Ian Trumble, Curator.

I was humbled to have been part of this team as an intern under Pierrette Squires and cannot speak highly enough about how incredible the staff and team are at Bolton Museum. I’d like to take the moment to applaud the hive mind behind the Egyptology exhibit. Led by Ian Trumble, Collections Access Officer of Egyptology, Archaeology & World Collections, the great minds responsible for this exhibit include Sam Elliott, Crescent and Collections Manager, Pierrette Squires, Conservator, Don Stenhouse, Collections Access Officer of Natural History, Laura Murray, Documentation Assistant, Teri Booth, Documentation Assistant, and Gary Webster, Technician.

Contact Information:

Le Mans Crescent

Bolton BL1 1SE

+44 1204 333173

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Stephanie Whitehead