Bolton Museum, Art Gallery & Aquarium is a great attraction packed with lots of interesting exhibits. I recently visited with my young daughter when grey skies looked like they would soon spoil any outdoor activities.
We started our visit in the museum. After climbing the magnificent staircase to the foyer the first exhibit we saw was a large cast of a skeleton of a Tuo River Lizard dinosaur (Tuojiangosaurus multispinus). Hanging on the wall behind is an impressive cast of the skull of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. I clearly remember this from my childhood, although then it was displayed in what is now the local history section of the museum.
The museum is renowned for its Egyptology collection, arguably one of the best outside London. During the Industrial Revolution many of Bolton’s mill owners sourced their raw cotton from Egypt and established links with the country. A fund was established to raise money for excavations and many of the objects discovered were brought back to Bolton.
There’s a wide range of Egyptian items on display including mummies, textiles, jewellery, ceramics, tools, and ritual objects. My daughter loved the simulation of a CT scan of the mummy of Padiamun.
There are plans to build a new gallery housing a full-scale reconstruction of the tomb an Egyptian pharaoh. Whether this happens will depend on the results of a bid for money from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The next section we visited was the local history section. Architecturally it’s the most impressive section of the building. Exhibits here tell the story of Bolton from the Industrial Revolution until the present day.
One of the highlights here is the only surviving example of Samuel Crompton’s spinning mule. This remarkable machine could spin strong cotton yarn and transformed the fortunes of Bolton and other mill towns in North West England. Crompton invented the machine in 1779 while living at Hall i’ th’ Wood, now another museum run by Bolton Library and Museum Services.
Another interesting exhibit is the governor (speed regulator) from the Atlas Mill on Chorley Old Road. My daughter enjoyed turning the handle and watching her energy transferred to the machine. It was restored by the volunteers of the Northern Mill Engine Society, based at Bolton Steam Museum.
Other exhibits in the local history section include a bronze bust of steeplejack Fred Dibnah, a turnstile from Burnden Park (the former home of Bolton Wanderers – now a retail park), and displays about childhood in Bolton through the ages.
The mezzanine floor in the same room is home to a range of artefacts and natural history specimens from all corners of the globe. The diverse collection includes an elephant’s head, a dolphin skeleton, a samurai’s suit of armour, and the leg of Moa (a gigantic extinct bird).
The Art Gallery isn’t particularly large so only a small section of the collection is on display at any particular time. Works on show at the time of our visit included the Death of Seneca by Luca Giordano, George Whitefield by Thomas Walley, and Noah’s Ark by Adam Colonia. There was also a special exhibition showcasing the works of James Naughton, a contemporary landscape painter from Bolton.
I’m pretty sure the aquarium must have been renovated fairly recently. I visited several years ago and it was then definitely past its prime. It now looks decidedly better.
Tucked away in the basement of the building it houses freshwater fish from rivers and lakes all over the world. It claims to be the second largest museum aquarium in the UK. Species in the tanks include catfish, stingrays, damba, and tetra.
Bolton Museum is situated on Le Mans Crescent in the heart of Bolton town centre, close to Bolton Town Hall and the Octagon Theatre. Bolton Bus Station and Bolton Train Station are within easy walking distance.
Entry to all sections of the museum is completely free. View their website for current opening hours. Facilities include a well-stocked gift shop and toilets. There’s no café but there are plenty of places to eat and drink nearby.
Bolton Library and Museum Services offer a pretty good program of events and activities for children and other age groups (craft workshops etc.). Check out their Facebook page for a detailed calendar.