Salford Museum and Peel Park

Salford Museum & Art Gallery started life as Lark Hill Mansion, built in 1809 by Colonel James Ackers and situated in extensive grounds. After 40 years as a private house Salford City Council purchased the building to be used as an educational site, planning to turn it into a public museum and library, and in 1849 Mr John Plant was appointed museum curator and librarian. The building opened as the Royal Museum and Public Library in April 1850, the first free public library in England, and after less than five months was attracting an average of 1,240 visitors per day; extensive refreshment rooms were then opened on the basement floor and two adjoining rooms were added to the library, allowing it to accommodate nearly 12,000 books.
In 1851 three of the East rooms in the museum were knocked into one with proposals to turn the space into an art gallery, then in 1852 a large extension was added to the back of the building, creating a reading room on the ground floor and a museum room above. Between 1854 and 1856 the North and South galleries were opened along with a lending library of 2,500 books, and by 1857 visitor numbers had risen to an average of 3,508 per day. On his death in 1874 Edward Langworthy, a local business man, former Mayor of Salford and an early supporter of the museum, left a £10,000 bequest to the museum and library and this was used to build the Langworthy wing which connected the north and south wings; it was finished in 1878 and officially opened in August that year.
Fast forward almost sixty years and by 1936 the fabric of the original building, the former Lark Hill Mansion, was found to be structurally unstable so it was demolished and replaced by a new wing to match the Langworthy wing. It took two years to complete and was opened in 1938, then in 1957 part of the ground floor of the new wing was turned into Lark Hill Place, a reconstructed Victorian street named after the original Lark Hill Mansion. Although the museum originally had a wide remit when it came to collecting artefacts from different parts of the world it now focuses on social history with a Victorian gallery and hundreds of Victorian objects on display in Lark Hill Place.
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The main entrance to the museum took me through a foyer and into a large and bright reception space with a shop area and a pleasant café beyond it, and on the right was the local history library and a magnificent staircase leading up to the galleries above. After looking round Lark Hill Place, which was my main reason for going to the museum, I went to have a look upstairs; unfortunately a couple of the galleries were closed while the various collections and displays were updated but I had a pleasant wander round the Victorian Gallery, and though I’ve never really liked Victorian paintings I did like the sculptures and the various objects on display.

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In an octagonal glass cabinet was the orrery, a mechanical model of the solar system named after the fourth Earl of Orrery, and though the first one was made for him around 1713 the one on display dates from the early 20th century. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any really clear shots of it as there were reflections and things in the background on all sides, also I was careful to obey the instruction of ”please do not lean on the glass”
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A section of the fabulous ceiling
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In another gallery was the Superlative Artistry of Japan exhibition, a range of works including paintings and ceramics and several contemporary pieces representing food samples. In the middle of the floor was a wire mesh waste basket crammed full of empty cans – it seemed a strange place for visitors to discard their rubbish but it was actually part of the exhibition.

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Sashimi Boat food sample in vinyl chloride resin, courtesy of Maiduru Co. Ltd

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By the wall in a partially closed gallery was a glass case exhibiting a huge fish, a tarpon caught in the West Indies. There was no date on it, possibly due to some of the exhibits being moved and updated, but the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company operated between 1839 and 1932 so the fish would have been caught sometime during those 93 years.
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The museum building is situated on the edge of Peel Park which was once the extensive grounds of Lark Hill Mansion, so after coffee and cake in the very pleasant café I went to look round the park itself. Following a 7-year campaign by Sir Robert Peel and Mark Phillips MP for a public park it was agreed that part of the Lark Hill estate should be used, and after winning a design competition in 1845 Joshua Major & Son laid out the park. Paid for by public subscription it was the first of three Manchester and Salford parks to be opened to the public in 1846. In 1851 the park was the main public venue for the royal visit of Queen Victoria to Manchester and Salford, a visit which was attended by 80,000 people; in 1857 a statue of the Queen was erected in the park then in 1861 a statue of the Prince Consort was erected after his death.
The peak of the park’s popularity came in the 1890s; by then there was a lake, a fountain, a bandstand, a bowling green and cricket pitch, a skittle alley, seating areas and pavilions. It was the place to see and be seen but years later, in the aftermath of both world wars, many people moved away from the area and the park was no longer the focal point of a community. In the years between 1954 and 1967 it underwent a major redevelopment and landscaping then in 1981 it became part of The Crescent conservation area. Unfortunately the park fell into disrepair in the last few years of the 20th century but after receiving a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2016 it underwent a second redevelopment and reopened in 2017.

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Some very early blooms in a sunny corner
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The River Irwell and some of its residents
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Unfortunately I didn’t get to explore the park as much as I would have liked; although the sun was still shining the blue sky of earlier had been replaced by clouds which were getting darker by the minute so not wanting to get caught in a downpour I cut my visit short and made my way back to the station a couple of minutes walk away. It proved to be a good move as I was just crossing the road near the station entrance when I was hit by a heavy shower of hailstones. I didn’t mind too much though, I’d had my few hours out and got plenty of photos, and now having recently seen photos of the park in full bloom I’ll certainly be going back later in the year when the leaves are on the trees and the weather’s good.


Lark Hill Place, Salford

Lark Hill Place, set within Salford Museum, is a reconstruction of a typical late 19th century street and takes its name from Lark Hill Mansion which once occupied the museum’s site. The street was created in 1957 by the then curator of the museum at a time when slum clearances in Salford saw many areas changed to make way for more modern housing. He decided to salvage and restore several original shop and house fronts and their contents, and with the help of members of the public who donated various objects, and a group of local children who would raid skips for period items and beg or borrow them from their grandparents, he developed Lark Hill Place, with the theme being set on an early winter’s evening in 1897.
From the light and airy museum reception area and café double doors led to a corridor with information boards on the walls, then another set of doors took me into Lark Hill Place itself and I was instantly transported back to the late Victorian era; even at first glance I could see that this place was very unique and extremely interesting.
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Lark Hill Place from the entrance
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Looking left
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Looking right
The street ran left and right from a central ‘square’ and working my way round clockwise from there the corner shop on my immediate left was James Critchley’s clogger’s shop. It originally stood in Whit Lane, Pendleton, until it was demolished, and it supplied clogs and boots to many millworkers and those who worked at the nearby coal mines. Next door was Louisa Greenhalgh’s haberdashery; Louisa’s name first appeared in local directories in the 1840s, listed as a dressmaker, milliner and haberdasher of Bedford Street, Salford. The mahogany door of the shop dates from about 1750 and originally came from Hope Hall, a brick-built house once set in pleasure grounds on Eccles Old Road, Salford, though those have long since been lost to redevelopment.
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Next to the haberdasher’s was William Bracegirdle’s forge which once stood in Salford’s Ordsall Lane. In the late 19th century blacksmiths and wheelwrights were higher up the social standings than other manual workers as they were considered to be the backbone of transport, however when automobiles took over and trade diminished blacksmiths became the first generation of automobile workers, though after 1901 the Bracegirdle family became general labourers.
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Next was the Georgian House, showing what a room in the original Lark Hill Mansion would have looked like in the late 18th century. Much of the furniture is in the Chippendale style and on the right of the room was a square piano made by Christopher Ganer of London in 1789.

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Next door to the Georgian house, and at the end of the street, was the Victorian parlour, richly decorated and furnished and containing two pianos. Above the pianos and against the back wall were several glass domes containing decorative arrangements of stuffed birds, flowers and plants, reflecting the Victorian fascination with natural history and for bringing exotic birds into the home. Although the darkness meant I couldn’t get a clear photo of it, high on the wall outside the room was a fire plate decorated with a liver bird; this came from a property in Salford’s Broughton Street and shows that the house owner had an insurance policy with the Royal Insurance Company which was established in 1845.
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Set back in the far corner was a door with an undertaker’s sign indicating that funeral orders could be taken there even though the undertaker’s premises were elsewhere. Victorian funerals could be lucrative affairs, reflecting the increasing wealth of the industrial classes, but in spite of the potential for undertakers to become wealthy themselves through their work the association with death seems to have prevented them from being seen as truly ‘respectable’; the discreet unassuming sign at Lark Hill represents the careful tone which undertakers used in all their advertising and paperwork, from business cards and catalogues to invoice paper.
On the corner to the right of the undertakers was a Victorian post box and Adolf Renk’s pawnbrokers shop, although the Renk family were never true pawnbrokers; they traded mainly as jewellers and watchmakers. Established in 1836 by brothers August and Charles Renk, originally from Germany, the shop was situated at 144 Chapel Street in Salford. Charles’ son Adolph took over the business in 1903 and it remained in the family until the shop was taken down in 1956, with the main components of it being saved to become part of Lark Hill Place.
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Next door to the pawnbroker’s was the Bracegirdle’s cottage, a simple one-up, one-down affair. William Bracegirdle learned his trade from his father who was also a wheelwright, and he and his wife Elizabeth had four children, Elizabeth, Ellen, Albert and Joseph. Elizabeth worked as a cart hirer while Albert and Joseph became joiners; it’s assumed that Ellen worked away as a housemaid. Their simple home was more sparsely furnished than others, with the one downstairs room being used for cooking, eating, washing and general living, while attached to the wall near the back door was a vertical wooden ‘ladder’ which went through a hole in the ceiling to the bedroom above.
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Next was Mrs Driver’s house with a self-explanatory sign outside the door. Mrs Driver practiced leeching at her home in Bury Street, Salford; she became known as the ‘plaster woman’ as her secret ointment recipe was very popular among the locals. The red and white pole outside the house came from a local barber’s shop; in former times barbers were allowed to carry out bloodletting and minor operations and the poles became symbols of this as the stripes represent blood and bandages.
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Next door to Mrs Driver’s and on the corner of the square was John Hamer’s shop which was originally situated on Salford’s Broad Street. John Hamer was a chemist and druggist and lived with his wife Emma and their three children, Edward, Arthur and Mary; they also had a domestic servant called Elizabeth. In the days long before the National Health Service many people couldn’t afford to see a doctor so would seek the advice of a chemist; John Hamer sold his own remedies, made up in the back room of the shop, and many drugs which are now illegal including opium.
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Across the corner from the chemist was the Blue Lion Tavern which had been a corner-site public house on Cook Street and originally called the White Lion. It was run by Emma Jane Twyford who, in spite of being married, was listed on census records as being the head of her household. Emma was the last proprietor of the Blue Lion as it was demolished in 1892 to make way for a Threlfall’s brewery – the reconstruction at Lark Hill Place was made up from three different pubs demolished during Salford’s 1950s rebuilding works.
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Next door to the Blue Lion was the William and Mary house. Before the Industrial Revolution timber framed houses were common across Salford and one such house dated back to 1306. It was originally built as a manor house for the Wythin Grave family, eventually becoming Ye Olde Rovers Return Inn during the 18th century. It traded as a pub until 1924 then later became a working mens’ café and finally the Rovers Return Trinket Shop before being demolished in the late 1950s.
The William and Mary house at Lark Hill Place was reconstructed with timbers from that building, with wooden panelling from Kenyon Peel Hall, Little Hulton, and a staircase from a house in Gravel Lane, Salford. Representative of a property from the late 17th century it contains objects from the same period, including a high-backed walnut chair, a gate-leg table and a cabinet with marquetry decoration, while on the wall are portraits of Sir Robert Honeywood and Frances Vane who were married in 1631 – Sir Robert was a Commonwealth ambassador to Sweden in 1659.
Set back in the corner to the right of the William and Mary house was the tobacconist’s shop. Eugene Morand, originally from Italy, was a cigar merchant of Chapel Street in Salford; he had a wife, Louisa, and a son, James, and must have been quite a wealthy tobacconist as he also had a domestic servant. According to the trade directories of the time, E Morand Tobacconist’s traded from 1861 to 1893 in Salford, Hulme, and Whalley Range. On the wall to the right of the shop is a Muratti mirror advertisement; it came from a tobacconist’s in Broad Street, Pendleton, and is said to show the actress Lily Langtry who became known as the ‘Jersey Lily’.
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At the end of the street, and facing towards the square, was Henry Radcliffe’s toy shop with its window displaying many different types of toys from the era, including a model ark with a collection of animal pairs, several books and a Victorian rocking horse.
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To the right of the toy shop was the printshop, part of a booming industry in the mass production of text. Salford had its own newspapers, the Salford Chronicle founded in 1868 and the Reporter, founded in 1879. The Reporter changed its name frequently and in later years became the Salford City Reporter, continuing production until 1997 when it merged with the Advertiser. On display in the printshop were a two-handed printing press, several printing tools and a variety of printing blocks.
Next door to the printshop was the music shop containing a wide range of musical instruments and products. Although the commercial potential of musical instruments and recordings developed greatly during the 19th century dedicated music shops were rare in Victorian Salford, with piano tuners being more common. Since more and more people owned their own pianos at home and earlier instruments were becoming harder to maintain the demand for tuning services became too much for the piano makers, so independent businesses and tradesmen were able to flourish, with tuners being well respected.
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On the corner next to the music shop, and the last shop in Lark Hill Place, was Matthew Tomlinson’s general store which originally stood in Fairfield Street, Manchester. It sold a diverse range of products from sweets and chocolate to groceries, fabric dyes, soap and herbal remedies, and several brands on display in the Lark Hill window were still around when I was a child.
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Away from the light and airy main part of the museum, once I’d been in Lark Hill Place for a few minutes I really began to feel as though I’d stepped back in time. Getting photos looking through windows wasn’t easy as there was quite a lot of light reflection but I got enough shots to show what the individual rooms and shops were like. Looking round and getting an insight into Victorian times had been a fascinating experience, and as the museum is only a 10-minute train ride from my local main station it’s a place I may very well revisit in the not-too-distant future.


Visiting the museum (3) – Natural History & aquarium

Bolton’s past industrial heritage has had a very strong influence on the town and its people over the years and the ground floor of the main gallery was dedicated to various aspects of local history. Just inside the wide entrance Samuel Crompton’s original Spinning Mule was enclosed in a very large modern glass exhibition case but there were so many light reflections showing up that I couldn’t get a decent shot of it from any angle. Although the gallery has been modernised to a certain extent it still retains many of its older features and it looked so attractive that at first I was more intent on photographing my surroundings rather than studying the exhibits.
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Main gallery, ground floor
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African elephant viewed from below
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American brown bear, donated by Manchester Museum
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Common shrew
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Harvest mouse
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A colourful bird collection
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I could have spent much longer in the natural history section than I actually did but there was another part I wanted to see and mindful of the time I made my way out through the museum shop and down the second staircase which, like the one I went up, was lined with various paintings on one wall. I remember being taken to the museum by my parents when I was a child and just for fun I would run down one set of stairs while they went down the stairs at the other side and we would meet at the bottom – it was a race to see who could get there first and somehow I always seemed to win.
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The bright and attractive museum shop
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Going down…
Down in the basement of the building was the aquarium – completely separate from the museum it originally opened in 1941, six years before the museum itself, and though the decor and the lighting have been changed over time the layout is the same now as it was back then. At one time the fish collections were limited to British species only, including salmon, pike and trout, but this has changed over the years and the aquarium now has collections from several different countries.
Bolton aquarium
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Nile Tilapia from Egypt
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Piranha from the Amazon
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Stingray from Brazil
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Suckermouth catfish from Brazil
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Lake Kurina Rainbow Fish from Papua New Guinea
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Lake Malawi Chichlids from Africa
Those were to be my last photos of the afternoon, time was getting on and I didn’t want to be late back at the car park. After all these years of not going to the museum my visit had proved to be extremely interesting ; I’d been very impressed with the general refurbishment, the Egyptian galleries and the natural history section and I’d got some good photos too, so maybe on a rainy day when it’s too wet to do a dog walk I’ll make a return visit to see what I missed this time.

Visiting the museum (2) – History, art & textiles

Bolton’s Central Museum hasn’t always been situated where it is now. Back in 1876 Samuel Taylor Chadwick, a wealthy local doctor, left a bequest of £5,000 to Bolton Corporation for the building, furnishing and maintenance of a Museum of Natural History in Bolton Park, which was later renamed Queen’s Park. The bequest came with the conditions that the building must be erected within four years and entry to the museum would be free for everyone. Building work began in 1878 and the Chadwick Museum finally opened in June 1884, with its first curators being father and son William and Thomas Midgley who expanded the museum’s varied collections during their many years there.
By the 1930s it was recognised that the Chadwick building was too small to continue housing the museum’s growing collections so work began on fitting out a larger museum in the current town centre building ; unfortunately the outbreak of WW2 interrupted the works so the new museum didn’t open until October 1947. With the Chadwick building lying empty it fell into a state of decline and eventually the local council decided that the cost of repair and renovation would be too great, so after 73 years service to the town the building was finally demolished in 1956.
The room next to the Egyptian gallery was reminiscent of the old Chadwick Museum, and with a mock-up of the front of the old building and embroidered portraits of its founder and curators on the walls it told the story of the museum’s beginnings and early years.
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A doorway on the right led into the art gallery, and though there were some older paintings on the walls a lot of the ‘art’ was modern stuff. It was very colourful though and I did quite like a painting of ‘four amaryllis in pots’ by someone-I’ve-never-heard-of although most of the other modern stuff didn’t impress me at all. From there I moved on to the textile collection which is one of the largest in the country, though I really only had eyes for some of the bright coloured fabrics on display.
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The textile gallery
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From the textile gallery I moved on to the large main gallery where the upper floor was dedicated to the natural history section with its many displays of animals, birds and sea life from the UK and other countries, but I took so many photos in there that section will have to feature in another post.
To be continued….

Visiting the museum (1) – Elephants & Egypt

As I needed to go into town a couple of days ago I decided to take a look round the central museum while I was there. As museums aren’t exactly on my list of ‘things to go and see’ it’s been many years since I was last in there, however the place recently underwent an almost 2-year refurbishment programme, re-opening last September, and since then more than one person has told me how nice it is now so I thought I should go and take a look. Walking from the car park I first came to the town’s elephants set in a small square a hundred yards or so from the museum. Elephants have been associated with the town since as far back as 1799 and there’s one on the local coat of arms ; the coloured ones were named by local youngsters in a competition.
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In the museum building a curving stone staircase went up from each side of the wide entrance hall, and while those staircases were just as they were when I was a child the museum itself was vastly different. At the top of the stairs was the museum shop and through there was a bright atrium with the various galleries leading off it. I’d been told that the new Egypt gallery was quite exceptional and I wouldn’t disagree – with five rooms leading into each other, bright wall murals, hundreds of artefacts on display and even a full-size walk-through reproduction of a burial chamber it was a great place to wander round.
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Going up….
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I didn’t expect to see this at the top of the stairs!
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The Egypt gallery
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A bright wall mural
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Copy of the Rosetta Stone
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The mummified body of a 3-year old girl
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“The Unknown Man” acquired by the museum in the 1930s and believed to be a son of Rameses ll or Rameses the Great
The “Unknown Man” actually reposes in a woman’s coffin although no-one knows how he came to be in it, but before he was donated to the museum he had been used as a feature in a lady’s drawing room although it’s not known how she came to acquire him. In 1932 the Boris Karloff horror film The Mummy was produced, followed by other films of the same type, so it’s thought that maybe these films influenced the lady’s decision to donate the “Unknown Man” to the museum.
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Original stonework from the tomb of Pharoah Thutmose lll who reigned from 1425 to 1479 BC
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The Egypt gallery was so varied and interesting that it would have taken me a long while to read all the information available and look properly at all the items on display but I didn’t want to overstay my time on the car park so once I’d taken as many photos as I could reasonably get I moved on to the next section of the museum.
To be continued….