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Towneley’s hidden treasures and oddities featured in a major London exhibition earlier this year and the hall’s peruvian mummy took centre stage.

The treasures and oddities that Lancashire industrialists gave to Towneley Museum have been on display in top London Museum, Two Temple Place, as part of the ‘Cotton to Gold’ Exhibition’, but you don’t have to travel to London to see the vast array of treasures amassed by the Lancashire industrialists, you can see them on display in Burnley’s magnificent Towneley Museum all year round.

Towneley Hall and Museum is a medieval mansion packed full of oddities which industrialists gave to the Museum, the strangest of which being a Peruvian mummy which was loaned by Towneley to take centre stage at the ‘Cotton to Gold Exhibition’.

The Cotton to Gold exhibition brought together a rich and varied collection of antiquities and artefacts held in collections in Burnley and surrounding towns representing one of the most extraordinary, often hidden, wealth of provincial collections in the country.

The magnificent and eye-catching items were collected by the prosperous industrialists and entrepreneurs of the Victorian age, when North West England was one of the most prosperous areas in the world.

Gentleman explorers and wealthy collectors amassed a collection of sometimes unique, sometimes unusual and sometimes world renowned items that would once have been shared privately with friends and acquaintances but upon death were often bequeathed to the local museums and galleries of their home towns.

The magnificent and eye-catching items were collected by the prosperous industrialists and entrepreneurs of the Victorian age, when North West England was one of the most prosperous areas in the world.

Burnley’s William T Taylor, having made his money in electrical engineering in the gold mines of South Africa, left to explore Peru in the 1890’s. With the indifference to local sensibilities that was normal at the time, he burrowed to the heart of a burial site near Chaplanca, came face to face with the mummy of a 12th century nobleman, packed up the ancestor, and offered if to the museum at Towneley Hall. The bound and crouching figure, which has been on display to visitors of Towneley ever since, was amongst the most arresting loans to the exhibition.

Other Towneley items displayed included the famous works of fine art including watercolours by JMW Turner.

A 12th century Peruvian nobleman

There must have been a sharp intake of breath at Towneley Hall in 1913 when the latest consignment of travel souvenirs from William T Taylor was opened. The museum was founded just 11 years earlier in a medieval mansion acquired by the local authority, but was already used to crates arriving from the electrical engineer as he trotted the globe, including textiles from Kashmir and ceramics from Mexico.

Mummy of a C12th Incan Nobleman with huacos_2

This time he had sent something extraordinary: the mummy of a 12th century Peruvian nobleman, snatched from what his relatives must have hoped would be eternal rest when they buried him deep in a cave in the Andes. He was buried with a selection of beautiful pottery: Taylor took that too.

The mummy had a reputation at Towneley for being haunted, and when the curators came to collect it for the London exhibition, one of the volunteers warned them solemnly that every time it was moved, blood was shed.

“Sure enough, one of the helpers did gash his thumb, So far, nothing more dire.” Jack Hartnell said cheerfully.

The mummy, which normally lives in a cardboard box at Towneley Hall, was the strangest object in the exhibition in London of the treasures and oddities Lancashire industrialists and entrepreneurs gave to local museums in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Co–curator at the Cotton to Gold Exhibition, Jack Hartnell, said the best insight into the mummy snatcher came from Taylor’s diary, on display beside his prize. The diary is visually startling, bound in the shaggy fur of a llama, but singularly un-illuminating, he said.

“Taylor clearly thought of himself as an Indiana Jones figure, scrambling down into the darkness, bones everywhere, attacked by bats, his candle repeatedly going out. But I’m afraid he’s really a bit dull. The only change in him by the end of the diary is that he has lost his moustache.”

Towneley’s Collectors Room

Ancient Egypt is the focus of the Collectors Room at Towneley which is packed full of objects which have been on show in the museum since before 1910. The Egyptian mummy and mummy case come from different periods of ancient Egypt given to the hall by the last of the Towneley family to live in the hall, Lady O’Hagan. She had a fascination with Egyptology and helped to sponsor John Garstang’s excavations in Egypt. As a result, John sent collections back to the hall for display.

Judging by the numbers of tombs and mummies that the ancient Egyptians left behind, one can be forgiven for thinking that they were obsessed by death. However, this is not so. The Egyptians were obsessed by life and its continuation rather than by a morbid fascination with death. The tombs, mortuary temples and mummies that they produced were a celebration of life and a means of continuing it for eternity… for the Egyptians, as for other cultures, death was part of the journey of life, with death marking a transition or transformation after which life continued in another form, the spiritual rather than the corporeal.

Towneley’s hidden secrets

Book your behind the scenes tour of secret doors and passageways, eerie dungeons, attic treasures, endless discoveries waiting to be explored…

Towneley Hall is full of secrets, mysteries and surprises, as you enter the Hall you’ll be welcomed by some of Towneley’s weirdest and most wonderful objects set in the giant interactive Cabinet of Curiosities which gives a taste of what’s in store in the Hall.

The drawers, doors and peepholes of the Cabinet of Curiosities take you behind the scenes at Towneley Hall and offer a peek into all the strange and peculiar tales hidden within its walls, before you go on to take a tour of the Hall.

There are many hidden treasures, which offer an exciting, interesting and informative insight into our history, and special ‘behind the scenes tours’ can be booked to take a peak beyond the walls into the dungeons, attics and secret rooms.

During the Industrial Revolution, Pennine Lancashire was one of the most important and wealthy places in the world. Today, the wonderful collections and lavish architecture of its historic houses tell a wonderful story.

Towneley was the home of the Towneley family for over 500 years, but today, the Museum is owned by the local authority and houses a variety of displays encompassing; Natural History, Egyptology, Local History, Textiles, Decorative Art and Regional Furniture.

The Hall is packed full of period rooms, art galleries and the history of Burnley.

The magnificent hall, which dates from the 14th Century, contains fine period rooms decorated with oil paintings and sculptures.

The museum houses an eclectic collection including an Egyptian mummy, the Whalley Abbey vestments, Lancashire-made oak furniture, Pilkington Pottery and the Towneley Bear! Children will enjoy following the wooden mouse trail.

The art gallery boasts a spectacular collection of oil paintings including works by Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema, John William Waterhouse and Johan Zoffany. A programme of exhibitions in the galleries cover a wide range of arts and crafts. There is always something new to see.

Visitors can explore life “below stairs” in the Victorian kitchen, servant’s bedroom and discover the hidden Priest’s Hole.

The Towneley family are an English family whose ancestry can be traced back to Norman England. They take their name from Towneley Hall in Burnley, which was the family seat until its sale in 1901.

The story of the Towneley Family who lived in the hall for almost 500 years is truly fascinating. A renowned scientist, the last man to be hung, drawn and quartered in Britain, and an antiques collector are just some of the stories connected to the family.

Science boffin Richard Towneley was a pioneer of meteorology and co-founded the Greenwich Observatory, while Charles Towneley’s collection of artefacts led to a gallery at the British Museum named after him.

The eeriest story of the Grade One listed building, is perhaps that of Francis Towneley.

Executed for high treason for his role in the Jacobite rebellion in 1745, his head was placed on a pike at London’s Temple Bar before eventually being stolen and returned to Towneley Hall, where it was hidden behind a secret panel in the chapel for over 200 years. A replica of the head of Francis can be found in the famous Chapel in the Hall.

The Hall has several secret rooms, known as Priest Holes that were used as hiding places during the persecution of Catholics in Elizabethan times. You can still see a ‘hide’ today, which can be viewed through a hole in the floor of a room near the Long Gallery.

The attic, cellar and former servant bedrooms aren’t areas normally accessible on regular visits to the Hall, but behind the scenes guided tours can be booked in the Hall shop, and a tour guide will take you into these unique areas of the Hall.

After quite a climb up a wooden staircase you are greeted with an old oak door which leads to the attic, as the door opens you enter another world with stunning rafters and an array of animal heads, which is quite awe inspiring, and you can’t help feeling many eyes are looking at you! Towneley has a huge collection of taxidermy, only a tiny amount of which is on display, the rest is stored in the attic. It’s packed full of ancient guillemots, dusty old badgers and a stoat whose head has fallen off! Quite a few of them look terribly surprised, and there are wobbly beaks, wonky claws and eyes that have been badly stuck on with whatever the Victorians used instead of superglue! quite a sight to behold.

The attic is also the place to get a close-up view of the magnificent intricate cog mechanisms which work the Hall’s weight driven clock, which was installed in the Hall around 1820.

After a tour of the attic, the tour guides take you down into the cellars, with its cold passageways and storage rooms where the Victorians stored their food. Today they store old bottles and jars, old statues not currently on display in the Hall, it’s quite eerie down there, but well worth the visit, and really take you back to what life must have been like in these magnificent old houses.

The Private Chapel

This chapel was built by Sir John Towneley (1473-1540) in the first quarter of the 16th century. The ceiling of the nave is carved with the initials of members of the Towneley family. The early 16th century Alterpiece is a magnificent example of Flemish craftsmanship and was installed during the late 1700’s. Until the building of the Catholic Church in Burnley in 1846, the Chapel would have been used by staff and worshippers from the surrounding area.

The Chapel at Towneley was the main centre for Catholic worship, in Burnley, until modern times. Courage and endurance were needed to maintain Mass during the reign of Elizabeth. The family had kept a private chapel in medieval times, and for centuries they had been connected with Whalley Abbey.

An extraordinarily fascinating document on the ancient hiding places at Towneley was published for the first time in 1923 when Lord Abingdon had forwarded it to the Mayor of Burnley. It had been copied by one of Lord Abingdon’s ancestors, a Towneley. The document is probably a unique specimen of penal times, showing how an English gentleman of the seventeenth century was forced to behave like a smuggler and to fill his home with secret dens in order to practise the Catholic Faith. The original was copied about 1700 by Mrs. Towneley and was eventually found in the pocket-book of her grandson.

On a tour of Towneley today the guides can point out the many secret doors and hiding places around the hall.