Bolton’s collection of ancient Egyptian material is arguably one of the most important in a British local authority museum (i.e. a non-National, non-University Museum), and numbers around 12,000 objects from over 65 sites in Egypt.
Unlike comparable collections in the UK, the majority of the objects are excavated and thus retain full provenance information.
This makes the collection of particular interest to researchers and gives scope for enhanced interpretation for the public. The collection is recognised as being of international significance.
Content of the Collection
All phases of Egyptian material culture from the Neolithic Period (c. 5,000BC) to the Arab Period (7th Century AD onwards) are represented. The objects are typical of the material culture of Egypt during these periods with a specific strength in textiles.
Object types include, but are not limited to:
- textiles including clothing;
- basketry and boxes;
- funerary objects (shabti, model coffins, canopics, tomb models, funerary cones, soul houses, embalming materials, animal reliquaries);
- mummies (human and animal);
- coffins, coffin elements and cartonnage;
- architectural elements (wall reliefs, tomb reliefs including a false door, inscribed column fragments, beaded wall covering, painted plaster for walls and floor);
- ceramic, stone, faience, wood, glass, and faience vessels;
- amulets and jewellery;
- cosmetic containers;
- toiletry items (combs, razors, mirrors, tweezers, palettes);
- tools and weapons;
- ritual objects (large bronze incense stand, incense tongs, situla; clay hair balls);
- ostraca, papyri, scribal equipment.
Among the core elements of the collection are ancient textiles. One reason for this focus in the collection is the history of the textile industry in Bolton.
Famously Bolton is the place where the spinning mule was invented in the 1780s and within 100 years of this invention, Bolton became internationally known as a centre for spinning and weaving of fine quality cotton.
As a result there was a strong interest in the town for evidence of ancient Egyptian textile production.
Sources of the Collection
One of the largest and most successful local mill companies was the firm of Barlow and Jones, founded by James Barlow of Edgeworth.
Annie Barlow (1863-1941), James’ daughter, was recruited to the Egypt Exploration Fund (later the Egypt Exploration Society) while studying at University College London and was appointed as Honorary Local Secretary for the Bolton Region to raise money for excavations in Egypt. The Egypt Exploration Society gave objects to institutions or collectors who had funded their work.
Annie Barlow asked for her share of the finds to be given to the Chadwick Museum, the Victorian forerunner of today’s Bolton Museum.
Bolton Museum was a major supporter of the Egypt Exploration Society for the next century, and a large proportion of the museum’s Egyptian collection derives from EES excavations as selected by the curators in the annual distribution of finds.
The first two curators of the Chadwick Museum, William Midgley (curator 1883-1906) and his son Thomas Midgley (curator 1906-1934), were specialists in the study of ancient textiles.
In some cases, they provided excavators with an assessment of the textiles. Bolton also supported some excavations in Egypt and the Sudan beyond those of the EES such as the British School of Archaeology in Egypt and the British Museum.
Bolton Museum also received some donations of material including material from the Petrie Museum, Tamworth Castle, and the Wellcome Trust.