The first professional curators of the Chadwick Museum were the father and son William and Thomas Midgley.

The only known photograph of William Midgley
The only known photograph of William Midgley

William Waller Midgley was appointed to his post by the Corporation in 1883. It is recorded that he took a pay cut by accepting the post – proof positive of his curatorial calling.

As the Corporation’s first professional curator it was his duty to arrange the Museum’s displays out of the Library’s collections. From the time of Chadwick’s bequest a flood of donations came into the Museum, so he was not short of material to work with.

Midgley the elder was the innovator behind the range of the Museum’s present day collections.

Although founded as a natural history museum he expanded the collecting with the establishment of nationally important collections of Egyptian antiquities, textile machinery and textile samples. The acquisitions made by both of the Midgleys laid the foundations and direction of the Museum’s future collecting. This marks them out as probably the most important collectors associated with the Museum’s history.

The Midgleys were kept very busy in their work. In 1883 J. P. Thomasson gifted Mere Hall to the town and had it refitted to be used as an art gallery. William Midgley had the role of art curator added to his job description.

When the Corporation was gifted a valuable set of meteorological instruments in 1885, Midgley also became the Corporations Observator. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society.

During the 1890's the Borough of Bolton Botanical Society was founded by William Midgley and others. This organisation had regular meetings and excursions, mostly to explore and record the plant life of the Bolton area; Thomas Midgley was also a member.

As was common practice at the time, members collected and pressed flowers and plants and mounted these onto paper for preservation.

In 1901 Sir William Lever, later Viscount Leverhulme, gifted Hall i' th' Wood to the town to be a museum of Samuel Crompton. William and Thomas successively developed this museum and prompted a good deal of collecting to stock it.