Friday, 27 March 2015

Cotton to Gold

Two Temple Place in London is only open to the public for a few months each year.
Every year, in this magnificent building, there's an exhibition of publicly owned objects and art-work from museums and galleries from around the UK.

What have these three museums and galleries got in common?

All have objects collected by industrial entrepreneurs in the North West, bought with wealth amassed through the booming textile industry in Lancashire in the late 1800s. These men were magnates of industry and trade and they had spare cash, a lot of it, to collect stuff.
Collecting has always been a hobby, and one that has been part of the story of museum collections. You can read about this in my post, 'Cabinets of Wonder: Royal Albert Memorial Museum', here

We are told, 'Displaying these collections together, the exhibition highlights the circumstances of their exceptional accumulation, asking what such groups of objects can reveal about their owners and the rapidly-changing times in which they lived'.

So who are these men, what did they do and what did they collect?
Here are a few.

Robert Edward Hart, rope maker,
with his books, ...of Hours.

And coins. Roman, Greek, Byzantium and British.

 He got the set, one from each Roman emperor from Augustus to the 3rd century AD.

Gold coins from the reign of Elizabeth I.
The daughter of the king played by Damian Lewis. We had a little Wolf Hall chat with another visitor.
Seriously though, these coins in front of us were in circulation 500 years ago, used to buy things. We think that's quite something.

Thomas Boys Lewis, managed the family's cotton spinning mill,
and collected Japanese prints.

"I'd like to knit a scarf in either of these two colourways".

Arthur C. Bowdler and his beetles from all over the world, was a successful manufacturing chemist and factory owner.

Joseph Briggs, a fabric designer, not only collected Tiffany ware but worked for him, he was his chief assistant.

George A. Booth, an iron founder from Preston collected stuffed birds.
Some in cases,

and some not.

Some with claws nearly as big as our hands.

George Eastwood, who began his working life, aged 10, in a local mill, and as far as I can tell, made his money with a party planning business for the rich and famous of Manchester, collected ivories.

James Hardcastle collected book illustrations.
Nothing is known of his life, just his collection.

Wilfred Dean who made gas-heated washing machines and boilers, collected life-drawings by John Everett Millais.

Millais was a pretty significant figure in the art world, was this investment or a genuine love of drawing? In answering this question, I find out that Wilfred Dean was closely involved in the development of Towneley Hall Art Gallery and 'played a significant role in its purchasing decisions'.

There's a bigger picture surrounding the accrued wealth that financed these collections, which is recognised in the exhibition.
Questions about the hardships workers endured, ivory, taxidermy, child labour are acknowledged. As said in the museum interpretation, 'Doubtless prompted by the hardships endured by their workers, the industrialists of the North West supported a wide range of cultural causes that benefited the inhabitants of the cotton towns. ...they funded museums and galleries, founded local orphanages and schools, and donated money to local churches and Blackburn Cathedral.'
I'll leave that thought with you. The balance of workers' conditions and philanthropy. Was this just a thing of the past?

Cotton, where it all began.

Cotton to Gold is on at Two Temple Place until 19th April 2015.
Details on their website here.
As well as the exhibition, you get to see inside Two Temple Place. we loved that too.
If you'd like to see inside, check out this post by blogger Fun60, 'Two temple Place'.


  1. We were there on Wednesday. I popped in and out a couple of times during the day and had been previously with a friend. I only took pictures of the Ladies and surreptitiously of the stained glass because my camera makes such an awful noise! They had gone to the trouble of graining a water pipe to match the panelling half way up.

    1. I noticed the Ladies too, that painted pipe. Also the face carved into the door as you went into the ladies. It was intriguing to wonder whether that had always been a bathroom.

  2. I was here yesterday with some friends and loved everything about it: striking and unusual building, well-organised and interesting exhibition, eccentric but very friendly set-up, and a relaxed and welcoming cafe (where we were never made to feel that we stayed too long, even though we did). Your review sets it all out beautifully.

    1. Thankyou. It was my first time to Two temple Place & I loved it too.

    2. What a pity we all missed each other!

  3. What a great place - I love the idea of bringing together collections from throughout the UK. It must be wonderful to be a curator!
    The Books of Hours are gorgeous, and the Roman coin collection is first-rate. Love the Japanese prints too. There sure were some rich collectors back in the day.

    1. It was a great exhibition. I also think that bringing collections from other parts of the UK is a brilliant idea.

  4. Roman aureii? Gosh they don't find those in the hoards they dig up these days

    1. I would love to find a hoard. Not much chance though as I only ever dig in my garden. But I did find a farthing once.

  5. What marvelous collections. I guess if you have enough money you can collect anything! I love the coins the best. It is amazing to think about how many hands have touched them since their minting so long ago.My youngest son, who is looking over my shoulder, says her prefers the bugs. Typical 6 year old!!

    1. Having seen the kind of things you like on your blog, I think that you would love this place. I'm with your son, I loved the beetles. Might not have felt the same if they were moving.

  6. I am so pleased to see this post. We had to rush through the downstairs galleries (having started at the top) because they were going to close. I'm hoping to get back and see them before the show closes, but if I don't then your pictures do give a good idea. They are so much better than the ones I took. I mentioned the cherubs outside the building in a recent post, but I hope it if OK if I link to your post? That way, anyone coming across my post will also be able to go to see your descriptions and pictures.

    1. Please feel free to link to my post. It's great to link to other bloggers & see where our paths cross. Hope you get to go back to Two Temple Place.

  7. Hello Katharine, I love museums where the building is as interesting as the displays. This is often the case with converted houses, as with Two Temple Place. It was especially appropriate to display these personalized collection in this individual house.

  8. I was struck by Lucille saying 'what a pity we missed each other'. Maybe bloggers could have a special badge or mark on our foreheads or something so that we would recognise each other when we are out and about?!! I'd hate to find I'd missed you Kathleen, or Jenny or Lucille if we'd been visiting the same place!

  9. Great photos of the exhibition. I was with a friend whose maiden name was Hart. She was fascinated by Hart's collection of the printed word as her grandfather was in the print. Maybe related in some way. Thank you so much for the mention. Maybe we are ships that pass in the night as well.

  10. This is my kind of exhibition - fascinating objects with social history too! I'd been planning a trip over to the Lancashire museums but will wait until these treasures are back home. And I'll do more homework about the men who collected them before we go. Fantastic!

  11. It sounds really interesting!! Just a shame that it is not open more. Thank you for taking us along! xx

  12. Lovely exhibition !
    How fortunate that these men had never read Ms. Kondo .

    1. Thanks for this insight. I do like to see what other people collect, and often come away thinking relieved that I have managed to control my magpie instincts. Loved the coins and shoes.

      Have you seen the Barbican exhibition Magnificent Obsessions? Some beautiful things, and again that feeling of relief. (PS Thanks for your lovely comment)

  13. You are so lucky having so many museums in easy reach! I love the small local museums which capture the uniqueness of each locality. In many ways this uniqueness has been eroded with modern life. Have you ever visited the museum at Topsham when you have been down in Devon? Sarah x


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