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Society for the History of Natural History


Cotton to Gold exhibition: Extraordinary Collections of the Industrial North West

Cotton to Gold exhibition: Extraordinary Collections of the Industrial North West

Cotton to Gold: Extraordinary Collections of the Industrial North West was the fourth exhibition in the hugely successful Winter Exhibition Programme at Two Temple Place, London (January – April 2015).

The exhibition profiled a selection of successful 19th century industrialists and philanthropists who made their fortunes in the cotton industry and showcased the collections they accumulated using their considerable wealth.

This entailed creating a partnership of local museums (Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Haworth Art Gallery (Accrington)and Towneley Hall (Burnley), , bringing together material which might otherwise not be seen by the public very often, if at all. There were beautiful early books, watercolours, prints and glassware, each collection associated with a particular man.

Two of these men made collections of natural history interest. George Booth ran an iron foundry in Preston and in his spare time gathered a substantial collection of 143 cases of stuffed birds and mammals in the course of 30 years. Many were interesting colour variants of local species. Arthur Bowdler was a mill owner and industrial chemist who collected beetles, some 2,500 species in his lifetime. Many were very spectacular, often gathered in association with the import of cotton from across the world. There was also a collection of curios that included a mummy and some fine ivory carvings belonging to George Eastwood.

Many of these wealthy men were generous benefactors of their local community and exhibiting their collections to a wider public in an exhibition like this offers a worthy tribute to their generosity. The theme provided a chance to show off interesting and wonderful things, many of which might be rarely seen (if at all) tucked away in local museums. The exhibition was also a reminder of the powerhouse of the north-west that did so much to establish Britain’s wealth and economic foundations. It succeeded at every level and I hope would provide a model for others to follow, maybe persuading museums to get out some of their biological treasures that it’s hard to know even exist, let alone see.

Pat Morris