In the nineteenth century, the textile industry in the North West was booming, making the factory owners rich beyond the dreams of avarice. What did they do with this huge wealth? Well, some of them at least spent it on amassing some amazing collections of art and natural objects. Like Roman coins, medieval manuscripts, Turner watercolours, Tiffany glass, Japanese prints, Byzantine icons, ivory sculptures, preserved beetles and a Peruvian mummy, which all feature in the current exhibition at Two Temple Place.
I’ve written about Two Temple Place before. It’s the opulent former home of Lord Astor – you might recognise the carved wooden staircase which featured recently as the scene of the marriage of Lady Rose in Downton Abbey.
The house is open to the public each winter, when it stages an exhibition of works of art from regional museums. The exhibits in Cotton to Gold come from three museums, Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Haworth Art Gallery (Accrington) and Towneley Hall (Burnley), to which the cotton magnates donated their collections.
The exhibition rightly starts with the invention that was the source of all this wealth, the cotton loom. This Lancashire Loom was made in 1894 by Pemberton and Co of Burnley. Each machine could produce 40 yards of plain cotton calico a day and each weaver, most of whom were women, operating eight looms, could produce more than a mile of fabric in a week. It was this level of industrialisation that drove the wealth of the factory owners.
Thomas Boys Lewis has works from two collections in the exhibition. The first is of Greek, Russian and Mediterranean icons from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth century.
The second is from his collection of more than a thousand eighteenth and nineteenth century Japanese woodblock prints, all in amazing condition and including major works from artists like Hokusai and Hiroshige. The waterfall below is from Hokusai’s A Tour of Waterfalls in the Provinces series.
This print of an actor as Miyako Asojiro is by Kunisada.
In the hall, next to the staircase, there is manufacturing chemist and factory owner Arthur C Bowdler’s collection of preserved beetles. The full collections runs to over three thousand specimens.
Upstairs you can find George Eastwood’s ivories. He had a hundred and twenty of them, dating from the seventeenth and eighteen centuries and mainly collected on his travels in Asia and America. They include complete carved elephants’ tusks, objects which we view in a very different light nowadays, with our awareness of the importance of conservation, than people did when George Eastwood was collecting.
George Booth, an iron founder from Preston, collected stuffed birds and mammals.
So, all in all, a fine selection of objects. The exhibition continues until 19th April and Two Temple Place, near the Embankment, is open Monday, and Thursday to Saturday 10am to 4:30pm, Wednesday 10am to 9pm, Sunday 11am to 4:30pm. Entry is free.