After the first couple of hours slaving away in the office, I usually wander down to the canteen at work to grab a coffee. There, I can escape the trials of the latest software conundrum by having a frivolous chat with work colleagues. Subjects range from football to politics, to the value of Bitcoin, daft people doing daft things, how poorly my book is selling, but mainly football. Funnily enough, until recently, Egyptian artefacts had never featured in our conversations. So, here’s how it came up in a recent conversation:-
Me: “I went to Bolton at the weekend. I haven’t been for a bit, but I like what they’ve done with the Market Place shopping centre.”
Phil: “Yeah, they’ve been doing a lot of work recently. Bolton Museum’s re-opening in a couple of weeks.”
Me: (confused) “Bolton Museum?”
Phil: “They’ve got one of the best collections of relics from ancient Egypt in the UK.”
Me: (even more confused) “What?”
Phil: “Apparently they’re recreating the tomb of some Pharaoh on the top floor.”
Me: “Pharaoh? A tomb on the top floor? In Bolton?”
Anyway, I think you can get the gist of how the conversation played out. Yes, you read it right – a Pharaoh’s tomb in Bolton. I’m not from Bolton, but I live nearby and until this point, the town’s affinity with Egypt had escaped my notice, and so it was off to consult Uncle Google to see what all the fuss was about.
As part of a £3.8M revamp, the museum now hosts five specially designed rooms to house its Egypt collection. The centrepiece is a full-scale recreation of the tomb of Thutmose III, discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1898. Although Thutmose III himself won’t be putting in an appearance, there is a real mummy (displayed in a glass case) that was acquired by the museum in the 1930s.
Bolton’s connection to Egypt is primarily the result of Annie Barlow, daughter of a successful local mill owner in the late nineteenth century. Annie was recruited by an organisation that later became the Egypt Exploration Society, and having raised funds for Victorian archaeologists, she asked that her share of the artefacts uncovered be donated to the Chadwick Museum in Bolton (the forerunner of today’s museum).
The recreation of the tomb is excellent. The lighting is at just the right level to bring an eerie ambience to the place, and the work that has gone into crafting the walls and ceiling with an intricate level of detail is admirable.
In the room next door, many of the collection’s excavated pieces are on display in a series of cabinets, and there are some stone reliefs hung on the walls. I’m a sucker for a nice scale model, and in the final area, there’s a colourful map of Egypt that includes 3-D models of the most famous sites along the Nile valley.
For the kids, there’s a wheel-operated racing game in which you can see if you can get your camel to cross the finishing line before your opponent’s donkey. I can’t remember if there’s really a donkey, but there are six or seven wheels so the whole family can play, and there’s definitely a camel. There was also a box of clothes in an open chest on the floor. I assume that this is an invitation to dress up and, as The Bangles might say, walk like an Egyptian. Either that or security was having a poor day!
It would be only fair to point out that Bolton Museum is not on the scale of the British Museum, and as such, it doesn’t have seemingly endless galleries that you can spend a whole day wandering around. However, for anybody interested in ancient Egypt and the age of Victorian exploration, a visit to Bolton Museum is well worth a couple of hours of your time. Best of all, entry to the museum is FREE!
You can read more about Bolton Museum on their website:-
Rob Campbell is the author of “Monkey Arkwright”, a mystery that will appeal to fans of 80s films such as “Stand By Me” and “The Goonies”, where people stumble across strange things in the woods or uncover dark secrets hidden in the abandoned places around a small town.