Bolton Museum and Archive Service


Crompton's Mule

Bolton Museum was established after the British abolition of slavery, but its collections reflect the importance of American slave-grown cotton to the town. Samuel Crompton's Spinning Mule is one of the most important objects in Bolton's collection but it had not been interpreted in the context of slavery until 2007.

The first proper Bolton Museum was established late in the 1800s, but the collections have their origin in 1852, when the Borough adopted the Libraries and Museums Act (only the third council in the country to do so). Although intended mainly to set up a library, the first item donated was a collection of fossils. The collections grew slowly and were displayed in a room in Bolton’s first free library opened in Victoria Square in 1853 (this building is now occupied by Nationwide Building Society).

Over time, the library became home to a respectable collection of scientific specimens and ethnographic objects, and pressure soon grew to set up a separate museum. In 1876 Dr Samuel Taylor Chadwick left a bequest of £5,000 for this purpose. The sub-committee in charge of building the museum was chaired by Councillor B A Dobson, of textile machine manufacturers Dobson and Barlow fame. Building began in 1878. (There are statues of both Dobson and Chadwick either side of the town hall in Victoria Square.)

Although founded as a natural history museum, the collections expanded with the establishment of nationally important collections of textile machinery, textile samples and of Egyptian antiquities.