120-year-old Rossendale Museum named county cultural gem

Lancashire is home to many museums and places of cultural significance, but one has stood out as the cultural gem of the county.

The Whitaker Museum and Art Gallery on Haslingden Road in Rawtenstall was recently named Cultural Venue of the Year at the Lancashire Tourism Awards.

He beat Lowther Pavilion in Lytham St Annes, Culturapedia in Blackburn, Browsholme Hall in Cow Ark and even the iconic Winter Gardens in Blackpool.

Whitaker Museum and Art Gallery

Carl Bell, chief executive of the Whitaker Museum, said the team were “delighted” to have won the award, particularly after a difficult lockdown which saw all cultural venues, such as museums, close their doors.

He said: “This award is a testament to the hard work of our dedicated volunteers, our Board of Directors and the visitors who keep coming back to support and experience this magical building.”

With a long history and an impressive range of exhibits and collections, it’s clear to see why the venue has established itself as the best for culture in the county.

The building itself dates back almost 200 years when George Hardman had it created as his family home in the 1840s.

It was purchased by Rawtenstall industrialist Richard Whitaker in 1900. He donated the building to the townspeople as a museum and park which opened in 1902.

“Richard Whitaker gifted the museum to the people of Rossendale in 1902, to provide welfare, cultural and educational opportunities for local families,” said Carl.

“Incredibly relevant in today’s climate, Richard’s legacy continues to support the well-being of the community and helps connect the past, present and future for generations to enjoy.”

Since then, the building and its exhibitions have only grown.

The natural history galleries display taxidermy animals from around the world, including the famous ‘tiger and python’, which is over 200 years old, a polar bear, ‘Nellie’ the elephant, as well as birds and mammals from around the world. Africa, Australia, South America and Asia.

As well as the animals, it also shows locals how much Rossendale has changed over the decades from medieval forest to industrial landscape.

There are 189 oil paintings in its permanent collection, most of which depict Rossendale in the 19th century and its role in the Industrial Revolution.

Manuscripts of Dene skylark music, which date back to 1750, and stained glass windows also make up the museum’s extensive collections.

In 2021 the museum reopened after a £2.2million overhaul which saw the museum double in size with the addition of a new cafe and community space, expanded exhibition areas and the renovation of the original house.

Carl said: “The redevelopment has created additional gallery space, a new cafe and shop, preservation of historic collections and fantastic events and outreach space which will allow us to develop the financial viability of the museum. .

“The new spaces also allow for a packed program of events, including movie nights, creative workshops, dementia-friendly cafes, refugee arts groups and an exceptional program of creative arts exhibitions designed to support local, emerging and renowned contemporary artists and artisans. There is something for every taste.

Recently, the museum announced two new art exhibits that attempt to showcase the best emerging and established contemporary artists.

Ruth Murray’s ‘All Is Green’ and Harry Grundy’s ‘Edge Collection’ will open at the Whitaker Art Gallery and Museum in Whitaker Park on Thursday, February 10.

Hoping to inspire young minds, the website offers plenty of e-learning resources and workshops to make history more engaging.

Their “House of Stories” workshop allows you to work with a knowledgeable local tour guide and museum staff on a two-hour exploration of The Whitaker.

Hear true stories about Rossendale and personalities from the past, find out why we have a tiger and a phyton, and create your own mini-museum to keep.

Critics have been enthusiastic about the museums, especially since they were renovated.

One person said: “Excellent museum with great historical artifacts, with an art gallery.

“Restaurant is an added bonus, friendly staff, good choice of food, good coffee, regular bar and prompt service.”

Others praised their “cabinet of curiosities” exhibit created by artist Bob Frith.

Over the course of a year, Bob scoured the museum stores to select objects, paintings and furniture to create a theatrical showcase of Whitaker’s eclectic collection.

With objects from Bob’s own collection and pieces commissioned by other artists, the installation explores the history of collecting and how early museum collections were acquired.

One reviewer said: “The cabinet of curiosities is enormous: a bit creepy, impossible to take in in one visit, and a great little movie (not on a constant loop, thankfully).”

Rossendale Council and Council Leader Alyson Barnes said the Whitaker has become a “fantastic asset” to the area in recent years.

She said: “The Whitaker is a fantastic asset to Rossendale and the recent upgrades have really put it on the map in terms of the cultural offerings available, not just in Lancashire but across the North West.

“It has been hugely beneficial to the people of Rossendale as well as the large number of visitors it attracts from outside the area.”

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