The new Bury Museum & Archives is now open following a £1.2 million refurbishment. Courtesy Bury Museum & Archives.
Opening on Friday May 13 2005, Bury’s £1.2 million Museum & Archives Centre offers residents a brand new museum, an art gallery and a library all under one purpose built roof.
The opening celebration was attended by Bury Mayor, Councillor Barry Briggs; Jennifer Latto, chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund North West, which co-funded the project with the council; the council’s Museum Development Officer, Ronan Brindley and 200 or more of the museum’s regular users.
The modern Museum & Archives Centre is the result of some radical re-thinking of the way museums store and display artefacts.
Traditionally, museums store objects on public display while collections and manuscripts, including letters, photographs and documents, relating to them are held in an archive. In Bury this meant two different buildings.
Using artefacts, documentation and art, the new Bury Museum tells the story of the Lancashire town. Courtesy Bury Museum & Archives.
As Ronan Brindley explains, council and museum staff in Bury decided to combine the two.
“We first started thinking about the idea when someone wanted to donate a wedding dress to the museum and there were photographs and correspondence that went with the dress,” he says. “We explained that the letters and photos would be held apart from the dress but the donor didn’t feel happy about that. We realised that the distinction wasn’t helpful to museum users.”
By bringing together collections of objects and old documents, the museum has made it easier for people to find out more. Objects are displayed to inspire visitors to explore the archives.
“Everyone is interested in their heritage, it’s going to take over from cooking on TV,” Brindley says. “We aim to make it accessible.”
One of the opening displays in the new museum is Keep it Clean, a look at sanitation.
The displays are aimed at provoking prolonged interest in the museum's objects. Courtesy Bury Museum & Archives.
A central exhibit is a Sheraton-style Georgian washstand equipped with everything required for washing including a bidet. It’s an important object for the museum because it came from the house that once stood on the site the new institution now occupies.
Visitors made curious by the exhibition can discover the history of sanitation in their own homes by researching documents from the archive in the study area with the help of the museum’s visitor assistants and archivists.
The Gallipoli Campaign is another opening exhibition that will stir up local interest as the Lancashire Fusiliers took part in the battle in 1915 and more than 2000 young men from Bury died in the fighting. The display includes a machine gun and portraits of some of the fallen soldiers.
The museum also aims to get people thinking by putting apparently unrelated objects next to each other. For example there will be Bronze Age urns displayed alongside a table made by an Italian prisoner of war in Changing Communities, an exhibition on the diverse population of Bury since hunter-gatherer times.
As Brindley says: “We want to get people to ask questions.”