February 7th, 2010

Towneley Hall

We went to Towneley Hall yesterday. This was my birthday treat- postponed from the back end of last month because of my father-in-law's illness. Towneley Hall is 15th century with 17th and early 19th century additions and subtractions.  Since 1901 it's been owned by Burnley Town Council- which uses it as a museum and art gallery.

On our way into town we were instructed to make way- by police outriders on motorbikes- for the big black coach with smoked glass windows carrying the West Ham players to their match at Turf Park.

What I particularly wanted to see were the medieval church vestments which the Towneley family- who were recusant catholics- rescued from the dissolution of Whalley Abbey. Most medieval church vestments went on the bonfire- so these are rare. The late medieval English were famous for their needlework- and the productions of our workshops- known as Opus Anglicana- were exported all over Europe. These two vestments- a chasuble and a dalmatic-  are very lovely- with a pattern of strawberries (or are they pomegranates?) on a background of white silk- and embroidered panels (aumbries) showing scenes from the life of the Virgin.  

Otherwise the museum is a cabinet of curiosites, containing everything from Egyptian antiquities to First World War memorabilia. The paintings are mostly run-of the-mill Victoriana.  The best is a portrait by Zoffany of Charles Towneley- 18th century connoisseur and taste-maker- sitting among the Graeco-Roman statues which, sadly for Burnley, left the family after his death and are now in the British Museum.

Charles Towneley

File:Zoffani, Johann - Charles Towneley in his Sculpture Gallery - 1782.jpg

Charles Towneley (1733-1805) by Johan Zoffany.
Towneley was under the impression that his statues were Greek; we now know they were mainly Roman copies. Near the centre of the composition is the bust of Clytie- possibly a portrait of Mark Antony's daughter Antonia- which Towneley liked to refer to as his "wife". During the anti-catholic Gordon riots, when his London town house was under threat by the mob, Towneley went back inside- at some personal risk- to rescue Clytie. Unlike most connoisseurs Towneley allowed his collection to be viewed by the public. After his death the British Museum bought the collection from the family for £20,000.