The Art Gallery and Museum Sub-committee

In 1902, the Town Council's General Purposes Committee took responsibility for the interior of Towneley Hall and set up a museum sub-committee. A successful loan exhibition of paintings in 1903 lead to Towneley Hall being kept open as a permanent Art Gallery and Museum with the Art Gallery and Museum sub-committee being appointed to "organise, manage and control exhibitions of pictures, works of art and curios at Towneley Hall" .

The sub-committee contained around six town councillors plus some co-opted members of the public with relevant experience. The first included Lady O'Hagan and C M Foden. The two main roles were chairman, always an elected member, and Honorary Secretary (Hon. Sec.), normally a co-opted volunteer. Foden as the first Hon. Sec. looked after much of the museum's paperwork that was otherwise handled by the Town Clerk.

Although the sub-committee had no written policies to help develop the content of the collections, details of their minutes show which objects offered by the public were accepted and which were respectfully declined. Before 1921, when funding from the Massey Bequest became available, there were few purchases for the permanent collections, mainly oil paintings, which were also selected by the sub-committee.

After C M Foden died in 1918, his role as Hon. Sec. was taken on by J Frank Walmesley and from 1933 by Wilfred Dean. Dean was the last Hon. Sec., retiring in 1947. All three had made significant cotributions to the development of the permanent collections.

In 1946, William Tomlinson was appointed curator. Tomlinson had been caretaker at Towneley since 1931 and had received training from Dean to reduce the Hon. Sec.'s workload. After 1947, the curator was given more authority and the role of Hon. Sec. was no longer required. The sub-committee continued until 1961 when it was replaced by a Library and Arts Committee. The minutes of this committee provided much less detailed information about the permanent collections, being mainly concerned with the public library service.

In 1971, an Art Gallery and Museum committee was re-introduced but by this time a professional curatorial staff had been appointed with the committee's role being purely one of governance, agreeing a collections development policy written by the curator. Finally in 1974, with local government changes, the County Borough of Burnley and the sub-committee disappeared. Lancashire County Council took over services such libraries and schools but Towneley remained under control of Burnley Borough Council's Recreation and Leisure Committee.


Author: tk - August 2016