Samantha Elliott (R) pictured with the museum's Egyptologist Ian Trumble

Q&A with Samantha Elliott

Jasper Hart, 04.10.2018
How Bolton Museum is bringing ancient Egypt to the northwest
Bolton Museum recently reopened after a £3.8m redevelopment, complete with five specially designed rooms that make up a section of the museum titled Bolton’s Egypt. The galleries feature more than 2,000 different objects, as well as a full-scale recreation of the tomb of Thutmose III.

Museums Journal spoke to Samantha Elliott, Bolton Museum’s head of collections, about the new galleries and what they aim to tell visitors about Bolton’s relationship with ancient Egypt.

Where did the idea come from and how long has it been in the making?

We've been working on it for up to 10 years. But there was a lot of planning and raising finances to get the idea off the ground, and it's probably the past two to three years that have been the major part of the project.

We’ve got this really significant Egyptology collection and we think it's one of the best in the country. It's never had the opportunity to be displayed in the right way for its significance. It's something that Bolton is very proud of and the people of Bolton feel very connected with it. They hold a lot of nostalgia for things within the collection and our visitors often talk about when they came with their grandparents and now they're bringing their children to the exhibition so we know it's something that the community is invested in.

What’s the importance of the galleries in terms of Bolton’s relationship with Egypt?

Bolton was a wealthy industrious town. Annie Barlow was one of the daughters of an industrialist, and she was made local secretary of the Egypt Exploration Society. She raised funds and subscriptions from the people around Bolton that paid for excavations legally in Egypt and as a result of that we got a selection of items that had been excavated. Because of that we know where all our collections are excavated from and we know their full prominence - unlike other collections we know where 99% of our collection was from, what it was found with and so on, and it's all down to Annie Barlow.

We call her the mother of our Egyptology collection. We wouldn't have it if it weren’t for her. She had a great relationship with the two first curators of the museum and she left her personal collection to us too.

What’s the importance of having something like this outside of London?

I think it's really important. What we've done here is a really good example of how culture can drive regeneration in a town - the local authorities invested in this project as part of £100m master plan for the town centre. It’s not just the museum that's gaining funding; it's the music venues and the theatre too. They know that people will want to invest in a town that has good cultural activities for people, people will want to work and study in a town that has things happening, and certainly our museum is very interesting.

What is your personal favourite part of Bolton’s Egypt?

I really like the Land and People gallery. It uses full glass arches as cases and it's a very different way of displaying objects so the gallery is very light and very bright which is unusual for an Egypt gallery and the cases don't look like usual museum cases. You can see the objects from all angles and you're absolutely immersed in them because the arches go above your head too, so I really like how close people get to the objects.


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11.10.2018, 13:41
Loved hearing about it back in April at the MA’s exhibitions conference at the V&A, can’t wait to see it in person!
04.10.2018, 20:38
It sounds fabulous! Looking forward to visiting when I am next in Bolton.