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HISTORY OF TOWNELEY HALL
Art Gallery and Museum
Hall and Pond
Suit of Armour
To give you an idea of the history and complicated architecture of the house I will attempt to briefly outline the Halls origins.
It is recorded that Towneley first became the home of the ancient Catholic family during the lifetime of Richard of Towneley who died in 1295. However the present building construction probably started around 1400, although it has to be said little remains of this, apart from the sandstone wall (six feet thick at one part) on the courtyard side of the South East Wing. Close observation of the walls also reveals a half hidden window at ground level that tells us that the level was raised at some time, probably in the 1700s. An internal wall running between the kitchen and family dining room is also six feet thick and was, during mediaeval times, an external wall. At one time there were four wings to the House, but the fourth side was demolished between the years 1706-1711. Towneley Hall also boasts secret rooms, known as Priest Holes, that were used as hiding places during the persecution of Catholics in Elizabethan times. One such hide still exists and can be viewed through a hole in the floor of a room near the Long Gallery.
There has been a Chapel at Towneley since the early 13th century and the present gothic Chapel was probably built around 1515 by Sir John Towneley (1473-1541) on the fourth wing, but was moved to its present site, using the original materials, when the wing was demolished. The ceiling of the nave is carved with the initials of members of the Towneley family. The early 16th century Alterpiece is a magnificent example of Flemish craftsmanship and was installed during the late 1700s. Until the building of the Catholic Church in Burnley in 1846, the Chapel would have been used by staff and worshippers from the surrounding area.
Towneley Private Chapel
The first major changes to the mediaeval building were undertaken during the 1600s by Richard Towneley (1566-1628). The kitchen was altered, however the two large archways that were the original fireplaces used for cooking, still exist. The Little Dining Room was added. The oak staircase was built. And the eighty-four feet Long Gallery and its bedrooms, also dating from the 17th century, were constructed. The rectangular panelling of the Long Gallery has provision for family portraits and thats where they hung until 1901 when the Hall was sold to Burnley Corporation.
16th Century Bedroom
Inscriptions on the panelling can still be seen recording the family members during the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1846, ninety two paintings hung in the Long Gallery. The bedrooms, adjacent to the Gallery, were used by guests and closed off when not in use as the Towneley family slept in the other wing.
The 1700s saw even greater alterations, when a great entrance hall with elaborate plaster work decoration replaced the mediaeval great hall. In fact the entrance hall is perhaps the finest example of the Baroque style in the country. The cantilever staircase, Chapel vestibule, brew house and main entrance arch, to name but a few, were also added at this time. These alterations were carried out by Charles (d.1712), Richard (1689-1735), William (1714-1742) and Charles Towneley (1737-1805). The pond was probably constructed in 1800, as it does not appear on Turners drawing of Towneley Hall in 1798 but is included in the plans of Charles Towneley around that period.
In the 19th century, Peregrine Towneley (d.1846) inherited the Hall and it was he who employed the services of the renowned architect Jeffry Wyatt who enhanced the mediaeval appearance of Towneley Hall by elevating the South-East wing and adding battlements and turrets. Wyatt, was also the creator of the Red Drawing Room and the Blue Dining Room (situated in the oldest part of the Hall), and the external passage running beneath the porch which allowed the servants to carry food quickly from the kitchen to the dining room without having to pass through the entrance hall.
Family Dining Room
Staff Dining Room
The Long Gallery, in need of serious renovation, was also repaired in the 1800s. Eventually the house was inherited by Peregrines son, Charles (1803-1876), who made the last alterations, including a north tower. His successor, Alice Mary Towneley, was unable to maintain the Hall and eventually it was sold to Burnley Corporation in 1901, who opened it up to the general public in 1902 and gradually restored it to its present state, making mainly minor alterations as necessary. The brew house and laundry outhouses had fallen into disrepair and these were carefully restored, with the help of the Towneley Hall Society, and converted into a Museum of Local Crafts and Industries. What was left of the stables was made into a cafeteria for visitors.
The architects and craftsmen that have been associated with Towneley Hall are; Joseph Bonomi 1739-1808 (Architect), John Carr of York 1723-1807 (Architect), Richard Hayward 1728-1800 (Sculptor), Francesco Vassalli and Martino Quadri (Stuccoists) and Sir Jeffry Wyatt 1766-1840 (Architect).
The Towneley family has many renowned members amongst its ranks, including several High Sheriffs of Lancashire, a Member of Parliament, several Knights, a Governor of Carlisle, several military Colonels and one unfortunate Francis Towneley, who was beheaded.
As I mentioned this is only a brief account of the Halls history and does not do it true justice, but I hope it has whetted your appetite for more.
There are woodland walks and nature trails to follow, squirrels to feed (and capture on camera). The park includes two golf course, play areas, ornamental gardens, pitch and putt, tennis courts, sports pitches, a bowling green, picnic areas and facilities for football and cricket. And if this wasnt enough there is also a souvenir / gift shop, cafeteria and an organic community garden. Infact the only thing Towneley Hall doesnt appear to have is a ghost. Unless you know different....? (SEE BELOW!)
It is a house rich in history and art as the photographs testify. So why not pay them a visit? They will be glad to see you and Im sure you wont be disappointed.
CURRENT OPENING HOURS, ADDMISSION, AND CONTACT DETAILS
The Hall is open Sat to Thurs 12-5 pm. Closed on Fridays (but open on Good Friday)
Admission to Towneley Hall is £3.50 for adults but free for children, students and Burnley residents.
Address: Towneley Hall Art Gallery & Museums, Towneley Park, Burnley, Lancs. BB11 3RQ
Tel: 01282 424213
Fax: 01282 436138
Towneley Hall is fully licensed for civil weddings and other venues, such as corporate events and meetings.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: go to Susan Bourne, Curator of Towneley Hall, for allowing me access to photograph.
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