Hall 'i' th' Wood Museum is Bolton's hall of fame

PUBLISHED: 21:11 24 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:31 20 February 2013

Hannah Carrington and Rick Pasquill from the museum in the Great Hall

Hannah Carrington and Rick Pasquill from the museum in the Great Hall

Christopher Pitt visits Bolton's hidden gem, Hall 'i' th' Wood Museum<br/>PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS

HALL i'th' Wood Museum is a rare surviving example of a Tudor wooden framed house that was lived in for approaching three centuries. But when you ask locals where it is,no one can seem to place it. Puzzled looks and replies of 'never heard of it' are the norm when you ask people living nearby for directions but it is something the staff and volunteers there have got used to.

'It's a hidden gem,' explained museum assistant Rick Pasquill. 'People get put off because it's in the middle of a housing estate. But when they are arrive, it's definitely a surprise. A lot of people are amazed by the amount of artefacts we have.'

The museum offers a brief interlude from the town's predominantly Victorian landscape. Yet through an 18th century inventor and a 20th century benefactor, its links to Bolton's industrial heritage are surprisingly strong.

During the 17th century, a family of wealthy yeoman and merchants gave it the grand stone extension. Later, farmers who owned it kept their cattle in the Great Hall. Gradually, it came to be divided into separate rented dwellings and towards the end of the 19th century, it fell into disrepair.

But in the 20th century William Hesketh Lever, founder of the Sunlight soap empire, rescued it from ruin. He wanted to celebrate the life of Samuel Crompton, 18th century inventor of the Spinning Mule that made stronger yarn in larger quantities and faster.

It was the invention that led to the development of water-powered mills and the mass manufacture of cotton and textile manufacturing in Bolton and the rest of Lancashire boomed. Never fully recognised for his achievements, Crompton himself died penniless. 'Samuel Crompton lived here and Lord Leverhulme wanted to make sure that was celebrated,' explained Rick. 'All of the artefacts here were brought in by Lord Leverhulme and there are a lot of interesting pieces to look at.'

Despite the museum's urban location it retains a sense of the rural past. The original, half-timbered building has a grand, Jacobean style stone extension. You pass under an arch and through the old wooden door and immediately find yourself in the Great Hall. On the day I visited a party of primary school children listened avidly to a description of daily life in the 18th century.

Rick said: 'School visits are a big part of the museum's day to day business.We have a tour guide who comes in and takes the children around the museum dressed up. It's a lot of fun and the children love it.'

The house itself is full of treasures. In the fireplace of the Great Hall stands a spit clock. Devised in the mid-17th century, it uses a system of weights, cogs and ropes to ensure meat is evenly cooked. It provides the origin of the phrase 'done to a turn'.

The kitchen is the oldest part of the house. Some of the original wattle and daub has been exposed showing the thin twigs, woven into the timber frame. It would have been plastered over with a mixture of mud, sand, chopped straw and cow manure. When dried, the wall could be painted. Upstairs there is an oak bed, with a rope base, which needed to be tightened on a regular basis to ensure a comfortable night, hence our expression 'sleep tight'.

Other delights are an original ducking stool, a delicate walnut spinet and, of course, a version of the Spinning Mule itself. Crompton's family rented part of the Hall.

It was the ideal place for his invention, which he had to develop in secret, away from both the prying eyes of competitors and the threats of the machine wreckers fearful for their livelihoods

But perhaps Hall i' th' Wood's best assets are its enthusiastic and well-informed staff. Because it was once a family home, it doesn't feel like a museum. With its extraordinary history and its intriguing displays from the 17th and 18th centuries, it is a real discovery.

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