Bagshaw Museum (Yorkshire): challenges for the Edwardian ‘local’ museum in the 21st century

Remember my visit to Cliffe Castle, Keighley, Yorkshire in February 2012?  It is a large Victorian mill owner’s house which was decked out with Parisian interiors and then, when the family moved out and the house remained too large for the average family, it became a museum.

The Bagshaw Museum (originally known as Woodlands, built 1875-6, and sitting in Wilton Park – presumably no connection with Wilton House) is similar.  Based in Batley, West Yorkshire, it was the large mid-Victorian family home of a mill owner (George Sheard).  There is a single storey extension housing a billiards room.

There were a lot of mills in West Yorkshire.  Sadly, during the 20th century more and more work moved to the Far East and most mills have been pulled down.

In Batley there are some large mills that have been converted into shopping concessions (Redbrick Mill and Skopos Mill being the two the pop to mind).  Batley is about 15 minutes’ drive from Leeds and Junction 27 of the M62, where IKEA and a whole multitude of out of town shops and restaurants are based.  I had therefore been near the Bagshaw Museum many times but had never visited.

A park I had driven past on the way to the Redbrick Mill is, I learned, the far edge of the garden of Woodlands, which sits at the top of the hill.

Apparently the house cost over £25,000 to complete but when Mr Sheard died in 1902, there were no takers at even £3,000.  It was finally sold for £5.

Bagshaw was not the mill owner, rather a curator.  In 1911 the house was opened as a community museum and Bagshaw was the man who put the collection together.

And very strange it is.  While I wasn’t allowed to take photos without first applying to the curator (I’m not sure why I’d bother and what concerns there could be about people taking pictures as I think the only thing worth stealing in the whole museum is a Grimshaw picture), I can tell you that the floors are parquet, in much need of attention.  The walls are all panelled.  On the ground floor it looks like the parquet continues up the walls.  On the landing and around the galleried first floor it looks like someone hacked up some orange, varnished, pine dining tables and made rather crude wall panels out of it before nail gunning it to the walls.  Really awful.  Not even properly gothic, despite assertions it is.  D said it’s like a strange German hunting lodge.  The plastic windows don’t help.

Each room is given over to a different theme: the history of Batley, the history of the Batley Variety Club, Africa, The Orient, Egypt, Bollywood, stuffed birds and shell collecting (!).  Really really awful.  To be fair the Egyptian bit is quite good – the walls have been boarded up to feel like the interior of a pyramid and the lights only come on as you walk around.  There are a couple of items in “The Orient” – a delicate ivory carved card case and a needlepoint donated by The V&A – that are interesting, stand out.

Little attention is paid to the actual architecture of the house, lest anyone might be looking.  The entrance hall houses a shop, a few tables for “hot and cold drinks” and some boxes of plastic toys that I’m sure appeal to the schoolchildren that no doubt come on days out here.  That seems to be the reason this type of museum exists.

I bet D there would be a wooden casket from an Egyptian tomb and I was right.  D would have given this diary entry the title “Bag (of old rubbish) Shaw Museum”.  I am therefore kinder to it than some.

In 1911, when this museum was opened, before television, before the internet, the ancient international artefacts would have been fascinating.  Sadly, in our era, there is no place for this hotchpotch of a museum.  There are too many council-run versions that offer almost the same thing.  I can think of Cliffe Castle and the Tolson Museum also within a short drive from the Bagshaw Museum.  Three examples of stuffed animal emporiums.

If we want to look at Egyptian artefacts we look on the internet and London isn’t that far away nowadays, where the free museums are amazing.

My suggestion is that in about the year 2000 this type of museum became defunct and their future lies in specialisation.

If there were on museum dedicated to the history of weaving and another to Victorian interiors in Yorkshire (including all the stuffed animals), they would have an audience.

People go to the Bronte Museum and the Keats Museum because they tell a defined story.  By way of contrast, when I look up a council-run museum where the collections are varied and often third-rate, I’m usually advised against going by others.   Each museum usually has one or two items worth seeing, or something new (the fireplaces in the Billiards Room at Woodlands with glazed display cabinets above were certainly something I hadn’t seen before), and so I go anyway. But if I’m, say, going to The Colne Valley Museum, I know I’m getting a history of weaving, not a frankly depressing and grimy experience like many council-run museums offer.

Maybe the councils already know this and money is the issue.  However, I couldn’t help thinking that the 1970s housing estate that sits on the doorstep of Woodlands (in its back garden) could be extended into the grounds of the house itself.  I wonder how much longer this type of museum (in a house with bad architecture) can survive.

When visited: March 2013

House * out of 5: *

Garden * out of 5: *


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3 thoughts on “Bagshaw Museum (Yorkshire): challenges for the Edwardian ‘local’ museum in the 21st century

  1. I think you are wrong. I had the luck to grow up in London with a curator for a dad and so know the museums and their collections well. I now live in Yorkshire and my children are also able to have regular access to London and it’s treasures. But, they go to school with children who have never left Leeds, let alone Yorkshire, their families don’t take them to museums. Their only chance to see Egyptian artifacts or similar in the flesh is on school trips. As the schools have limited budgets, and time in their timetables these museums must be local. They act as a taster, an entry point, they show children real things they can actually touch, rather than view passively on yet another screen. Why should the children of the North be denied collections that can light a flame of interest because the collections don’t match the V&As? Of course the museums, could and should be better presented, but with current budgets they are all we have. I would argue that a real mummy viewed with your nose pressed to the display case beats a poorly rendered 3D model on a whiteboard any day.

    1. Thank you for your point of view. I grew up in Yorkshire without the Internet or a penny to go anywhere, even to Leeds. I think the point I’m making is that the Internet has changed everything. Interesting perspective of a southerner in Yorkshire.

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