The Grade II listed building in Buile Hill Park, Salford and steeped in local history, has stood derelict for 14 years and was once the home of the Lancashire Mining Museum.
Built in 1827 it was the home of Sir Thomas Potter, the first Lord Mayor of Manchester and co-founder of the Manchester Guardian, the forerunner of The Guardian. Frances Hodgson Burnett part wrote her children’s classic book, published in 1910, The Secret Garden, on visits to the house, which was designed by Sir Charles Barry, the architect who designed the Houses of Parliament.
In 2000 it was announced that this Museum will be closed due to “the necessity of making financial savings” yet at the same time opening the Lowry Centre and investing in the Main Art Gallery in the Museum Department.
The Museum was the last survivor of a phase of mining museums in the 1950’s whereby cellars of country houses already being used as museums were converted to “mine galleries” Other examples included the museums at Temple Newsum, Leeds and Bagshaw House, Batley. There was even a mock mine in the basement of the Science Museum, London at this time.
The gallery at Buille Hall was opened in 1957, when Alan Frost, a geologist, was Director. NCB fitters from Walkden Yard Workshops had been employed to transform the cellar into a mock mine. Visitors stepped into a pit cage, doors were closed and the impression of travelling the shaft was gained (using revolving walls with stick-on bricks) which was quite acceptable until the passengers realised that they had seen the same bricks a few times!
During the late 1960’s, material was collected from such closing pits as Brackley, Sandhole and Mosely Common.
In 1969, the ground floor of the hall was partially converted into a “pit top” using the old drift top from Old Meadows Colliery at Bacup (Yorkshire).
In 1971, the Museum had to close being declared structurally unsafe! By 1977, however, the building had been “listed”, dry rot removed and the rest renovated and the Museum was reopened. During these years Frank Hacket and Rick Bradbury had been successive Directors. They were followed from 1974 by Geof Preece who proved equally enthusiastic in the development of mining as a theme and by this time the Museum specialised in this. Geof pushed out into the field of Industrial Archaeology, adding much more material relating to the coal industry’s past. This led to the first floor being converted into the History of Coalmining Gallery which opened in 1980.
Further enthusiastic efforts led to a guide book being produced and an archives and library section of the Second Floor. He also developed a collection of “mining art” which lead to a further gallery being opened in 1984.
Geof Preece left Buile Hill in 1985 and Alan Davies, the last Director was appointed. Alan had been an assistant keeper for a short term in the early 1980’s, but at the time of his appointment was working on the coal face at a small mine near Wigan. He was an obvious choice. He had a degree in art and an interest in collecting. He had also worked in four collieries and had studied mining.
With the decline of the mining industry thousands of mine plans and documents were rescued, thousands more photos were taken and numerous objects and drawings acquired. The upper floors have had to be refurbished to take them all and the remains of other earlier natural history collections had to be transferred elsewhere.
Between 1989 and 1991, the Museum’s mining library expanded greatly with the acquisition of the very important Wigan Mining College Collection and also that of the
former Wigan Library Mining Reference Collection, as well as other material from closing NCB/BC and private industry collections.
In 1994, in recognition of the Museum’s vast regional collection which now surpassed all other local (and most regional) collections and its embrace of the whole coalfield, the decision was made to change the name to The Lancashire Mining Museum, Salford.
On closure it was said “ Without doubt the Museum has a fine collection which is very interestingly laid out and easily accessible. Its loss will be great to children and students who appreciate its “hands on” and “experience” style and to more serious visitors. These can park easily, carry out research comfortably and take breaks in the well maintained parkland which surrounds it.”
Wigan Metro Borough made a formal approach to Salford to take over the collection with a view to developing Astley Green Colliery as a new Lancashire Mining Museum. Most of the rest of the collection went into store.