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Towneley Hall

OS Grid Ref: - SD854308

Towneley Hall is situated in over 24 acres of parkland in southwest Burnley and dates back to the thirteenth century.

The Grade I listed hall, which was the seat of the Towneley family for nearly five centuries, contains period rooms including an Elizabethan long gallery and a Victorian kitchen and a priest’s hole to the attic. The Great Hall has exceptionally fine Baroque plasterwork by Francesco Vassali and Martini Quadri, The early sixteenth century chapel contains a finely carved altarpiece made in Antwerp around 1525. The top floor of the main house holds the art galleries, with displays of oils and watercolours.

The Towneley's were an Catholic gentry family who have produced an array of interesting characters. Richard Towneley (1629 – 1707), was a renowned scientist and pioneer of meteorology who was one of the founders of the Greenwich Observatory, he was the first person to make regular measurements of rainfall in England. Richard Towneley (1689-1735) was arrested for treason in 1715, after the Battle of Preston, but was later acquitted. Two of his brothers, John and Francis joined the French army before aiding the ill fated Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Francis Towneley raised the Manchester Regiment, later being captured after the Siege of Carlisle (December 1745) and executed in 1746. John returned to France before Culloden and was made a Chevalier (Knight) of the order of Saint Louis.

Francis Towneley (1709 – 1746) was the last person in Britain to be hung drawn and quartered, his head was gruesomely displayed on Temple Bar in London before being eventually returned to his family, it was kept hidden behind a secret panel in the chapel until finally being buried in St. Peter’s church in 1947. Charles Towneley (1737 – 1805) was one of the eighteenth century’s most famous collectors of antiques, sculptures and gems. After his death the British Museum purchased his collections and today one of the galleries at the museum still bears his name.

The male line of the family died out in 1878 and in 1901 one of the daughters, Lady O'Hagan, sold the house together with 62 acres (250,000 m2) of land to Burnley Corporation.

The museum houses a variety of displays, encompassing natural history, Egyptology, local history, textiles, decorative art and regional furniture, together with an art gallery. The art gallery contains some superb works, including Zoffany’s portrait of ‘Charles Towneley and Friends in his Library’ and John William Waterhouse paintings, including the original 'Destiny'.

The gallery mainly focuses on romantic Victorian and pre-Raphaelite art, with some earlier paintings. It also houses collections of ceramics, glass, seventeenth century oak furniture, the Whalley Abbey Vestments, which were given to the Towneley family at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries and General Scarlett’s Sword – dating from the Charge of the Heavy Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava, this “foolhardy attack” uphill was a success but largely overlooked due to the notoriety of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

A museum of local history, originally a brew house, is situated to the rear of the Hall. The gardens are now a large and popular park, boasting an 18 hole golf course, formal gardens, a woodland walk featuring sculptures from natural materials and the Offshoots permaculture project. Food is available at the Old Stables Cafe and Restaurant. Entry to the local history museum is free.

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