Connecting Ancient Egypt and Victorian Bolton: Designing Bolton’s Egypt

Connecting Ancient Egypt and Victorian Bolton: Designing Bolton’s Egypt

Posted by: Leach Studio

Designing Bolton’s Egypt

Bolton Museum has recently undergone a major capital refurbishment project of its Egyptology galleries. After two years of renovation work, this innovative exhibition brings Ancient Egypt to life through imaginative interactive features, audio visual engagements and vibrant displays. The refurbished galleries show off more than two thousand ancient Egyptian artefacts from Bolton’s collection, spanning over six thousand years of history and culminating with a breath-taking recreation of the tomb of Thutmose III.

The exhibition tells two strands of the same story; firstly, the ancient story of the objects themselves, how they were made and used, who they belonged to and where they are from in both time and place. The galleries also tell the more recent story of the objects; how they came to be acquired by Bolton Museum, the very founding of the museum itself and the people – curators and collectors - who contributed so much to creating what is now considered to be one of the most significant ancient Egyptian collections in the UK.

Glass arches and colourful murals celebrate Ancient Egyptian life

The exhibition design and fit-out was handled from concept to installation by Leach Studio, who worked alongside client Bolton Council and main contractor Willmott Dixon.

Increasing public accessibility to and engagement with the collection was a key part of the founding vision for the project. With more than 15,000 objects to consider, the design team’s first task was to understand the extent and nature of the artefacts, informed by the extensive knowledge of the museum’s team and guiding interpretation strategy.

A new addition to the museum’s offer was the exciting news that the full-size reproduction of the burial chamber of Thutmose III had been secured for permanent display. This was a significant factor in the design of the visitor experience and shaped the journey through the galleries. A light, bright and airy room was designated as a celebration of Ancient Egyptian life, to be filled with objects representing daily life and colourful murals depicting how these objects were once used. The ‘Beliefs’ gallery follows, a fully internal space which is embraced to create a reflective atmosphere and an appropriate space to explore the religious beliefs and cultural funerary rituals for which Ancient Egyptians are renowned. The highly decorative tomb reproduction follows, sensitively interpreted through an evocative animation which appears to spring to life from the wall paintings themselves. Further galleries complete the full story, including an examination of the popularity of Ancient Egyptian culture in modern society and the story of the origins of the museum.

An immersive recreation of the Victorian museum and parkland setting​

The design team explored in detail the collections at the museum’s extensive storage facility as well as the fascinating archival material available across the museum, library and local history collections. The designs were inspired by this research, with many ideas for interactives and graphic concepts born from this process of in-depth discovery.

Across the galleries, unusual display designs were created by Leach Studio to maximise display capacity and create impactful interventions. The Portico introductory gallery, from which all other galleries begin, hosts a quirky and eclectic display of assorted artefacts from across the museum’s collections. Suspended from the centre of this double-height hexagonal gallery, the striking sculpture is a welcoming focal point and celebration of the breadth of the museum’s collection.

The Land & People gallery, as a celebration of Ancient Egyptian life features five sparkling glass arch display cases, each spanning over 4m in width. Creative displays in each relate the artefacts to interpretation embedded in the wall murals, whilst mass displays spanning the tops of the arches appear to float above the visitor. The glass structures appear to melt away, giving an unobstructed view of the artefacts within, accentuated with gently glittering lighting and set against a backdrop of more than seventy metres of bespoke-illustrated murals.

The Beliefs gallery offers a contemplative and ethereal atmosphere

Delivering a complex and innovative scheme required a seamless transition from design to installation. Fit-out was carried out by Leach Studio, alongside various specialists and integrated with the client team’s curators, conservators and experts, as well as the wider capital project team and main contractor. Aside from structural design challenges inherent in some concepts such as the glass arch displays, the artefacts themselves also presented display challenges, from conservation requirements to structural loading considerations for some of the largest objects on display in the whole museum. This includes the Stela of Canopus at over two metres tall and the heaviest artefact – the temple column, which weighs in at over two tonnes.

The new galleries opened to over 10,000 first-day visitors, establishing the project ambition to create a cultural visitor destination in the heart of Bolton as part of the council’s broader strategy to encourage economic regeneration of the town centre. More than doubling the display capacity of the previous gallery, the museum embraces a joyful, vibrant and innovative approach to engaging local visitors and especially families with this incredible collection.

The Bolton’s Egypt project was funded by Bolton Council, DCMS Wolfson Museums Improvement Fund and a philanthropic gift from Eddie Davies.

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