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Revealed: Priceless Salford treasures uncovered in cellars below museum

In a rare and unprecendented move, SalfordOnline.com has been invited to look inside underground storage vaults at Salford Museum and Art Gallery holding around 100,000 objects relating to local history.

Standing on the site of Lark Hill estate and mansion on the Crescent, it was the first free library in the country to be available to the public when it opened in November 1850.

Over the past 165 years historians have collected and archived an overwhelming number of objects relating to Salford history.

Under the watchful eye of Collections Manager Peter Ogilvie and Heritage Development Officer Ceri Horrocks we were shown a staggering and fascinating glimpse into the treasures that are stored there in climate controlled conditions.

Corridors are lined with boxes with such titles as agricultural tools, mourning costumes, militaria, musical instruments, glassware, ceramics and much more.

There are rows and rows of bakelite televisions, radios, electrical appliances giving the appearance of a vast antiques warehouse.

Statues of saints, busts of Aldermen and Mayors of Salford are stored safely inside locked cages.

At present all of the objects are card indexed but will shortly be digitally catalogued, a job that I should imagine will take a long time.

Paintings are stored in huge metal sliding racks which also contain priceless works of art.

My favourite object was safely wrapped up in acid proof paper: it is believe it or not a Bakelite coffin made by the Eagle Works Bakelite factory, in Stalybridge, Manchester, in the early 1930s.

The one in Salford’s collection is thought to be one of only five in existence in the world.

Peter selected several objects for us to look at and we can truly say that we were both delighted and amazed at what he chose.

The first was a clock presented to King Edward VII: this is no ordinary clock, it is a scale replica of the revolutionary Nasymth’s Hammer which, when the hour strikes, the hammer falls.

The clock was purchased privately from Sotheby’s in London and donated to Salford Museum in 1964.

Watch: Queen Victoria’s 1851 Worsley visit debunked

Another clock was also shown to us which has a huge role in Salford’s industrial heritage, it is a long case clock made by Gaskell of Pendleton which once stood in Pendleton Mill and was owned by Elkanah Armitage.

The clock is unusual in that it has three clock dials and a sixty-hour face, was this supposed to denote the hours that the workers were supposed to do?

We then saw a huge tape recorder made by the Salford Electrical Instruments Company who were based on Silk Street, Salford, until its closure in 1965 and transfer to Eccles.

The tape recorder was made for British Rail in the 1940s and was intended to be played over the tannoy systems at railway stations throughout the country to announce the arrival and depature of trains.

Sadly it was never put into production and was then offered for sale to the general public, however I would have thought that the cost of one of these machines would have been well out of the range of most people’s pockets.

Amongst the collection of paintings in the collection is by local artist Geoffrey Key (main picture) which he donated to the museum in the 1980s and depicts a woman with a bird, a magnificent piece of work.

Watch: Video: Geoffrey Key, Salford’s best kept secret

Geoffrey Key has a long connection with the gallery, not only exhibiting there, but is also the Club President of the Salford Art Club who hold an annual exhibition in which Geoffrey picks the winner and generously donates the prize himself.

A church noticeboard from the demolished St Cyprian’s in Ordsall has been recovered from the nearby St Clement’s church and dates from the early 1960s has been stored here and hopefully will be on show soon.

Ceri shown us her favourite piece which is a wickerwork eel catcher which was used in Salford when the River Irwell was still fishable and the catches edible.

Raw meat was placed in the cages on hooks and dropped into the water, the eels would swim into them but were unable to escape because of the barbed hooks.

Peter Ogilvie when asked what his favourite object in the collection was, tactfully replied: “I don’t have a favourite, it wouldn’t be fair on the other objects”

Readers will be glad to know that with the new Langworthy Gallery being opened at the museum in 18 months’ time more and more of these marvellous reminders of Salford’s past will be on show to the general public.

We were also pleased to discover that all of the collections from Monks Hall Museum in Eccles which closed in the late 1980s is safely stored away here and at Ordsall Hall, also the art collection from the now closed mining museum is stored here whilst the mining memorabilia is at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester.

Many people are under the assumption that once these museums closed their collections were disposed and would never be seen again, so SalfordOnline.com is glad to report that they are in safe hands.

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SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.

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