EAST Lancashire’s councils hold a £50million treasure trove of fine art, historic documents and cultural objects, it has been revealed.

They have more than 48,000 items in their collections but only around 10 per cent are on display at any one time.


Lancashire County Council has another 2,000 items worth £25million, at venues spread across the authority area.

The revelation has let to community leaders calling for better promotion of the works both regionally and nationally, with support for the move coming from the government.

The biggest collection, worth £32.7million, is held by Burnley Council, mainly a collection of more than 300 paintings at Towneley Hall which is owned by the borough.

Blackburn with Darwen has 1,968 items worth £11million including an Egyptian ‘Mummy’ on permanent display, medieval manuscripts and five watercolours by impressionist J M W Turner, Britain’s most internationally renowned painter.

Hyndburn has 588 items, of which 221 are on display, worth £4.7million.

They are mainly at Accrington’s Haworth Art Gallery, which holds a world famous collection of Tiffany glass.

Towneley Hall’s exhibits includes two Turner watercolours, an Jacobs Epstein sculpture, the Antwerp Altar worth millions, a collection of medieval vestments from Whalley Abbey saved from the 16th Century dissolution of the monasteries, paintings by Edwin Landseer, and a collection of ivory.

Rossendale has 8,993 items worth £1.5million centred on the volunteer-run Whitaker Museum in Rawtenstall which has a famous natural history collection, including the iconic ‘tiger and python’ exhibit.

Of Blackburn with Darwen’s collection 204 are on show at any one time and a similar 10 per cent, 3,040, of Burnley’s are habitually displayed., The figures come from a Freedom of Information request by the Taxpayers Alliance showing the government, public bodies and local councils own £3.5 billion worth of art, only three per cent of which is on display.

It’s chief executive Jonathan Isaby, said: “Public bodies and local authorities should make an effort to display more of their art for people to enjoy, and they also need to take a good hard look at their art portfolio and think about what does and does not need to be retained. “ Burnley local historian and Briercliffe councillor Roger Frost said: “They are just Philistines.

“The Towneley Hall collection and Blackburn museum’s are fabulous and deserve to be kept for local people and visitors from further afar.

“Their exhibits, and those at the Haworth and Whitaker galleries, are hidden gems of culture.

“The councils do their best in conservation terms but could do more to promote them regionally and nationally.

“A small amount of government cash could make a huge difference in this.”

Blackburn with Darwen Tory group leader Mike Lee said: “The council should not sell off our paintings and other artefacts.

“More could be done to promote them to a wider public so people know what we have.”

Borough culture boss Damian Talbot said: “We have fantastic collections which cannot always be on show for a variety of reasons.

“Some need careful conservation and others are often on loan.

“Later this month ‘The Cotton to Gold’ exhibition, after a successful run in London, comes to Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery.

“All five of our Turners, medieval manuscripts, Roman coins, some Tiffany Glass, and items from Towneley Hall, including the ivory, will be on show.

“We are looking at ways of promoting and displaying the collections more widely including working with Blackburn Cathedral to display our early Christian ‘icons’ with its treasures in its new suite of clergy accommodation.

“These items belong to everyone in the borough and we want more people to see them, hopefully donating to their upkeep.”

Burnley council leader Mark Townsend said: “Art and culture assets are a key element in keeping Towneley Hall as a popular visitor attraction.

“I believe heritage is important and it is right that we place a high priority on maintaining it for future generations.”

Hyndburn council leader Miles Parkinson said: “These are tremendous collections which were often given or bequeathed to our boroughs for the benefit of local people.

“In some cases they cannot be sold off but they should not be disposed of for a one-off payment when they contribute so much to local culture and life.”

A Lancashire County Council spokesman said: “The county council owns very little art other than its collections in museums and libraries.

“The figure is the insurance value of all of our collections, and includes fine art and decorative art but also industrial, military, social, maritime and natural history collections. “These are culturally and historically significant for the county and many of the pieces and artefacts were given for the people of Lancashire.”