DiCamillo Companion

Towneley Hall (Townley Hall)

  • House & Family History: Towneley Hall was the home of the Townley family, prominent Catholics, for over 500 years. In the 18th century Charles Townley planned to display his collection of antique marble sculptures in a top-lit rotunda at Towneley Hall, which was to be modeled on an ancient painted chamber discovered on the Palatine Hill in Rome; sadly, it was never built. After Charles's death in 1805, the Townley family continued to live in the house for almost 100 years. In 1901 Towneley Hall was sold to the Burnley Corporation (today Burnley Borough Council); the family left forever in March 1902, leaving behind a virtually empty building, except for a couple of tables and a few pictures in the chapel. The park was opened to the public in June of 1902; in May of 1903 the great hall and the south wing of the house were opened for a temporary art exhibition. Today the Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museum houses a variety of displays encompassing natural history, Egyptology, Lancashire history, textiles, and decorative arts. A note on the spelling of the family name: Charles Townley appears to have been the first member of his family to spell the family's surname with just one "e"; we have respected his usage, while continuing to use the older spelling for the house and earlier members of the family.

    Collections: In the 18th century Towneley Hall, together with the family's London townhouse, contained one of the most important collections of ancient marbles ever assembled (the repository of the most important collection of classical art in England before the transport of the Parthenon Marbles [Elgin Marbles] to Britain). Formed by by Charles Townley (1737–1805), the collection’s only peer was that of Townley’s friend, and fellow Catholic, Henry Blundell of Ince Blundell Hall. As Catholics, both Blundell and Townley were prohibited from attending the ancient universities, standing for Parliament, or serving in the military, so they used their wealth to collect art on a grand scale. After Townley's death the British Museum (in 1810) received a £20,000 grant from Parliament to purchase, from Townley's heirs, the marble statues and the larger bronze and terracotta statues (his collection today still forms the core of the BM's Roman and Greek collection). The small antiquities, including 511 engraved gems (intaglios and cameos), coins, and pottery were purchased by the BM in 1815. One of finest gems in the collection is a 1st century BC red jasper ring (set in modern gold) that Townley probably acquired from Sir William Hamilton. Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1657), secretary to Cardinal Francesco Barberini, was an antiquary in the classicizing circle of Rome and a friend and patron of Nicolas Poussin. Cassiano had his entire collection of ancient intaglios and cameos drawn to create a visual record of his gems; the drawings passed to Cardinal Albani and were later acquired by Charles Townley, who had many of this own gems drawn in the 1780s (the 17th and 18th century drawings are today in the British Museum). In 1992 the BM acquired a large archive of Townley's papers, including his account books, bills, auction catalogs, correspondence, and diaries. The famous 1781-83 painting by Johan Zoffany, "Charles Townley in His Library" (see "Images" section), shows Townley and friends in the library of his London house at 7 Park Street (today 14 Queen Anne's Gate). Though the contents of the townhouse were dispersed after his death, highlights of the famous collection of ancient marbles the house contained lives on through this conversation piece, today in the collection of the Towneley Hall Art Gallery. Among the marbles owned by Townley shown in the painting are "Nymph with a Shell,” a Discobulus discovered at Hadrian’s Villa, a faun (similar to the Barberini example), "Boys Fighting" (Townley's first major purchase, made in 1768 from the Barberini Collection), and a bust of Clytie. The latter became famous throughout Europe when it was reproduced in marble, parian ware, and plaster. The Townley Vase (a large 2nd century AD Roman marble vase) sits atop the center of the bookcase; the Townley Venus (a 1st century AD marble Roman sculpture of Venus, today in the collection of the British Museum; see "Images" section), stands on a large carved pedestal to the bottom right of the Townley Vase. The famous Townley Caryatid (Roman, circa 140-160 AD) was purchased by the BM in 1805 from Peregrine Edward Townley and is on view in the museum (see photo in "Images" section). The conversation piece does not provide an accurate account of Townley’s library; the room, as shown in the painting, is larger than the actual library, and pieces from Towenley’s collection that were not actually present in that room are shown in the painting to more fully give a sense of the enormity of the collection. Townley himself sits at the bottom right, his dog Kam at his feet. In October of 2021 Temple Newsam acquired the circa 1770 Townley Commode for its collection. Commissioned by Charles Townley for Towneley Hall, the commode, which features Neoclassical inlaid wood panels that were copied from Townley’s copy of "Le Antichità di Ercolano," has a particularly luscious hardstone and lava top that Townley purchased on one of his Grand Tours. The Chalice of the Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis, a 2nd/1st century BC sardonyx cup with 12th century vermeil mounts adorned with semi precious stones, pearls, and glass (see "Images" section), was purchased in 1804 by Charles Townley. The chalice remained in the ownership of the Townley family until 1920, when it was sold to the London dealer Harry Harding. In 1921 Harding sold the cup to Goldschmidt Galleries, New York; in 1922 the chalice was purchased by Joseph E. Widener of Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Widener bequeathed the chalice to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in 1943.

    Comments: Tim Knox, director of The Royal Collection, has referred to Charles Townley as "Perhaps the greatest English collector [of antique marble statues]."

  • Architect: John Nash

    Date: 1796
    Designed: Lodges (demolished) for Charles Towneley

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    Architect: John Carr

    Date: 1766-67
    Designed: Drawing Room interiors in Southeast Wing for Charles Towneley

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    Architect: Jeffry Wyatville (Wyattville) (Wyatt)

    Date: Circa 1814-19
    Designed: Remodeled Southeast Wing and designed porch for Peregrine Towneley

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  • John Bernard (J.B.) Burke, published under the title of A Visitation of the Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, among other titles: Vol. I, p. 163, 1852.

    Country Life: XXXIV, 228 plan, 1913.

  • Title: Treasure Houses of Britain, The - SOFTBACK
    Author: Jackson-Stops, Gervase (Editor)
    Year Published: 1985
    Reference: pgs. 290-291
    Publisher: Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art (New Haven: Yale University Press)
    ISBN: 0300035530
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Enlightenment: Discovering the World in the Eighteenth Century
    Author: Sloan, Kim; Burnett, Andrew (Editors)
    Year Published: 2003
    Reference: pgs. 134, 135
    Publisher: Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books
    ISBN: 158834164X
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Desire & Excess: The Nineteenth-Century Culture of Art
    Author: Siegel, Jonah
    Year Published: 2000
    Reference: pg. 61
    Publisher: Princeton: Princeton University Press
    ISBN: 0691049149
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Vases and Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and His Collection
    Author: Jenkins, Ian; Sloan, Kim
    Year Published: 1996
    Reference: pg. 207
    Publisher: London: British Museum Press
    ISBN: 0714117668
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, A - SOFTBACK
    Author: Colvin, Howard
    Year Published: 1995
    Reference: pgs. 223, 691, 1132
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
    ISBN: 0300072074
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Country Life (magazine)
    Author: NA
    Year Published: NA
    Reference: Oct 25, 2001, pg. 93
    Publisher: London: Future plc
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Magazine

  • House Listed: Grade I

    Park Listed: Grade II

  • "Casanova" (2005 - TV). "Antiques Master" (2010-11 - BBC TV game show, series 1 & 2 filmed in Towneley Hall).
  • Past Seat / Home of: Richard Towneley, 17th century; Francis Towneley, mid-18th century; Charles Townley, late 18th century; Peregrine Townley, early 19th century; Towneley family here from the mid-13th century until 1902.

    Current Ownership Type: Government

    Primary Current Ownership Use: Museum

    Ownership Details: Owned by Burnley Borough Council and used as an art gallery and museum.

  • House Open to Public: Yes

    Phone: 01282-477-130

    Email: [email protected]

    Website: https://towneley.org.uk/

    Historic Houses Member: Yes


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