Bury Museum, opened in 1907 on the lower ground floor of the main Art Gallery building and its collections and exhibitions reflected contemporary interest in the natural sciences. Once established, the collections held at BuryMuseum increased in a rather unplanned and episodic way primarily by gift, although small purchases were made from revenue. The new Museum opened as a cabinet of curiosities with very little of the early collections relating directly to the town.
Since the 1960s the aim has been to actively collect objects that reflect the material culture of the area. This change was even more marked after 1974, when local government re-organisation created the Metropolitan Borough of Bury. The new geographical boundaries encompassed the six towns of Bury, Prestwich, Radcliffe, Ramsbottom, Tottington and Whitefield, thus generating new needs for representation and widening the scope for collecting. There are now about 60,000 objects in the museum collection.
In 1999 Bury Council adopted a new approach to the museum section of the service and work began on putting their new approach into action. In June 2003, with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund a project to merge the museum collection with Bury’s archives collection and build a new Museum & Archive Centre in the space formerly occupied solely by the Museum began. This was to give greater access to the Council’s heritage collections. Work started in March 2004 and was completed in January 2005.
The space was radically changed from a dark, static, Victorian street reconstruction to a bright contemporary area with changing displays which also includes an Archives study room. In 2011 as part of Bury Council’s Transformation & Redesign project the Local Studies collection of the central library was relocated into the museum & archives space.
The new Museum, Archives & Local History Centre has been designed to encourage access to the area’s heritage. By bringing together the Council’s archives, local studies and museum collections the new Centre aims to stimulate interest in localism, identity and the history of changing communities. It is designed to improve the level of cultural provision by providing intellectual access through exciting displays and a programme of heritage-related activities. Museum exhibits aim to trigger visitors’ interest, encouraging them to follow a ‘step-by-step’ approach; from viewing and interacting with displays to conducting research in the seated area. The Museum & Archives & Local History Centre has been designed to incorporate changing exhibitions, the visual arts, and a study section for educational groups and individual researchers.