Cheshire is a place that’s long been a considerable draw for the country’s tourists. It strikes just the right balance between lush, green countryside, and accessibility via the nearby M6. It’s home to a great deal of history, too; for the Roman settlers to Britain, it was among the most important fortresses, and a staging ground for northward incursions (and westward ones, for an invasion of Ireland that never occurred).
One part of history which you might not associate with Cheshire, however, is Ancient Egypt. So how is it that the markedly not-Egyptian town of Macclesfield came to host such a sizeable collection of artefacts from ancient Egypt? Let’s see if we can answer the question.
You’ll find this particular museum nestled into a park in the west end of town, just beside a set of gardens, a cemetery, a Sainsbury’s and a sizeable cemetery. It’s here that this collection is housed. It’s a collection of the sort of scope you’d expect to see in one of the larger museums in London, and so it’s perhaps surprising to find it here.
That is, until you learn that that the woman who actually went out and amassed the collection lived in Macclesfield. Marianne Brocklehurst was the daughter of the town’s first MP, a businessman who owned the local silk mill, John Brocklehurst.
Brocklehurst the elder sat in the House of Commons for thirty-six years between 1832 and 1868, after the constituency was first enfranchised. He was a very busy man before this, however, and found the time for father four daughters and four sons.
The Brocklehursts belonged to a class who had the means to travel the world, and Marianne displayed an appetite for exploration from a very young age during trips abroad.
It wasn’t until she was forty; however, that she made her first visit to Egypt. She took with her on this trip her nephew, footman, and her friend, and travelled along the Nile in a ship named after her home, the Bagstones. The ship was packed with animals and crewmen, and it just so happened that the tombs were being opened at the time she arrived. Marianne was thereby able to purchase a number of keepsakes to take home with her – including a real life mummified corpse.
Of course, the Egyptian government weren’t terribly happy about foreigners coming into their country and pilfering their national heritage. Marianne opened the coffin to see whether there were any hidden treasures inside – but finding none, she elected to give the mummy a ‘good Christian’ burial, and take the sarcophagus and its contents back to Cheshire.While we today might find such a course of action faintly disturbing, what hasn’t changed since then is the significance of many of Marianne’s finds.
Marianne would return to Egypt several times in search of more treasure over the course of her life, and became a founding member of the Egyptian Explorer Fund. It wasn’t until 1898 that the idea of a museum displaying her work was floated. By this time Peter Pownall Brocklehurst, Marianne’s brother, had the wealth to bankroll the enterprise, and the West Park Museum was opened to the public.
There was some dispute between Marianne and the town council about exactly how the museum should be built. The disagreement seemed an implacable one, and Marianne threatened to abandon the whole project if her wishes to get her own designers in were not satisfied. The council subsequently gave in to her demands, and the project was finished in time to usher in Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.
Things took a turn for the worse, however, shortly before the museum opened. Marianne suffered a fall, and then died just a few weeks later. She was thus never able to see the scope of her discoveries really appreciated. Recent collaborations between the London Petries Museum and the West Park museum have revealed, for instance, that many of the pieces in the collection are incredibly valuable. If you’d like a chance to take them in, there are few better ways to do it!
Where can I stay?
If you’re planning a visit to Cheshire, then you’ll be pleased to learn that the county is home to a number of high-quality hotels. Among these is Carden Park in Cheshire, which is home to a swimming pool, a spa, and two golf courses – and will serve as a perfect staging ground for your visits to Macclesfield, and to every other place of interest the county has to offer.If you’re looking for a conference or wedding venue near Chester, too, it’s eminently suitable.