Moyses Hall has held a fascination for me for as long as I can remember and whenever I visit Bury I try to look in.
My first memories of it were as a very young child when I was taken there, mainly by my Aunts, and later I was left to wander around on my own whilst my father wandered the market on a Saturday, before taking me to Nobles Ironmongers to buy me a sheet of balsa wood and some glue. Which was the main reason I went to town with him!
I was fascinated by all the exhibits especially the more macabre ones. William Corder’s scalp, the book bound in his skin, the death mask, the pistol with which he shot Maria Martin and the story of the Red Barn Murder, were always stared at and read about at length. Those along with the gibbet cage and the Mantrap. What a horrible little mind I must have had then. (Probably not PC to exhibit these relics now?) Later I learned that I may have had some connection with William Corder and his trial and hanging at Bury Goal, in that the Reverend William Stocking was the priest who took his confession and officiated at the hanging. Although I have yet to prove a family connection. I am sure there will be one, albeit fairly distant.
Later I became interested in the cases of Insects and was inspired to start pinning hapless butterflies, moths and beetles to pieces of card at home. Again the somewhat macabre Deaths Head Hawk Moth held a particular interest (I do hope there are no Psychologists reading this). Then the fossils and stone age artefacts became a craze and we would scour the ploughed fields and gravel beds for Belemnites and Devil’s Toenails.
We declared any piece of sharpened flint found to be a stone-age axe or arrowhead. So the museum did very much to stimulate thought and learning, especially in its old and dusty former format. The guns and weapons were of course always a draw to young boys and I still love to look at them today. One exhibit that I always made a beeline for was the Napoleonic prisoner of war model of a sailing ship made from bone.
This I think stimulated my interest in model shipbuilding, which again, I still have a passion for today. Then there was the Penny Farthing Bicycle and the Sedan Chair, the elephant’s teeth, the stuffed animals, especially the eagle with a dead rabbit and so many, many others all too numerous to mention.
The last time I went there it all looked very different and there did not seem to be the plethora of exhibits that there used to be years ago which sadly seems to be a general trend in most museums today.
Another thing which always takes me back whenever I hear it is the sound of the Moyses Hall clock striking. It has a very distinctive and evocative sound, different from all other town clocks I have heard.
My Uncle (Stan Whitmore who sadly died recently) when he retired became a voluntary curator both at Moyses Hall and until it closed, at the clock Museum on Angel Hill. He was fascinated by history and sent me many pieces of research he had done into the William Corder story.
I always try to visit the museum when in Bury, and I very much hope it will continue to exist as it is now and that there will not be a temptation to open up the undercroft to how it was in Medieval days and move the exhibits to a modern sterile environment….Could never happen…… Could it?