The Whitaker Collections

The Whitaker is housed in a Victorian house which was left, with the stables and parkland, to the people of Rossendale by Richard Whitaker. The house called Oak Hill was home to mill owner George Hardman a cotton and woollen manufacturer and partner in New Hall Hey Mill. The family business continued after George’s death but the house was sold to the Whitaker family in 1896. Richard Whitaker had begun work in the local mills at the age of six and after making his fortune abroad returned and bought the mill where he had started work all those years before.

Whitaker wanted local people to ”walk in the park and breathe fresh air” so the park was opened to the public in 1900, and was soon followed by the establishment of the museum, Rossendale Museum and Art Gallery, in 1902 with the purpose of educating and enlightening the people of Rossendale through its collections.

As well as housing a modern art gallery with regular exhibitions from a wide variety of artists, the Whitaker has 189 oil paintings in its permanent collection. Most of which have been donated by either the owner or painter. The wealth of Rossendale during the industrial revolution of the 19th century is directly reflected within the collection. For a small museum, there are a substantial amount of good quality portraits, and a fine collection of 19th century genre paintings.

The permanently displayed portraits in the Hall and Landing Galleries are of local people, who have made a substantial contribution to the development of Rossendale since the 18th century. They include the major cotton and woolen mill manufacturers including those with a close connection to The Whitaker building.

Of note in the Hall is the portrait of Mrs. Joseph Wood Whitehead. Ann, was George Hardman’s daughter. Seen on the opposite wall George Hardman had The Whitaker mansion built as his families’ residence. She married Joseph Whitehead, thereby uniting two great mill owning families. The Whitehead Mills were still working in the 1950’s.

Other paintings on permanent display can be seen in the Victorian Drawing Room and in the Hardman Room.

One of the most popular oil paintings in the collection is The Lifeboat by Marshall Claxton, a work which toured Australia as part of the National Gallery of Victoria touring exhibition Exiles and Emigrants in 2005 and 2006. The Devil’s Bridge on the St Gothard Pass by Thomas Creswick, is exhibited next to The Lifeboat. It is of note, Creswick was a contemporary of JMW Turner, who painted the same scene.

The Whitaker holds regular exhibitions – please click here for further information.


Further information:
  • Opening times  Wednesday – Sunday, 10.00 am to 4.00 pm; Late night Thursday 8.00 pm
  • Free admission
  • Further information Tel: 01706260785; email: