THIS month marks the 165th anniversary of the opening of Warrington Museum.

Long before Manchester and Liverpool became cultural hubs, Warrington had the first public museum in the north west.

Forget social media and reality TV. In 1855, gawking at the weird and wonderful was a rare treat and in September more than 2,000 people turned up to show their support for a public museum in the town.

Warrington’s first mayor William Beamont laid the foundation stone for the current building 165 years ago.

The photos were taken by Samuel Mather Webster who ran a chemist shop in Bridge Street but was also involved with Warrington’s School of Art.

Before the Bold Street museum was built, ordinary people of Warrington could view ‘Paintings and Works of Art, Models of Machinery and Manufactures, Philosophical Apparatus, Specimens of Natural History and Objects of Curiosity and Interest’ at the Natural History Society’s show in 1840.

It was so popular that an early version of Warrington Museum opened in 1842 in ‘a large room over the Fire Engine House’ in Market Street (now part of the Golden Square).

In just two months between 7,000 and 8,000 visitors flocked to see antiquities, fossils and stuffed animals including two stuffed llamas donated by Lord Derby of Knowsley.

Warrington is also home to the country’s first public library. It opened in 1848 and shared space with the museum in Friars Gate with funding from the newly formed Warrington Borough Council.

Impressive given that this was a time of revolution in Europe and an economic slump.

Plans to move to Bold Street started in 1853 when the museum and library outgrew their premises.

Among the crowd at the laying of the foundation stone in 1855 was Thomas Birtles. He was a cabinet maker’s apprentice at the time but went on to become one of the major photographers in Warrington.

Even the Warrington Guardian was there. The report said: “One of the first buildings especially erected as a people’s museum. Let the people of Warrington feel the museum is theirs.”

Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll was one of the first people to take inspiration from the museum’s curiosities.

Visitors could have their likeness cut by a silhouette artist – an offer taken up by the Rev Charles Dodgson and his family including a young Carroll.

This is the main reason the museum has a prominent dodo on display in tribute to his book.