Gondwanaland

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Volunteer archivist Ian Gregory poses another meditative inquiry:

I have, whilst working at Buxton Museum, catalogued a map of a continent that no longer exists. The geologists call it Gondwana or Gondwanaland, and most of the present day southern landmasses were once part of it. It broke up gradually but the process began about 200 million years ago.

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Seeing this map on a plate for a slide reminded me of how hard it can be for new ideas to be accepted. The theory of continental drift, of which Gondwanaland is a crucial part, was first proposed in 1912 by Alfred Wegener but few people took it seriously. In 1957, Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen published a map of the sea floor of the Atlantic Ocean and it showed the sea floor gradually spreading out from underwater volcanoes in the middle of said ocean. For the first time, scientists knew of…

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The new Buxton Museum shop

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

The recent renovation at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery gave us chance to review all aspects of our service including the gift shop. These days, most museums and art galleries have really great shops where you can purchase souvenirs that reflect the unique character of the place, as well as raise some revenue. Funded by the Arts Council and guided by retail expert Polly Redman, we decided to embark on an enterprise of our own.

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I started by collecting an assortment of images from the collections and asked my colleagues which ones appealed to them from a retail perspective. Our marketing advisor, Jen Francis, quickly pointed out that what the museum staff liked might be different from what the majority of the public liked, which was a good point; we can be a bit geeky! Most of the team agreed that we could not go wrong with the museum bear…

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Emmy’s Work Experience

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery offers regular work experience placements to students so they can get realistic idea of day-to-day life in heritage and tourism. Traditionally, we get them to describe their time here by writing a blog. Emmy Cooper; a second-year Travel and Tourism student at Buxton College, writes about her recent stint (as well as providing you with some exclusive behind-the-scenes photographs).

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I started a week of work experience at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery on Thursday the 4th of May. I wanted to have a placement here because I knew that the building was undergoing a major refurbishment, and I was pleased to be involved in the transformation of it. I’m also very interested in culture and tourism, so I really enjoyed developing my knowledge whilst here.

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During my week I did a variety of things, I practically enjoyed testing a new app that has been developed by the museum; it guided me to interesting locations and features in Buxton. This app will shortly be available to the public to use if they wish to explore Buxton and the surrounding areas. I gave my feedback to staff about my experience using the new app. I also delicately cleaned some of the 1,200 exhibit items the museum has! These will go on display in the new galleries when it re-opens after renovation. I contributed my ideas about the layout of the new gift shop, and placed items on display.

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This work experience placement has allowed me to learn how the museum is run on a daily basis, and what the roles and responsibilities are for the staff that works here. It has been an enjoyable week and has benefited me hugely. I would recommend Buxton Museum to anyone who is considering doing a work placement, it’s lots of fun!

Whilst I was here, the museum has not been open to the public, however I’ve been very busy and had a productive week by helping members of staff get the museum ready for the opening day on June the 6th.

Easter Eggs-hibits at Buxton Museum

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Museums commonly deal with old things and creatures that have long shuffled off the mortal coil. You would not immediately associate them with a holiday like Easter which celebrates new life. However, among the collections at Buxton Museum, there are a few peculiar eggs; traditional symbols at this time of year. We thought we would share some of them with you while we are closed for renovation.

Eggs made from rock, minerals and gemstones were popular in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. We can only speculate why. With no internet, the people of these eras had to resort to talking to each other so perhaps such novelties inspired cheerful conversation. Indeed, Buxton Museum still sells quite a lot of colourful marble eggs in its gift shop. They look pretty and feel pleasingly tactile in the palm of your hand.

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This egg has been crafted from the local rare mineral called…

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Dove Holes is an Incredible Place!

It’s good to get out into the landscape and get a sense of where exactly Buxton Museum’s artefacts have come from. Some of the staff braved the winter weather last Friday to visit local Stone Age monument The Bull Ring, where flint tools have been discovered. The plucky adventurers were accompanied by experimental archaeologist and expert flintknapper James Dilley.

Dove Holes is a village just over three miles away from Buxton. Despite being a quiet and unassuming place that most people just drive through to get to somewhere else, it has a rich heritage. Apart from the henge known as The Bull Ring, the local quarry has yielded remains of some remarkable prehistoric animals such as the mastodon and the scimitar-toothed cat. The remnants of these dentally-challenged creatures are an insight into how different the Peak District must have been thousands of years ago although the snow, wind and sub-zero temperatures made it easier to imagine an ice age!

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photo by Laura Waters

The Bull Ring is clearly sign-posted about halfway along the main road but its location seems at odds with the patchwork arrangement of the village. The circular earthwork has had a fight for survival over the centuries. Apparently, the stones from the henge were removed and used on the Peak Forest Tramway in the late 1700s. Developments in the 19th century caused further damage and until recently, the annual village bonfire was held here. In terms of history, The Bull Ring is as vital as the other famous local stone circle, Arbor Low, but it has not been quite so lucky. Arbor Low still sits majestic and mysterious, largely undisturbed and surrounded by the rugged landscape of the Peak District. Fortunately, both monuments are protected these days and are free for visitors to speculate on their exact purpose and meaning. It is interesting to note that both henges are accompanied by burial mounds. The barrows lend weight to the sense of ancient significance.

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Dove Holes 15,000 years BC

You can visit The Bull Ring for yourself. The closest part of Buxton is Fairfield where I have already explored a wealth of history, including the barrow known as Fairfield Low or Skeleton Wood or even Skelebob Wood so you could include this on the same tour but the land is private so seek permission from the adjacent farm first.

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery reopens on May 1st 2017 and the brand new Wonders of the Peak gallery will feature artefacts found in Dove Holes. Like us, you may come to think of the village as the home of The Bull Ring and the scimitar-toothed cat.

Mummified Moggy Added to Collection

The first object to be entered into the collection this year is a rather gruesome find, donated to the museum by resident Maxine Chuwen.

The dead cat was found during renovations down the road from the museum in Buxton’s town centre. Not remarkable, until you consider that the unfortunate feline had been sealed in a space above a ceiling possibly for over a century, halting its decomposition and leaving it a dried-out husk. Such macabre discoveries are not unknown but did curiosity kill the cat or was the creature placed there deliberately? There is an ancient superstition which involves sealing a cat into a house to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. Although strange and cruel by modern day standards, such practices would have been common as recent as the 19th century.

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The unlucky puss dropped out of the ceiling onto builders renovating the former post office in The Quadrant and was saved from the skip by the building’s owner. Her first instinct was to give the cat a proper burial but Maxine decided to bring it to the museum. She was curious to know whether there might be a connection between the entombed cat and newspapers dating to the 1890s found in the same space. In which case, kitty apparently stalked the streets of a very different town.

The staff at Buxton Museum are no strangers to prehistoric animal remains but were startled to see a more recent and well-preserved domestic specimen. Collections Development Officer Joe Perry had to take action to preserve what was left:

We gently cleaned the cat. A white residue had begun to form on the skin since coming into contact with the open air – probably a build-up of salts. Once clean, we securing the body in a sealed, low humidity environment to keep it dry and stable. When it is displayed to the public it will need a new, environmentally secure display case – so it’s come to us at the perfect moment as we’ll be having some brand new cases installed this year.

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The Buxton Museum team were initially undecided whether to accept the cat corpse and display it. However, as custodians of a stuffed bear and a famous mermaid, they know that creepy characters are extremely popular with visitors. So they intend to exhibit the Buxton Cat.

The museum reopens after extensive refurbishment on May 1 2017 but the mummified moggy may not be on display until the end of the year. You can read regular updates on Buxton Museum and Art Gallery by visiting the website and blog

For more information contact Ros Westwood at Buxton Museum on 01629 533540