A Pause for thought

The Stage 1 development of Collections in a Landscape is drawing to a close, and as we beaver away making finishing touches to the Stage 2 application I wanted to pull together what the team have got out of the project so far. But fret ye not! The blog will be alive and kicking until we hear about the Stage 2 application, so do not go anywhere.

  ML Martha LawrenceMartha Lawrence

Working in a museum means you have creative ideas for projects every day. Some of them never get beyond the “It’d be great to…” stage. Some of them, however, like Collections in the Landscape, you nurture and grow by discussion with colleagues, applying for funding, expanding the team, exploring new concepts and putting flesh on the bones to make something tangible. Coming to the end of the Stage 1 development year, having let our ideas and dreams develop into something we’ve written down and shared with people, albeit with the caveat “If we get the Stage 2 funding…”, I’m trying not to let myself get too excited about the future, in case our grant application isn’t successful. But, if it isn’t, this year has still been worth every minute and every penny as we’ve seen, done and learned so much. The museum is not the same place it was in August 2012 when the Stage 1 application was submitted.

 JP - 20140301_132205

Joe Perry

I feel very fortunate to have been swept along on the CITL ride. It’s given me the chance to work with some really interesting technologies and, more importantly, some really interesting people! It’s been a privilege to work with the team and I’ve got my fingers crossed that the hard work we’ve put in leads to great things in the future. My personal highlight was conducting research and app testing at Arbor Low, you really can’t beat a good henge…

 

 BJ - ben's a baby eagleBen Jones

It’s been an honour to serve with the CITL team; their enthusiasm and creativity knows no bounds, and nearly everyone watches Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, which is a bonus. I hope the hard work we’ve done is of benefit to the future of the museum. My favourite part of the project was recording memories of Buxton residents for the Stories of Shopping app. I fear that a lot of knowledge is getting lost because no one is recording or writing it down, so I’ve come out of stage 1 wanting to do more. I’ll also be pestering my managers to give the Randolph Douglas collection a permanent display and trying to persuade them that live medieval combat in the galleries is a good idea.

 

JC Croxden abbey Jess Coatesworth

Collections in the Landscape has been a challenging, fast-paced, educating experience. As a team we’ve been very lucky, we all get on (still!) and have worked really well together; the museum Digital Trails are testament to this. I’ve enjoyed getting to grips with social media and have grown to love Twitter. I know things about fossils that I never thought I would and have spent more time designing things than I would have anticipated. It is good to know that Collections in the Landscape project has benefitted the museum too, adding more detailed records, high quality photography, and improving the museum’s digital presence. There are some really great partnerships developing from this project and, regardless of the success of the Stage 2 application, Collections in the Landscape has introduced a way for us to all work together to publicise the wonderful history and heritage of the Peak District.

 

 AR - DSCF1526  Anna Rhodes

I was a bit daunted when we started Collections in the Landscape as I knew very little about innovative ways to use technology in museums. I was still getting my head around what apps were, let alone knowing how to go about making one. In the end I realise that it is no great mystery and the same skills are needed in both traditional and digital interpretation. The technology side was more accessible than I imagined and I think we sometimes do ourselves a disservice in thinking that we are too ‘museumy’ and won’t be able to grasp the technological side of things. If you had told me a year ago that I would be going into the ‘back end’ of an app to edit it, I wouldn’t have believed you. Oh, and I never thought I’d be such a fan of twitter hashtags, now I just need to get #TrumpetBroochTuesday viral.  

 

RW 6-14

I think the final work should go to the Derbyshire Museums Manager, Ros Westwood:

 Where has the year gone?

 Collections in the Landscape is not just a project. It brought together many people, the team working here, our colleagues across the council, new partners, regular and new volunteers and experienced, wise advisers.

I always expected it would be an opportunity to learn new skills and see fledgling ideas grow and mature. The bonus has been the accumulation of information on databases and available to our users through a variety of routes. What is reassuring is that that the concept is sound. We have found ways that we can develop these ideas and make the collections available out there, in your pocket or at an internet link near you: your armchair, public library or local internet café.  

 Like all big adventures, there is lots of planning needed, and you make friends along the way. Stay with us – we are on the start of a wonderful adventure in the Peak.

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Online Platforms

The Collections in the Landscape project has been all about getting the museum’s collection online, accessible and available in the landscape. The main platform for this is www.buxtonmuseumapps.com but we have also been using other digital platforms to showcase the collections and the work we are doing. I have been busy collating all this information for our Stage 2 application and thought it would be interesting to share some of our discoveries.

Since the beginning of the project, the Collections in the Landscape blog has been the main portal for all of the project content and news. It has also pulled together all of the museum’s social media feeds, which is great because only Facebook features on the main museum website. It has a small but loyal audience, that is growing slowly but steadily, and is actually a great way to disseminate project news to other members of staff.

Twitter

A good way to communicate quickly with other museum professionals

 

The museum joined Twitter in October. We have grown to love twitter but we have all found out that it takes a lot of work to make it a success (and there are five of us!). We began by expanding our audience with #FossilFridays and other hashtags, and we also publicise events and exhibitions on there. To our surprise, the main audience for the Twitter feed is other museums and museum professionals. This means it is a great resource for professional enquiries, publicising our work and seeing what others museums are up to. The downside of this is that posted links do not get as much attention as on sites like Facebook. Nevertheless, Twitter is a really useful platform and having that immediate connection to other museums is a great way to boost our profile and showcase our work, even if it isn’t in the way we originally expected.

Great for displaying good quality images, but how visitors use it is a mystery

Great for displaying good quality images, but how visitors use it is a mystery

 

Flickr is one of the online dinosaurs. Unlike other platforms, you do not have access to your visitor figures, so we have no idea if anyone actually looks at it or not! It is, however, very useful for our purpose and a lot of museums still use it. It offers us a platform to showcase the museum’s collections with high-quality images and any member of staff can easily update and change it. The main issue with Flickr is copyright. Using the site has made us consider the importance of the museum’s digital assets, as well the physical collections, which hadn’t previously been given much thought. If you have visited our Flickr site we would be interested to know what you thought.

It’s purple and popular

It’s purple and popular

 

The main museum website still takes the bulk of the online visitor figures and is the site we know the most about. The figures show trends that we wouldn’t have thought about; for instance, we get huge spikes in traffic during school holidays. It is also interesting to see how people are reaching the site. Many people search for us directly, or already know where they are going, but one of the biggest referral sites is daysoutwiththekids.co.uk, which we didn’t know about. This shows the importance of having a good hub website where other online projects link to (at the moment there is only a link to Facebook). We are really keen on developing the museum’s website further and, in partnership with the council’s IT team, are in the process of getting some of the collection records online. We are also thinking about making more Collections pages, to really show off what makes the museum special.

Digital Interpretation

The use of digital interpretation is a hot topic for museums at the moment, but it’s a difficult thing to get right. As part of Stage 2 in the Collections in the Landscape project we are hoping to redevelop the Wonders of the Peak gallery, and we see digital interpretation as a key part of that. One of the best ways to understand what works and what doesn’t is to go and visit other museums, so that’s what we did! I have to admit that I was a bit of a digi-skeptic when it comes to museums, I visit to see objects not screens, but even I was won over.

Gold Coin of Trajan - This level of detail would be hard to see in normal gallery conditions.

Gold Coin of Trajan – This level of detail would be hard to see in normal gallery conditions.

 

A good reason to use digital is to bring small or hard to view items to life, and make them easier to see. It is hard to see the real detail in a roman coin, especially when there is 20cm of case between you and the object. To get around this visitors often move closer to the case in order to see the object properly, which causes problems for other visitors. I experienced this first-hand when visiting the British Museum’s current exhibition, Vikings: Life and Legend. The objects themselves were incredible but because of their size, and the busyness of the exhibition, it was a struggle to see them sometimes (and I am relatively tall!). The problem was partly the amount of people, which is unlikely to cause the same issues for us, but it was mostly the scale of the objects that made it difficult.

Vikings: Life and Legend. No problem viewing Roskilde 6, but the cases at the back look a little busy.

Vikings: Life and Legend. No problem viewing Roskilde 6 but the cases at the back look a little busy.

 

One of the ways to get around this is by digital interpretation. There was no digital included as standard in the Viking exhibition, however, there were guides on iPhones available to rent. The additional charge put many visitors off, myself included, and only around 3% of people in the gallery were using them. The visitors with guides did seem to be using the space differently and were spending less time at the objects themselves; perhaps they were seeing things the rest of us weren’t. We have thought about designing an app or specific guide for Buxton Museum but the uptake in audio guides is so small that it isn’t practical for a museum of our size. We are also quite interested in touch tables. Although not a fan of digital in galleries, I would have loved a massive touch table in the Vikings exhibition featuring the Vale of York hoard. Not only could it have been used to view the objects in detail but an extra layer of information could have been added, making the objects far more accessible. This could be a useful interpretation tool for the recently acquired Kirk Ireton coin hoard and is already successfully being used for the Staffordshire Hoard.

Ed, Anna and Jess all using the digital interpretation on offer at Archives+

Ed, Anna and Jess putting the digital interpretation at Archives+ through its paces.

 

Archives+, in the Central library in Manchester, have embraced new digital approaches in their redevelopment. They have recently re-opened after a complete redevelopment of the building, funded by Manchester City Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund. We were lucky enough to have a guided tour of the new space and got to test out their digital offer. As a digi-skeptic and lover of archives I didn’t know what to expect. Archives+ face a different set of challenges to us; archives are hard to work with and difficult to engage people with. Paper is one of the most delicate materials to display, and, for conservation purposes, items can only be exhibited for a limited time. Audio and film archives can be intrusive and annoying in open gallery spaces. Archives+ avoid these problems by having a carefully designed space. Audio and film archives are available in separate booths to the side with directional speakers or headphones, and cases can be changed by a single member of staff.

The Oculus - situated in the centre of the building, it acts as a focal point.

The Oculus – situated in the centre of the building, it acts as a focal point. Audio booths can be seen behind.

 

There is very little original material on display in Archives+; instead they let the digital do the work. You can scroll through maps of Manchester from 1640, or look through the photographic archives of immigrant families. This is an approach that works well with delicate collections. The interactive that impressed us most was the Oculus in the middle of the gallery. It consists of three touch screen terminals that allow visitors to navigate a map of Manchester. The map contains around 50 points of interest and various different topics are covered by these points. The best thing is that everyone can see what and where the users of these terminals are looking at via the central map. We found this really drew people together and made you want to use it as a group. It was a positive visit and we all left feeling motivated about the digital options that are available. Digital seems to work well as a focal point, but is also a good way of making difficult items more accessible. While it should never replace original objects, it can be used to complement and support exhibitions to great effect.

The Peak District in the Early Medieval period

A particular challenge Buxton Museum will face when redeveloping our popular Wonders of the Peak gallery is the Early Medieval period, or, to be more precise, 400 – 1100. It is a huge period, but it is also a time that, until recently, has lacked popular appeal. There have been a lot of new research over the last 30 years and we need to update the gallery to include this in the story of the Peak District. The High Peak was a less populated region than today. It was also a tumultuous time. For much of it England was divided into separate kingdoms, and from the 8th century onwards the country was subjected to Viking attacks, invasion and settlement.

The Peterborough Chronicle - Bodleian Library, Oxford

The Peterborough Chronicle – Bodleian Library, Oxford

Part of the reason this is a difficult period to document is that little written material survives from then, certainly in comparison to the Late Medieval period. One of the main written sources for this time is the Anglo-Saxon chronicle. The chronicles make for an interesting read. In 626 there was an attempted assassination of Eadwin, King of Northumbria, in the Derwent Valley. The assassination was ordered by Eamer, King of the West Saxons, but it failed. In 848 a witenagemot, a national council assembly, was held in Repton. Archaeologists also found the bloody evidence of Viking occupation of the town in 873, which was described in the chronicle.

One of the 9th century crosses in Bakewell Church

One of the 9th century crosses in Bakewell Church

Most evidence of the Early Medieval Peak District can be found in situ, although sadly very little remains today. The Normans caused a large amount of damage across the country after the conquest, both intellectually and physically, and especially in the north. The Peak District was a densely forested area, which was a hunting forest for Anglo-Saxon and Norman kings. Nevertheless, it still would have been inhabited by local people. Well preserved crosses from the 9th century can be found in Eyam, Hope and Taddington churches, although the crosses at Bakewell are perhaps most famous. The church used to have various coped tomb slabs built into its walls, however, these were removed by Thomas Bateman and are now in the collections of Museums Sheffield. One of the challenges we face is linking to these monuments. Digital offers us the potential to give these items a gallery presence, but we could just as easily opt for photography, or even have a digital trail.

The Bentley Grange Helmet - Museums Sheffield

The Bentley Grange Helmet, Museums Sheffield

Some of the other items that do survive are quite spectacular. As well as the coped tomb slabs, Museums Sheffield hold a helmet, c. 650, excavated from Bentley Grange, near Bakewell. It is one of only four horn-covered helmets found in England. There were also possible fragments of chain mail, a ‘circular enamelled ornament’, a cross and cup remains found at this site. Sheffield’s collection is home to other items collection from barrows in Derbyshire, such as a bronze circular box from a woman’s barrow near Hurdlow, and a double edged iron sword from a grave mound near Brushfield. The British Museum, meanwhile, hold the Beeston Tor Hoard, which includes two complete brooches with intricate knot work patterns. One of our hopes for the new Wonders of the Peak gallery is to return these objects to the region in which they were found, be that physically or digitally.

Dovedale Family Trail

On Saturday 15th March we took to Dovedale to test our new Dovedale Family Trail. It was a windy start but the weather held and we had a lovely day. Myself and Anna were joined by Martha Henson, who has been working with us on all of the Buxton Museum apps.

 Twitter grab 

As I have mentioned before, Dovedale posed a different set of problems than the other sites. For starters, there is no mobile signal. We got around this by creating the trail as a pdf that can either be downloaded to a device or printed in advance. There is also a simple web-version available on the Buxton Museum apps site. On the test day we all used printed copies and, although low-tech, everyone thought it worked well and preferred it to a screen-based activity. The paper copy meant families were sharing, ticking things off and writing things down, and not worried about breaking anything.

IMG_5606 

Everyone seemed to use the trail as a good info sheet and ideas for activities, but several families told us they weren’t always clear where they were. For instance, Lover’s Leap is a great place to stop and have a breather (especially as you’ve just hiked up the hill to get there!) but there aren’t any signs to tell you where you are. Some of our location choices for activities also seemed crazy once we were there. At the Stepping Stones we ask people to ‘Look at the fossils below your feet’, but this location is far too busy for anything else than crossing the river.

IMG_5599

Reynard’s Cave was everyone’s favourite spot on the tour (staff favourite too!). We do not encourage people to climb up the slope to the cave itself because the climb is steep and dangerous, however, most families on the event did. Lots of objects have been found in Reynard’s cave, from Roman pottery to animal bones, making it a collection highlight too. One family liked that they could connect visiting the cave, and Dovedale, to objects we have in the museum and said it would make their next museum visit more relevant.

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Walking back was the hardest part, even though we knew we had lunch at the end of it! Like many of the families, I would prefer a circular walk of Dovedale and we are looking into the options. We had some great suggestions on how to develop the activity. Could we turn it into an orienteering challenge? Or perhaps run it as a regular group event? If you have tried the activity on your own we would also love to hear your thoughts. Until May 31st we are offering a small prize to anyone who completes the Dovedale trail and fills in our online survey. Prizes can be collected from the museum.

Lover’s Leap

Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us (sigh) and if, like me, you are not a massive fan of the over-commercialised hype that surrounds it every year then you may like this week’s blog post. Derbyshire is full of precarious spots named Lover’s Leap. Why, I hear you cry! Is it because we are a particularly lovelorn people? I am going to look at the legends and the artwork, but also the postcards people sent to each other from these locations to see if there are any clues.

There are hundreds of Lover’s Leaps around the world; Wikipedia highlights a few. Unsurprisingly, it’s a name given to dangerous rocky outcrops, usually in a range of hills or on the side of a valley. One thing is for certain though, if you jumped off a Lover’s Leap, especially in modern clothes, you might not be as lucky as some of the women in the tales below…

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Let us begin at Stoney Middleton. A village near Eyam, whose people famously quarantined themselves during the plague of 1665-6. If you visit Stoney Middleton now you can’t help but notice several businesses adopting the Lover’s Leap name. It is very much part of the village’s imagination and the Lover’s Leap in Stoney Middleton perhaps has the best story of them all. Apparently in 1762, Hannah Baddaley, having been jilted by her beloved, flung herself from the cliff, only to be saved from death by her voluminous skirts which acted like a parachute. Visitors to Stoney Middleton, however, were less interested in the local lore and its romantic connotations, instead visiting to recuperate and relax. The postcards above tell of an interesting range of activities, from eating and horse riding, to painting with ‘his lordship’!

Dean Langton plummeted to his death near Lover's Leap, Dovedale.

Dean Langton plummeted to his death near Lover’s Leap, Dovedale.

Dovedale is perhaps the most famous Lover’s Leap in Derbyshire. During the Napoleonic wars a young woman, believing her sweetheart dead in battle, threw herself off Lover’s Leap. Once again the billowing skirts saved the day, they caught in the branches on her way down and she was able to scramble to safety. On returning home she discovered her lover wasn’t dead after all and was actually returning home from the war to see her. Some say, however, that she was a jilted lover and stayed single for the rest of her days. Which one is true? No one knows.

Despite it being the better known of the Lover’s Leaps we don’t have any written postcards of this spot. But who needs a postcard when you could buy a patchbox? Enamelled patchboxes with various designs could be bought as souvenirs in the boutiques under the Crescent, Buxton. Lover’s Leap was one of the available designs. Sadly we do not have a Lover’s Leap patchbox in our collections, but pictures of a couple can be found online – very fetching.

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The last Lover’s Leap of our post is in Ashwood Dale, near Buxton. Here the Leap is part of a wide limestone chasm, rather than an individual rock or cliff. The story is different too, and, surprisingly, non-skirt based. Two lovers were eloping to Peak Forest church to get married but were hotly pursued by their parents. On reaching Lover’s Leap their horse sprang across the gap leaving the parents behind and unable to cross the chasm. The lovers reached the church safely and presumably got married. There are a lot of postcards in the museum’s collection from this spot, some are even slightly romantic. A couple of senders were fans of the rhyming couplet, here is my favourite:

 “He who seeks not the dames to please

Should be condemned to die;

Though no man has succeeded yet,

All men should daily try.”

Of course, this is not all of the Lover’s Leaps in Derbyshire, and there are many more all around the UK. If you have an interesting story to add to any of these, or a story of another Derbyshire Lover’s Leap, then feel free to let us know. There are hundreds of interesting stories in our postcard collection and I have only scratched the surface here. Follow our main museum blog for more collections related posts. I will leave you with a quirky little number from Buxton:

PC 0047 front

The spa history of Buxton, in objects

The spa history of Buxton, in objects

Every year on average 1.3 million people visit Buxton and most visitors want to know about the history of the town. Buxton is described as ‘England’s leading Spa town’ yet all that remains of this heritage are the façades of the old spa buildings. As we have mentioned in previous posts, Collections in the Landscape is about taking the museum’s collections back to the locations where they were made, bought or used and we really want to make sure that Buxton’s history, and the town’s relationship with water, is part of this. For our trial we are creating a Buxton Walking Tour app that will guide users through the different periods of Buxton’s rich and colourful history, here is a taster of what we are going to include. 

A small selection from the Buxton Coin Hoard

A small selection from the Buxton Coin Hoard

The Romans were the first to harness the natural springs of Buxton, or as it was known then Aqua Arnemetiae. Buxton was the second most important spa town in the country, after Bath (Aquae Sulis). Sadly there is almost no surviving evidence of Roman buildings in the town but in 1978 the Buxton coin hoard was discovered on the site of the Natural Mineral Baths (used to be the Tourist Information Centre – now in the Pavilion Gardens). Most of the coins are Roman and dating from 41-400 A.D., although there are a few later coins too. The Buxton coin hoard is on permanent display in the Wonders of the Peak and a few Roman coins from our collection can also be seen at Manchester Museum.

Close-up of John Speede's map of Derbyshire, 1610

Close-up of John Speede’s map of Derbyshire, 1610

 The spa history of Buxton then advances to the 1500s, when the first developments of Buxton as we know it began. The Earl of Shrewsbury, George Talbot, built The Hall (now The Old Hall) in 1550, which would later be used by Mary Queen of Scots when she was in custody at Chatsworth in the 1570s. This saw the beginning of the business boom in Buxton and in 1577 there were two inns and eight ale houses in the town – there were only 18 inns in the whole of Derbyshire! Shrewsbury’s Hall replaced an earlier structure on the site, suggesting that Buxton was popular for its water before then. Very little survives from Buxton in the Medieval period so early prints and written records are the best evidence for the town during this time. The 1610 map of Derbyshire (above) clearly shows The Hall with St. Anne’s well and the cold spring next to it.

Souvenir Patchbox from Buxton

Souvenir Patchbox from Buxton

The 18th century was a period of massive expansion for the town. The 5th Duke of Devonshire wanted Buxton to challenge its old rival Bath and set about creating an architectural centrepiece. The Crescent was completed in the 1780s. The Crescent contained hotels and a glamorous assembly room, and on the ground floor it housed boutiques selling souvenirs. The 6th Duke maintained the tradition and re-built the Natural Mineral Baths and the Thermal Baths. In the late 19th century the Pump Room (house) was re-built too. By this point Spa tourism was a significant income for the town and Broadwalk (by Pavilion Gardens) was lined with hotels. However the popularity was not to last and the 20th century saw the demise of spa towns. The Thermal Baths, the last of the baths offering public treatments, closed in the 1960s. 

The Crescent in the snow, 2010

The Crescent in the snow, 2010

Although not currently a spa destination Buxton is still a popular place to visit because of its beautiful architecture and breath-taking scenery. The town remains in popular culture; the Opera House and the Buxton Fringe are a must on the comedy circuit, and the town is frequently mentioned as a good place to elope to/visit in the TV comedy Fresh Meat. It is hoped that the re-development of the Crescent back into a spa hotel should once more cement Buxton as a spa destination, but we shall have to wait and see. In the meantime why not follow the Collections in the Landscape blog for more information on the spa history and invites to join us in our app testing, which will take place in March.