Sharing the solstice

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Over a year ago, when we were planning events to take place while the museum was closed for our redevelopment project, we came up with the idea of doing an event to celebrate the winter solstice at Arbor Low. If you haven’t heard of Arbor Low, it’s the most important prehistoric site in the East Midlands and is often called the Stonehenge of the north.

tn-2006-a064 Print of a pen and ink drawing by E E Wilmot, 1859

The monument consists of a henge surrounding a circle of around 50 limestone slabs (now fallen, if they were ever standing) and a central cove. There are also several burial mounds and pathways nearby. Arbor Low shows periods of use over 1,000 years from around 2,500-1,500 BC, placing it in the Neolithic and early Bronze Age. Mesolithic flints found in the landscape show that people were visiting the area even earlier than this.

arbor-low-5 Panorama of Arbor Low henge…

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Pictures in the Landscape returns

This week, as well as being the Derbyshire schools half-term holiday, the Discovery Days festival is being celebrated across the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. When we were asked to join in, we wanted to find a way to use the museum collections in a different setting.  We don’t have many objects that relate to the mills themselves but we do have some wonderful images of the local area.

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Cromford, taken from the Bridge. Watercolour by William Day, 1789.

 

Cromford has been attracting visitors since the 1700s, when artists came to paint the landscape and tourists came to admire the industrial innovations taking place at the mills. The images in the museum collection span the period from then until the 20th century, with the landscape reproduced in paintings, drawings, engravings and photographs.

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Engraving, published by Rock and Co, 1852

This is also a revival of a project that first took place in Dovedale in 2010 as part of the Derbyshire Literature Festival. This time round, we found 16 images of Cromford to reproduce and they have been hung along the short section of the canal from Cromford Wharf to Leawood Pumphouse, a route which is easily accessible and much used by local residents, day visitors and tourists.

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Pictures in the Landscape: Cromford, 22-30 October 2016

We hope everyone will enjoy seeing some historic views of Cromford along the canal during Discovery Days – and, if they haven’t been before, take the opportunity to visit Cromford Mills and High Peak Junction at either end to make it a real day of discovery.

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery would like to thank our friends at Derbyshire Countryside Service, the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and Cromford Mills for their help with all our Discovery Days events.

All things weird and wonderful

Last weekend we changed some displays in the project space so we could show off some of the fantastic items from the Randolph Douglas collection. This was acquired by Derbyshire County Council in 1984 with help from the PRISM (preservation of industrial and scientific material) fund. The scheme is administered by Arts Council England to encourage collecting and conserving items that tell the story of the development of science, technology, industry and related fields.

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The new display in the project space at Buxton Museum

Randolph Douglas has already been written about by my colleague Ben Jones in a previous blog here, and we know from questions we are asked that he is a popular subject with our visitors. He’s particularly well-known among magicians and also for the museum he ran in Castleton, called the House of Wonders.

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Randolph Douglas took the stage name Randini. Here he is on a postcard signed Jan 1914.

 

Douglas was born in 1895 at Greenhill in north-east Derbyshire, the son of a silversmith. He was fascinated by Houdini from a young age, purchasing locks and a straitjacket as a young boy, and meeting the escapologist when he was still a teenager. Their friendship quickly evolved beyond that of star and fan into mutual admiration. Douglas even inspired Houdini’s famous upside-down escape from a straitjacket during one of the escapologists visits to the Douglas family home at Endcliffe in Sheffield.

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Douglas and Houdini outside the Empire Theatre in Sheffield, 1920

 

After being discharged from the army on medical grounds in 1916, Douglas used his experience as a steelworker and amateur locksmith to focus on making models. He also amassed a large collection of ethnographic and geological specimens, locks and chains, and local curiosities. He and his wife Hetty moved to the village of Castleton and turned half of their house into a museum to display his collection. The House of Wonders opened at Easter 1926 and visitors paid a small charge to be shown around by torchlight. After Douglas died in 1956, Hetty continued to run the museum until her death in 1978.

A House of Wonders

Poster advertising the House of Wonders c.1930

On display this summer you can see items including handaxes from the Pacific islands, a case of patented locks and keys from the 19th century, beautifully decorated Chinese card markers and water pipes, a copy of the Lord’s Prayer small enough to pass through the eye of a needle, a smuggler’s dictionary with a secret cavity and a Saxon spearhead found at Matlock. Truly wonder-full!

 

May these waters never cease to flow

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

This week Buxton celebrates the well dressing festival, which began in 1840 to thank the Duke of Devonshire for piping a supply of fresh water to a well on the Market Place. Apart from a break between 1912 and 1925, the event has been held annually.

W 199 front Celebrations on the Crescent in 1864, the first year that St Ann’s Well was decorated.

Since Thursday volunteers have been busy creating the dressings inside St John’s Church and this morning the results will have been installed at the three wells around the town ready to be blessed this afternoon.

PC 286 front The blessing of Higher Buxton Well in 1910.

The blessing of the wells starts with a service at St Anne’s Church on Bath Road followed by a procession that marches to each of the three wells in turn for a short blessing at each one. Afterwards the new well dressing Queen is crowned in a ceremony at St John’s Church. Next Saturday she will lead the annual carnival…

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Portraits of a lady

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

This week I was planning to write about some of the pictures of Martha Norton that I’ve recently discovered in the museum collection. However, I see now that she has been a popular subject for my colleagues in previous years – you can read what they said about her on this blog here and on our Enlightenment blog here.

As an attendant, or well woman, at St Ann’s Well, Martha must have been a familiar sight for residents of and visitors to Buxton during the fifty or so years that she worked there. She must have become something of a local celebrity as otherwise it would be unusual for her to have had her portrait made.

Like spas, sea bathing also became fashionable in the late 1700s/early 1800s and another favourite Martha of mine is Martha Gunn. This much loved ‘dipper’ from Brighton was apparently friendly with the Prince…

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Images of a winter wonderland

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

With the shortest day of the year upon us, this seems like a timely moment to share some wonderful winter images from the photographic archive at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

DERSB 58941 Newspaper delivery man on Fairfield Common, Buxton 1947 (J D Meddins)

These photographs are from the Board Collection. James Robert Board was born in Lancashire and later lived in Sheffield, where he may have first trained as a photographer. He was in Derby by 1922 and operating a photographic studio at 9 Cavendish Circus in Buxton from 1926 until the 1970s. His step-son John Meddins was also a photographer, whose work is well represented in the collection.

DERSB 57607 Snow ploughing on High Street, Buxton 1928 (J R Board)

Picture the Past has examples of Board and Meddins work from all over Derbyshire, which are available for purchase in a variety of formats.

Wherever you are in the world, we send you warm wishes for a…

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Wonderful Wiltshire

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Although I firmly believe that Derbyshire is the finest county in England, I also believe that inspiration can come from anywhere. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Wiltshire, attending the annual Association of Heritage Interpretation conference and visiting several sites that have recently re-displayed their archaeology collections. This has particular relevance for those of us working on the Collections in the Landscape project at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, and I was keen to discover what these places had done.

Stonehenge Stonehenge

My trip began at Salisbury Museum, which opened its new Wessex Gallery last year. Project curator Jane Ellis-Schon showed me around the displays and talked me through how they had been developed with input from visitors and local groups, specialists and contractors. I particularly like the way the gallery works back in time from medieval Old Sarum to the earliest evidence of human occupation in…

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