8 Things we Learnt from our Pop up Museum

Whilst Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is closed for refurbishment, the staff have taken the opportunity to do something unusual. Equipped with a rather swanky gazebo and an assortment of artefacts, we have braved the single-figure temperatures and taken our “pop-up museum” out into the landscape. You may have seen us around. Our aim is to tell people a bit about the history of the Peak District and the Collections in the Landscape project. We try to draw attention to the fact that this part of the world was inhabited by brachiopods, mastodons and Romans and how its story can be told through objects. The education worked both ways and we actually learnt a few things ourselves:

Plesiosaurs are reptiles, not dinosaurs

The Peak District was not a land mass at the time of the dinosaurs but there is a piece of fossilised Plesiosaur from Dorset in Buxton Museum’s collection. However, as one clever young man was quick to point out, although these creatures flourished during the Jurassic era, they are classified as reptilian. We knew that – honest!


There were underground toilets on Buxton Market Place

Many people are interested in how the landscape has changed within their own lifetime. When we popped-up at the Buxton market, we exhibited a few old photographs and residents were reminded of the subterranean water closet that can be seen in this 1929 photograph by J.R. Board. More conveniences were situated at the bottom of The Slopes. Apparently, they were both filled in and tarmacked over in the 1970s.


Collections Assistant Laura Waters made a couple of observations whilst running the pop-up museum:

Keep it real

I noticed pretty quickly that people weren’t interested in replicas – so when I went with Gordon to Dovedale in half term and I had the replica coins, as soon as people realised they weren’t real they weren’t bothered about them at all: they only wanted to see and handle real stuff.

Look with your fingers

Also people really love just being able to touch things – so parents will come up telling their kids ‘do not touch anything’ or adults will come up really sheepishly assuming you can only look at things and then be amazed to discover that you can handle it all. It’s great to see how happy it makes people being able to actually get hands on with historic objects which isn’t something you get to do very often.


Events Coordinator Gordon MacLellan, aka Creeping Toad also had some revelations:

Any excuse to talk but we need to listen

Objects are good starting points, but people want to talk as much as listen to us, so we need to be ready to listen to their stories of things found, treasures lost and wonders to be discovered

Connections to immediate environment

Our handling collection largely comes from the Peak District and it helps a lot to have a good sense of just where objects have come from and to be able to talk about those sites. But where objects have come from this immediate location that generates even more reaction; or again being able to talk about artefacts found here is really good for getting people talking and looking beyond the walls of our pop-up museum; being specific helps.


Have something to do: Mix standing and chatting with an activity

We have drawn huge pictures on long rolls of paper, made boxes to keep personal treasures in, given out clipboards and invited people to go drawings; keep everything active -not everyone will participate but the opportunity is valued

Enjoy the opportunity

Relax, let go of worries about other work not being done and just enjoy meeting people and sharing these fascinating artefacts….


Keep an eye on our website for more events. If you spot our pop-up museum when you’re out and about, come and say hello and tell us something we don’t know!

Visit to British Geological Survey

On 29th July myself, my colleague Ben and one of our Volunteers Brian visited the British Geological Survey (BGS) to take a few of our fossils specimens for photography and 3D scanning. BGS are coming to the end of a digitisation project called GB3D type fossils, run by Simon Harris and Dr. Michela Contessi and funded by JISC, which has been 3D scanning all the type fossils in museums in the UK. The data will soon be freely available on their website and the results are quite impressive. If you have the equipment the 3D scanned fossils can also then be downloaded and printed on a 3D printer.

The 3D scanner in action

The 3D scanner in action

One of our type fossils being photographed at BGS by Simon Harris

One of our type fossils being photographed at BGS by Simon Harris

Our specimens were particularly small so only one item, a brachiopod, was big enough to be scanned. The other two fossils, holotype and paratype trilobites, were photographed on both sides and the labels of the items were also photographed as a record. It was also a great opportunity for us to learn some tips to improve our own photography, for instance objects should be lit from the top left when photographing.  

BGS retain borehole cores from all over the UK in their massive stores

BGS retain borehole cores from all over the UK in their massive stores

The Victorian cases in the BGS museum stores

The Victorian cases in the BGS museum stores

Whilst there we were also lucky enough to be shown around their museum collections, library and stores by Simon Harris, who will soon be the collections conservator at BGS. We were surprised by the size of their stores – 28,000 trays housing over 3 million specimens, and that isn’t including all the borehole samples they retain! The type, figured and cited collection alone is around a quarter of a million specimens. The museum collections are still kept in wonderful Victorian wooden cases and we were interested to find that they hold several fossils collected by one of the main contributors to Buxton Museum & Art Gallery’s collections, J. W. Jackson.

Specimens collected by J.W. Jackson from Mam Tor, Castleton, Derbyshire

Specimens collected by J.W. Jackson from Mam Tor, Castleton, Derbyshire

As part of the GB3D Type fossil project, later this month there will be a treasure hunt for 3D-printed fossils created from the 3D scans. A printed fossil will be hidden in some of the museums that have taken part in the project and the BGS are inviting visitors to search for the 3D prints and enter the treasure hunt! The treasure hunt will run between 22nd August and 12th September. We will select five winners from the entries at our museum and those winners will get a VIP tour of Buxton Museum & Art Gallery. The winners will also be entered into the grand prize for a chance to win a tablet preloaded with 3D fossils. Details of how to take part will and what to look for will be updated shortly.