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!

dinosaur-cartoon

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.

dersb-57432-b

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.

pop-up-pav-gardens-dec-16-2

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.

pop-up-pav-gardens

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….

pop-up-pav-gardens-dec-16-4

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!

Advertisements

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.

Douglas display
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.

randini postcard  4

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.

Houdini postcard 4

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!