Sir Richard Arkwright on the Move

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has loaned its portrait of Sir Richard Arkwright to Cromford Mills Visitor Gateway for five years.

Moving the likeness of the father of the industrial revolution is no minor feat. They don’t make them like they used to; the gilded frame is made from solid wood. A team of six people was needed to shift this 2.4 x 1.5m oil painting (and one to photograph them doing it).

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Large in both stature and portrayal, Arkwight has returned to Cromford, where he established one of his revolutionary water-powered cotton mills in 1771. Not to be confused with Joseph Wright’s painting, this version is attributed to John Holland in around 1790. Gifted to Buxton Museum in 2010 by English Sewing Thread Ltd. in Belper, Derbyshire, the portrait has been an interesting challenge to store and display.

Freed from the shadows of Buxton Museum’s stores, visitors to Cromford will now be able to look upon the imposing figure of Arkwright. It is clear that the man did not want us to forget him or his contribution to the modern world. He needn’t have worried. The Derwent Valley and its mills were declared a World Heritage site in 2001 by UNESCO so they can provide a tangible sense of how the UK once led the world in science and industry.

Arkwright 2 copy

For more information about how Buxton Museum and other Derbyshire museums have developed their collections from the Age of Enlightenment, visit our project blog.

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End of an Era – Stripping out the Wonders of the Peak

“You’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelette”

That’s how the old saying goes, but still I must admit to having mixed feelings as I watch the strip out of the old Wonders of the Peak gallery. On one hand it’s an incredibly exciting time as the fake walls and ceilings are removed – but it’s still sad to see the old displays being dismantled.

I won’t go over old ground in explaining how and why we’ve decided to make these changes – they’ve already been summed in some of our previous posts.

https://collectionsinthelandscape.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/design-ideas-for-the-new-gallery/

https://collectionsinthelandscape.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/wonders-of-the-peak-gallery/

The low, winding tunnels of the old gallery are actually constructed within two large rooms. More and more of the original space is being opened up each and every day. We’ve been keeping a photo diary of the progress. My intention is to publish a series of slideshows at the end of the project – to show the changes that have taken place from certain viewpoints.

Just for you, here is a sneak peek of the story so far.

Recent visitors to the museum will have discovered the Buxton Bear has moved to the Project Space. Here’s a reminder of where he used to be, and what it looks like now. The stalagmites and stalactites have also been removed. Not many people realise they were real cave formations.

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These next images show the old Georgian Room, and what you can see from the same viewpoint today.

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The Roman Displays were perhaps some of the most iconic in the old gallery. Here’s a view of the roman altars looking towards the fire exit.

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And above it all, hidden for over 25 years, THIS ceiling.

THAT ceiling

Visit us in the Project Space to find out more about the new gallery design or our exciting digital plans. The new gallery, Wonders of the Peak: A Journey through Time and Place, is currently scheduled for a ‘soft opening’ in April 2017, so make a note in next year’s diary and come along to see the exhibits!

 

 

What Ewe Looking At?

Gazing down upon the Boyd Dawkins study at Buxton Museum with glassy-eyed indifference are two sheep heads.  You can be forgiven for missing them; the room is crammed with a bewildering variety of objects and the sheep heads are mounted high on the wall. Despite their inconspicuous position, the two dismembered ewes are actually local heroes.

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Sheep are not an uncommon sight in the Peak District. The national park has an association with sheep farming that dates back to medieval times. These two specimens earned distinction in 1830 when they were sold by their owner in Hope Valley to a farmer in Kent. It seems that they did not care a great deal for their new surroundings and decided to walk back to Derbyshire. Sheep are not well known for their decision-making skills but this couple were from a hardy breed called Penistone Ewes, bred to survive on the bleak moors of the Peak. Perhaps it was a call to their natural environment that spurred their return? We can only speculate.

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As a reward for their loyalty, the audacious duo were allowed to live the rest of their natural lives back home where they enjoyed a degree of fame. When the sheep died, their owner had their heads mounted and displayed for many years in Hope parish church and then, of course, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

Next time you are passing, perhaps you can spare a few minutes to pop in and ponder their miraculous journey? Their tale is an obscure local legend. Infact, despite working at the museum for nearly twenty years, I can only recall two visitors who asked about the sheep that decided to walk from Kent to Derbyshire. Hopefully, this blog will permit them a little more recognition.

Thanks to the staff at the Derbyshire Record Office for their assistance.

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My Kingdom for a Tap Washer ?

Lead mining was a key industry in Derbyshire. The Romans were the first to mine and export lead, on an industrial scale, from Derbyshire and there are remnants of Roman lead mines scattered throughout the district at places such as Carsington and Wirksworth. The physical mining of the lead ore (raw material also known as Galena or Lead Sulphide) was not done by the Romans but was undertaken by slaves and criminals convicted to a life in the mines by the Roman Justices. The only up side of such a life sentence was the fact that the toxic lead dust, poisonous and explosive methane gas trapped in the surrounding rock, falling rocks, oxygen deprived, suffocating mine works, and back breaking work, meant that your life was likely to last just a few months.

Hadrian Pig of Lead

Bars of lead known as ‘pigs’ marked as belonging to the Emperor Hadrian  (AD 117 – 138). Each pig measures over half a metre. Discovered at Cromford Moor, near Wirksworth. 1777.

Lead was used by the Romans for many purposes. Perhaps, most importantly, because it could be melted down to produce silver for coins and jewellery. It was also used in the earliest pencils which comprised a lead and tin core; the pencil mark being easily erasable with softened bread.  Other uses were in glass, pottery glaze, writing tablets, weapons, fishing and goods weights, and to make pots, cups, and kitchen utensils.

Lead poisoning destroys the human nervous system, causes hair loss, memory loss, anaemia, constipation, and skin ruptures, among a long list of other toxic ailments, so, it is unusual to find that a very popular use for lead in Roman times, was its use in cosmetics and foodstuffs. White lead was used to create a foundation cream with which to lighten the faces of Roman ladies (and occasionally men). This was often enhanced with the application of red lead, nowadays used in the manufacture of rust-proof paint and batteries, to add a touch of rouge. Lead compounds were also used to make black hair dye and added to wine to enhance colour, flavour, and preservation.

Due to its resistance to acid and alkalies, lead was often used to line water aqueducts and make water pipes, valves, and other plumbing related fixtures.There are many theories as to why the Roman Empire finally came to an end but, perhaps, one of the more curious theories is the one that suggests that the Roman Empire collapsed due to its citizens being poisoned by the water which flowed through the Roman, lead- based, plumbing systems.

 

 

Stone Age Bling

Imagine if a loved one, or friend, picked up a stone and asked you to make from it a piece of jewellery which they could hang around their neck. And, that the only tools available to you to make this would be other similar stones, a selection of animal bones, water, and wood. How would you go about it? How would you shape and smooth the stone? How would you go about creating a hole with which to put the neck lace through without, accidentally, breaking the whole piece?  In an age when the wheel was only just being invented ( believed to be in, either,  Ukraine or Iraq — the jury is still out on that one –) it must have been quite a labour intensive, frustrating, and time consuming task to create what, essentially, is a non essential, luxury item. That person would have to be pretty special!

Neolithic Perforated Stone Pendant. 9 cm x 4 cm

This stone pendant was found at Chrome Hill, Derbyshire and dates back to around 3,500 BC during the late Neolithic Period (Stone Age). The Neolithic period was the age when large stone circles  such as Stonehenge and dolmens like the Bodowyr Dolmen in Wales were first constructed. Although Chrome Hill has no neolithic monuments it is believed to be an important site for both the Neolithic and Bronze age peoples as a possible place of ritual. It is known for its unusual, natural features where the hill resembles a giant, ridge backed, exoskeleton, bulging out of the land beneath the enveloping blanket of the Derbyshire countryside. It is also reported that a remarkable split sunset can be observed at certain angles over Chrome when standing on Chrome’s nearby sister – Parkhouse Hill – during Solstice.

Whether the jewellery piece was the ancient equivalent of a wedding ring or, perhaps, worn by warrior women and men as a battle talisman, or merely used for trade, we can never know. But, like a Rothko painting it confronts us with courage and boldness while within its simplicity lies a much deeper meaning. A meaning that we may never fully grasp in our modern society.

Going Underground

There’s only so much we can do for the project from behind a desk. We also need put on our walking boots and get into the landscapes that we want to tie closer with the collections. Last week I was lucky enough to join partners from National Trust in a tour of Fox Hole Cave.

The cave is high up the steep sides of High Wheeldon, a dome-shaped hill that dominates the landscape near the border between Derbyshire and Staffordshire, close to the village of Earl Sterndale. The museum holds a significant amount of material from the site, some of which will be described below. I’ve visited the area many times, climbing High Wheeldon as a youngster and staring into the gated entrance, pondering what secrets might lie inside. But this would be the first time I ever had the chance to venture into its depths.

Getting ready - High Wheeldon in the background

Getting ready – High Wheeldon in the background

Our guide, Paul, handed us our hardhats and lamps before leading us up the steep slopes of High Wheeldon. The cave entrance is tucked away and easy to miss. The site was rediscovered in 1928 when a dog disappeared down what appeared to be a fox hole. A boy, crawling in pursuit, returned clutching a bear skull and news that the ‘fox hole’ was in fact a cave. Early excavations followed, uncovering the bones of a brown bear, Neolithic pottery, stone tools and a bronze wire armlet identified as Roman.

Venturing into the dark...

Venturing into the dark…

We carefully lowered ourselves through the unlocked gate into the entrance chamber. We followed the passage into the First Chamber. Paul described the layout of the cave and pointed out clues to its formation. The entrance passage was a distinctive keyhole shape, indicating it had been formed by a high pressure stream of water creating a tube in the rock. Later, as the flow lessened, it carved a trough in the base of the tube.

It was in the entrance of the cave, and the passage leading to the Main Chamber, that most evidence for human activity had been discovered. Evidence indicates the cave was used in phases, from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Romano-British period, perhaps becoming lost then rediscovered many times. Highlights include worked antler points, dated to the Late Upper Palaeolithic, and pottery sherds and hearths associated with the Beaker culture.

Worked stone and antler from Fox Hole Cave, now on display at Buxton

Worked stone and antler from Fox Hole Cave, now on display at Buxton

I could rattle on about discoveries at Fox Hole for some time, and there’s plenty more to discuss. If you’d like to know more I’d recommend checking out the Derbyshire HER record. It’s also worth keeping your eye on the Buxton Museum website, where we’ll soon be launching an online catalogue of our collections, including objects from the cave.

A lot of material has been excavated from the entrance chambers and passages. A line of carved dots on the wall indicated the original level before excavations began in the late 1950s. This wouldn’t be first the ‘archaeology of archaeology’ we encountered.

Dots carved to mark the original height of cave deposits

Dots carved to mark the original height of cave deposits

Venturing into the Main Chamber we imagined how prehistoric cavers may have experienced the space, turning off our torches and lighting a solitary candle. The gentle orange light transformed the space, deepening the shadows but providing a more diffuse light than the harsh, directional glare of our head torches. How would only ever experiencing a cave by firelight affect your perception of the space?

Here we also found more ‘archaeology of archaeology’, the remains of a cable system used by the Peakland Archaeological Society to haul sediments to the entrance for sorting.

Studying the remains of the cable haulage system

Studying the remains of the cable haulage system

Next the cave offered us into two routes. First we pressed straight ahead to the end of the cave. The passage grew lower and tighter as we progressed and we soon ended up on all fours, crouched in a tiny space as far as any sensible human being could go. Amazingly, the mud and stone in which we were sitting was littered with tiny bone fragments from small mammals and amphibians. I learnt this is often referred to as ‘Frog Earth’.

Retracing our steps to the Main Chamber we turned left and followed the passage to Bear Chamber, so called because of the bone material recovered here in the past. Even recent tours had spotted bear remains, so we were all keeping our eyes peeled for a bear skull peeking through the mud. No luck this time though. In fact the only thing we found was a long abandoned trowel, ‘archaeology of archaeology’ again!

Passing around a bear tooth in Bear Chamber

Passing around a bear tooth in Bear Chamber

The bone material from Fox Hole far outweighs the artefact count. Some of the animal remains recovered are particularly ancient and include lion, horse and reindeer, as well bear. None of these were still roaming wild in Britain last I checked.

After a thoroughly enjoyable and informative scramble underground I didn’t really think the afternoon could get any better. Then we emerged to this view:

No words required...

No words required…

Although the cave is usually locked to protect it’s important archaeological value, National Trust can arrange access to the site and run a number of public tours throughout the year. You can find out more by calling the White Peak Estate Office on 01335 350503 or find out more on the National Trust White Peak website http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/white-peak/.

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Blue John – New Partnerships

In this post Derbyshire Museums Manager, Ros Westwood, introduces a new partnership with Treak Cliff Cavern and Buxton Artclubs Artbox, supporting Made in Derbyshire.

In one of my earliest conversations with my mother-in-law she told me how much she loved Blue John, the unique blue, purple, yellow and white stone from just two mines above Castleton in the Hope Valley.  So she is very envious that I look after the Buxton Museum collection. The ornaments which bring ‘oohs!’ and ‘aahs!’ from visitors, include the silver mounted milk pail – surely a sugar bowl? –  dated 1803, and the narrow window attributed to John Tym from the middle of the 19th century, as well as unworked specimens, some huge boulders and many small hand specimens (not all of which are pretty!)

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Silver-mounted ‘milk pail’, made from Blue John, dated 1803

So if anything is ‘Made in Derbyshire’ it must be Blue John. Formed within the limestone, Blue John is a fluorite. It is not very hard (only 4 on Moh’s Scale of hardness).  The cubic crystals grow in veins through which the distinctive purple and blue layers alternate with white and yellow, providing zig- zag stripes of various intensities. This colour combination makes it attractive for ornaments and jewellery despite being quite a fragile material. There are many ideas of how the colour comes into the stone, whether this is impurities within the fluid, the introduction of hydrocarbons or the occurrence of radioactivity. None really satisfy the mineralogists, yet!

A piece of unworked Blue John from the museum collections

A piece of unworked Blue John from the museum collections

Recently, the museum was offered the opportunity to commission an artwork as part of the Made in Derbyshire campaign. What better suggestion then to explore a commission of worked Blue John to be included in the museum’s new displays.  I invited Vicky Harrison of Treak Cliff Cavern with Gary Ridley and Jack Mosley to discuss the possibilities while looking at the museum’s collection, particularly the unworked Blue John, and then artist Caroline Chouler -Tissier and I went over to Treak Cliff Cavern. It was one of those amazing autumn days and the view as we walked up to the cavern of the Hope Valley was spectacular, in the warm October sunshine.

The view from Treak Cliff Cavern

The view from Treak Cliff Cavern

The view from the workshop was equally captivating, but soon we were deeply interested in learning how Blue John is worked, taking a friable material and making it into artefacts as thin as glass.

In the workshop

In the workshop

Caroline and I were taken through the Cavern, and chanced to see the amazing Witch that flies through it as well as the newly discovered Ridley vein of Blue John, named for Gary Ridley. Meanwhile we discussed our ideas and plans.

To celebrate several events – Made in Derbyshire; Collections in the Landscape and even as an advance 125th birthday present for Buxton Museum (in 2018), the museum is commissioning two exciting new pieces of worked Blue John for the collections.  Importantly, much of the work will be made by people under 25, a chance to learn about geology, engineering, art, and something unique to Derbyshire, all at one time.

Jack has been asked to turn a new chalice for the museum, made from the Ridley vein.  Jack has been working Blue John for three years, and this exciting commission will mean his work will be in the museum collections for all to see. We hope to film him making of it.

Jack at work

Jack at work

Meanwhile we will work with members of Buxton Artbox Artclubs to make the first Blue John window for over 100 years, following in the creative imagination of John Tym.  The Artbox members will visit the cavern and help in the workshop to select material for slicing and polishing. Supported by their artist-in-residence, Caroline, they will suggest ideas of what the finished window may look like. Here at the museum we will look in the vaults at some of the specimens which outwardly look very dull which may find a new life in the window

This will be an exciting creative programme with lively input from many young people. Its early days yet, and everyone is very excited to get things on their way. We will keep you updated through the Collections in the Landscape blog as the work takes shape.  We may need your help to wet-and-dry the Blue John slices – Vicky tells us its takes a long time, but it could be good fun!