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.

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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.

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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.  

 

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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.

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.

Done the app? Well, now see the objects!

Cabinet in the foyerWe’ve recently reclaimed a small area of the Museum foyer to display some of our lovely Buxton objects. Many of these feature in our Buxton Waters app, but we’ve also managed to squeeze in some additional objects too.

Well Dressing programmesBuxton Crescent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On display there are souvenir programmes for the Well Dressing Festivals, prints and ceramics, a miniature of Martha Norton and an array of Buxton Water bottles.

We’ve also put some of our favourite Buxton pictures up, including David Russell’s Exterior of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery and a watercolour of the Thermal Baths from c. 1850s.

Exterior of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery (DERSB 2006.33)

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.

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.

The Limestone Way

A guest post by Ros Westwood.

As the mid-winter holidays approach I feel even closer to this landscape. Yesterday I walked part of the Limestone Way. The sky was icy blue and the landscape tones of grey and drab green.  The sheep seemed huge – their fleeces thick for the promised winter weather.

I tried to imagine the generations of people who have trod that route. It has been a public right of way for a long time, and while not busy at this time of the year, in the summer it does attract walking parties. This part of the walk is a carpet of orchids in May and small blue butterflies sip the nectar from the thyme flowers. But stepping back from our contemporaries, past the lead miners, the stone wall builders, the farmers – well, you cannot step past the farmers, for they have grazed their herds here since the final removal of the Peak Forest.

'The Collecting Yard' - Roger Allan

‘The Collecting Yard’ – Roger Allan

Remove these signs of the industrial past and the landscape changes quite dramatically, to a landscape our medieval forebears may have recognised.

And yet, there are small events that remain constant. I watched a kestrel hovering on the air – they are also called windhovers – its outstretched wings catching in the winter sunlight. The rich ochre colour of fungi made fairy staircases along the trunks of dying trees, contrasting with the smooth grey tones of the dead wood. It was very quiet – hardly the sound of a crow. But further up the hill, a murmuration of starlings swept over my head with a great clatter, the flock seemingly rolling from one grassy meadow to another.

Kestrel at Kinder

‘Kestrel at Kinder’ – Brian Nolan

Quietness out of doors, but indoors, winter always was time for memory, for story telling in the long dark evenings. The project team has been enjoying collecting the memories of some of Buxton’s residents for one of the forthcoming digital projects, and we look forward to sharing more about their experiences of living in the town over through the 20th century. Photographs, paintings, handbills all provide information, but there is nothing like the voices of the past to provide the sense of ‘I was there…’

Such memories are precious, and need to be set down, before it is too late a thought to remember as you gather with the generations of your family. We are fortunate to have this first hand record, embellished and shaped through each person’s own experience. Without it, we look on the artefacts from the past and need the historians and archaeologists to piece together the story.

Capturing the memories of Buxton residents earlier this month.

Capturing the memories of Buxton residents earlier this month.

If the winter weather denies you that post-Christmas walk, you may like to come to the warmth of the museum and enjoy the fresh air in White Peak Dark Peak, our exhibition introducing some of the themes for Collections in the Landscape. We are asking visitors what does the Derbyshire landscape mean to them. Someone has drawn a rolling hill, on each side the grey of the cities and above the Peak bright sunshine.  I cannot promise you that the sun will always shine, but the landscape continues to harbour the ghosts and voices of generations, story tellers and watchers of the landscape, together.

Our best wishes for Christmas and for 2014.