A Walk Around Fairfield

Buxton is a town where every road or street is paved with history. On the northern edge of Buxton, the district of Fairfield has its own vibrant past. Until 1894, it was a separate town; some die-hard natives maintain that it still is. Admittedly, Fairfield does seem to retain its own unique character. Using some fascinating items from the collections of Buxton Museum, I hope you will join me on a stroll.

Walking underneath the viaduct at the end of Spring Gardens, following the A6 in a northerly direction, we ascend the gentle rise into the borough of Fairfield. As this painting by Tony Beresford testifies, the hill offers an impressive view of the town centre.

Building Buxton by Tony Beresford oil 2005

Building Buxton by Tony Beresford oil 2005

Even as far back as 1839, artists were inspired by the view. This watercolour by E. Drennan depicts Buxton as a much smaller town. It makes it easier to believe that Buxton and Fairfield were once two different places, separated by a tract of green land.

View of Buxton from Fairfield 1839 by E. Drennan watercolour

View of Buxton from Fairfield 1839 by E. Drennan watercolour

Fairfield Road out of Buxton is usually busy with traffic. This photograph from the 1920s is a glimpse of an era with fewer automobiles. Did Fairfield have its own procession or is this part of the Buxton carnival that takes place each July?

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At the top of the road, the rather resplendent sight of St. Peter’s Church is waiting to greet you. Dating back to 1839, the church is built on the site of a much older version. This photograph from the Board collection was taken in 1932 but the view is much the same. The churchyard is the final resting place of Dr J.W. Jackson (1880-1978) whose work and collections were fundamental to establishing a museum in Buxton.

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Across from the church is a green spot called Fairfield Common. Nowadays, there is a golf course but can you believe that it was once a race course? In June in the 1800s, this would have been the centre of life in Fairfield; drawing a crowd that had no radios, televisions, computers, phones or any of the modern luxuries of life that we take for granted today. Infact, this oil painting by H. Kingsley, dated 1825, portrays a Fairfield that is barely recognisable.

Fairfield Race Course by H. Kingsley 1825 oil

Fairfield Race Course by H. Kingsley 1825 oil

J.D. Meddins, son-in-law of famous local photographer J.R. Board must have gone to some length to get this shot of Italian and German prisoners of war clearing the snow from Fairfield Common in 1947. Buxton is famous for its challenging micro-climate and anyone who has lived in the town will probably have their own photos to prove it, Meddins being no exception.

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Meandering away from the main drag, we venture into a vast labyrinth-like housing estate with a tiny commercial centre which residents call the top shops. Meddins again captures a wonderful shot of the shops in 1958, not long after they were built when they must have seemed very bold and modern.

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One of the most intriguing features of Fairfield is also one of its most unknown. You could be forgiven for missing the Bronze Age burial mound of Fairfield Low; despite occupying the highest point in the district it is encircled by a crown of trees on private farm land. Some locals are aware of its existence but know it as Skeleton Wood or Skellybob Wood (skellybob is a great local word!).

Photograph by Jen Francis

Photograph by Jen Francis

Local antiquarian Micah Salt excavated Fairfield Low in 1895 and discovered human remains, noting that the sight had been previously disturbed, probably by lime burners. This skull now sits on the desk in Buxton Museum’s Boyd Dawkins study. It belonged to a man who died in middle age. Is Micah Salt’s discovery the culprit for the location’s eerie nickname?

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There is a great deal more history to be found in Fairfield. Local writer David Owen has written several excellent books about the area that offer an opportunity to delve deeper. The basement of Scrivener’s bookshop on Buxton’s High Street has its own Micah Salt Museum if you want to know more about this interesting local character. Why not combine it with a visit to Buxton Museum and make it a day out?

Please note that the images used in the post are protected by copyright laws and if you wish to use any of them, please drop us a line at buxton.museum@derbyshire.gov.uk

Creswell Crags

Jess and I visited Creswell Crags this month to brush up on our museum documentation skills. The refresher course was courtesy of The East Midlands Museum Service so thanks to them for investing in the development of the CITL team.

Church Hole Cave, Creswell Crags, J.W. Jackson collection

Church Hole Cave, Creswell Crags, J.W. Jackson collection

Creswell Crags is one of the most important archaeological sites in Britain and has long been on my list of things to see. Unfortunately, it was the 12th of February, a day when the country faced a variety of adverse weather conditions. Jess and I planned a look around the limestone gorge and caves that were occupied by humans as far back as the last ice age. However, the weather resembled that of the last ice age a little too much and we bottled out. I did get chance to look around their impressive new museum and I hope to return. You can plan your own visit here.

Pin Hole Cave, Creswell Crags, J.W. Jackson collection

Pin Hole Cave, Creswell Crags, J.W. Jackson collection

Buxton Museum is linked to Creswell Crags: Sir William Boyd Dawkins, the archaeologist and geologist who opened Buxton Museum was a key figure in the early excavations of the caves in 1875. His student and friend, Dr John Wilfriid Jackson, participated in later digs in 1923 and took responsibility for publishing many of the remarkable finds including animal remains and tools and jewellery used by nomadic humans between 55,000 and 10,000 years ago. This image of a mammoth’s milk teeth is from Jackson’s collection of lantern slides. It amuses me to learn that such a large and fearsome creature had milk teeth but it stands to reason when you think about it; they are mammals after all.

Mammoth milk molars, Creswell Crags, J.W. Jackson

Mammoth milk molars, Creswell Crags, J.W. Jackson

Back in Buxton, professional photographer Nick Lockett and his brother Steve have returned to provide us with more high-quality images of the collections. We had to figure out how to open more antiquated display cases, remove the objects, transport them to the photographer and put them back again. This process can be a slightly nerve-wracking challenge but I’m pleased to say that the objects remain intact! I wouldn’t be worth my salt as a collections assistant if I wasn’t careful. Needless to say, I would be happy if I never had to move a three foot-tall Ashford Black Marble urn again and Nick equally happy not having to take a shot (ABM is notoriously difficult to photograph). Here’s a picture of me taking credit for the great photography.

Rejected from Beegees tribute band but nonetheless happy

Rejected from Beegees tribute band but nonetheless happy

If you want to help us develop our technology and the future of the museum, you can volunteer to test our brand new apps https://collectionsinthelandscape.wordpress.com/buxton-projects-information/

Dovedale, Revisited

Dovedale, Revisited

On a dark, wintery day in November, Anna and I went to Dovedale to try and tackle the problem of what to include in our app. The day reminded us how changeable the Derbyshire landscape can be. In the morning the weather was crisp but cold, I even tweeted about it:

It may be cold but that doesn’t stop us @BuxtonMuseum! Today we go to #Dovedale to think of content for our new app #collectionslandscape

 However, the afternoon soon took a turn for the worse but true to Buxton Museum form we didn’t let that hold us back. Armed with our waterproofs (or not, in Anna’s case) we waded through the flooded path, the nearly submerged stepping stones, and onwards into Dovedale.

The first challenge - navigating the flooded footpath.

The first challenge – navigating the flooded footpath.

The main aim for going to Dovedale was to see how we could link items from our collections with the landscape, and to see what the landscape was like at the points where we have objects. It soon became obvious that we needed to think about this area a little differently. A large amount of our Dovedale collections are either fossils or artwork – how do we tie those in to the landscape in a way that will make it exciting for visitors and families? We decided games and activities would be the most interesting method to use.

Dovedale is traditionally most well-known for its dramatic rock formations. The first rocks we reached were Dovedale castle. One of our colleagues had already suggested renaming the rocks in Dovedale as an activity, so we thought we would give it a go. Anna decided that Dovedale Castle actually looked like a gorilla and chimp sitting together (I couldn’t see it). Next we arrived at the Twelve Apostles. From Lover’s leap these rocks look quite threatening and I didn’t think the ‘Twelve Apostles’ was suitable, perhaps they could be more suitably called ‘The Guardians’ as it looks like they are hiding a big secret. Neither of these areas are well covered by our collection so we moved swiftly on.

Me at Lover's Leap noting down our activity ideas.

Me at Lover’s Leap noting down our activity ideas.

As we descended from Lover’s Leap and made our way to Church Rocks and Reynard’s Cave we were reminded of the tale of Dean Langton, who fell to his death in 1786 whilst cavorting up the hillside with Miss De La Roche. His horse sustained only minor injuries. In full it is a great story and it could work well as audio on our app. Next up were Church Rocks and Tissington Spires. This area was a favourite of artists’ and we have a lot of paintings and prints of here. Could we inspire people to take a photo or make a drawing and share it with us? We would love to see how others view the landscape too, not just 18th Century artists!

Reynard’s Cave is certainly my favourite spot in Dovedale and I have memories of scaling the path up to the cave with ease. Sadly those days are long gone and it is more like a crawl now, but the cave is still a spectacular sight. This is a ‘must –have’ location for our app as Reynard’s Cave is the only site with archaeological remains in Dovedale. We could also get phone signal & 3G here so we can potentially ask more of our app at this point. Anna suggested having a game linking to the archaeology of the cave.

Phone signal! 3G!

Phone signal! 3G!

After battling up stream we arrived at the Straits, a very narrow and overgrown section of the walk. There was such a different feel here that it seemed like we were adventurers. The plant life in this narrow stretch is particularly abundant and you are so close to it – could we have a plant identification activity here? This complements the original purpose of the Dovedale which was to be a nature conservation spot. This ethos is still upheld by the National Trust to this day.

                Pickering Tor and Ilam Rock was our penultimate stop of the day. Here the valley really opens out and you can start to see other areas around Dovedale. This spot was a popular area for activities like fishing and picnicking and with such great views it’s not hard to see why. According to J.W. Jackson, one of Buxton Museum’s main collectors, an old Irish woman used to live in the base of Pickering Tor. The path also splits at this point and offers walkers the chance to cross the river and go up into Hall dale, or continue on to the Dove Holes. We opted for the easier route to Dove Holes.

Me at the Dove Holes.

Me at the Dove Holes.

 The Dove Holes was our final stop. Like a dark set of eyes in the landscape, the caves eyed us suspiciously as we walked closer. Anna and I liked the sense of mystery attached to this spot. We both thought that it would be interesting if there was a story attached to this area, perhaps a sinister tale. We are currently in the process of tracking down stories of the area, however, if you happen to know of any then please get in touch.

At this point we were interrupted by a Tawny Owl telling us it was time to go home. The light was fading fast and we decided the owl was right, it would be a good idea to head back. It was a productive walk and we can only hope that the pilot app is as interesting as our walk through Dovedale. Thanks to Anna for all the photos and for capturing my double chin so nicely. We highlighted a lot of different points in our walk but for our pilot app we will not be using them all. When it is up and running, we would really like to know what works and what doesn’t, as well as if there is anything else you would like to be included. We hope to be trailing the Dovedale part of our app in February half-term and will be looking for volunteers – sign up to our blog or follow us on Facebook and Twitter to here all the latest on the Collections in the Landscape project.

Please note: we would not recommend walking in low-light levels or poor weather conditions, even on good surfaces, as it is potentially very dangerous and you could easily incur an injury. Both Jess and Anna are experienced walkers, are familiar with the area, and were fully aware of the risks before setting out.

Two familiar faces at Manchester Museum

A fortnight ago the Collections in the Landscape team visited the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) and Manchester Museum. We wanted to see how these museums use interactive and digital technology within their galleries. I expect we’ll be blogging quite a bit about our visit but I thought I’d kick it off by introducing two familiar faces. 

Ancient Worlds gallery at Manchester Museum

Ancient Worlds gallery

Sir William Boyd Dawkins and J. Wilfrid Jackson both take a starring role in Manchester Museum’s Ancient Worlds gallery. The gallery and accompanying app focus on archaeology, inlcuding local artefacts as well as those from Egypt and further afield. It also highlights the archaeologists and collectors who found and donated these objects.

Sir William Boyd Dawkins at Manchester Museum

Sir William Boyd Dawkins at Manchester Museum

Dawkins and Jackson were both curators at Manchester Museum and the Museum holds thousands of their artefacts including the majority of the bone material that Dawkins collected from Creswell Crags in the 1880s. These two cave hunters are of particular interest to us at Buxton Museum, as we hold their personal archives, along with some of their collections. In fact William Boyd Dawkins opened Buxton Museum and Art Gallery in 1928 and our Boyd Dawkins Study Room remains one of our most popular galleries.

William Boyd Dawkins Study Room at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

William Boyd Dawkins Study Room at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

The Ancient Worlds app at Manchester Museum gives further layers of interpretation to the exhibition. Many of the labels included a four digit code which you input into the app, unlocking further information e.g an interactive 3D image of the objects or an audio accompaniment. We thought some of these worked better than others, but overall it was interesting to see how apps can be used in-gallery to supplement more traditional approaches. 

Object label with the 4 digit code to unlock further infomation via the Ancient Worlds App

Object label with the 4 digit code to unlock further infomation via the Ancient Worlds App

A big thanks goes to Brian who took these photos for us after my camera battery died.  Brian has been working for the last four years on  Jackson’s archive at Buxton Museum.  You can find out more about Jackson and his correspondence on our website.

Dovedale: making sense of the collection

Dovedale: making sense of the collection

One of the main challenges we face with Collections in the Landscape is making sense, and making the most, of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery’s collections. This is a particular challenge with Dovedale, one of our trial locations for the project. We are currently working out how to interpret the multi-layered history of the area in a way that is interesting and engaging for visitors.

To begin with we need to consider the area we are dealing with. There is the Dove valley itself, but do we include the offshoots such as Hall Dale, and how far up the valley do we go? J.W. Jackson led a trail that went from Dovedale in a circuit around to the Manifold valley. If we used this template we could also include items held in other museums, including the spectacular Beeston Tor hoard at the British Museum. These are all things we need to consider.

Moonlight at the Straights, Dovedale

Moonlight at the Straights, Dovedale

 In the Enlightenment period Dovedale was a popular site with tourists, travellers and artists, much as it is today. As part of the recently finished project Enlightenment! Derbyshire Setting the Pace in the 18th Century Buxton museum and regional partner sites acquired 6 artworks relating to the area. These acquisitions complement our existing pictures collection which already contains over 35 Dovedale-themed works from different periods.  We also have a collection of books from this period that talk about walks and tales of Derbyshire (including Dovedale) and booklets of tourist prints, plus more that is yet to be catalogued in depth. In addition to these works we have a rich photographic archive, most of which is available on Picture the Past.

Jackson in Dovedale

Jackson in Dovedale

Moving more up-to-date, we also have several boxes of archive material from J.W. Jackson relating to Dovedale. Jackson was heavily involved in the movement to get the Peak district declared as a national park, to do so he focussed on the geological importance of Dovedale which he himself had excavated extensively. These boxes include newspaper cuttings, pamphlets for talks given by Jackson and photographs, but again we need to record this material in depth.

A sample of Jackson's collection, stored in pill boxes

A sample of Jackson’s collection, stored in pill boxes

Interpreting Jackson’s collection is the biggest challenge we face. In total there are 480 records of fossils from the area, but within each record there is anything from 1 – 80 specimens, sometimes even more! These were excavated from various sites along the Dove valley and certainly offer an insight into the biodiversity of the area during the Lower Carboniferous period. However, how do we make this extensive collection accessible? We will be meeting soon with the National Trust to discuss our ideas for the project and learn about their current work too. One of their volunteers, Mike Allen, has been cataloguing the find sites in Dovedale and we are very interested in seeing his work.

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.