Over the last few weeks, I have been photographing and scanning objects from all corners of BMAG’s collection. It has been a good opportunity to develop my skills and work off those mince pies. These seldom seen photographs of Randolph Douglas are displayed in our White Peak Dark Peak exhibition (on until Saturday 22 February). They show Randolph, his wife Hettie, Jim Puttrell and other chums exploring caves in Derbyshire in the early 1900s.
I went on to scan more images from the more obscure recesses of the Douglas collection. You could say that the entire Douglas collection is obscure. Sheffield-born Randolph Douglas (1895-1956) created and ran his own museum, the House of Wonders in Castleton, Derbyshire from the 1920s to the 1970s. The collection was purchased by the county council in 1984 with support of the PRISM fund. It contains many curious objects from around the world.
As a teenager he performed as an amateur escapologist under the stage name Randini. Douglas was an admirer of the famous escapologist Harry Houdini (1874-1926) who he met in 1913 in Sheffield. The men became friends and regularly corresponded. Douglas helped Houdini devise one of his most famous escapes – from a straitjacket while hung upside down.
Some of Douglas’ sketches have been exhibited at the museum for the first time in many years and they offer rather a candid view of his magical creativity. They attracted some attention from my colleagues whilst I was scanning them. On reflection, I suppose depictions of men being chained up and tortured on my pc screen did look a little strange!
As a fan of anything weird, the Douglas collection is my favourite. Although we take every opportunity to display parts of it as often as possible, I champion the resurrection of The House of Wonders at BMAG. However, the exhibits are diverse and each has its own care and conservation concerns so we’ll have to see what happens.