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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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….

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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!

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Visions of the Past

I’m pleased to introduce David Carmichael, one of the project’s new Collection Assistants. Here, Dave takes a look at the project through fresh eyes, and reminds us all why we’re undertaking Collections in the Landscape…

It was with feelings of trepidation and excitement that I entered the green doors of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery to begin my first day of work as Collection Assistant. Trepidation, because I was aware of the mammoth task (forgive the pun!) which lay ahead of us in transforming the museum upper gallery into a permanent exhibition fit for a 21st century audience and, perhaps, beyond. Excitement, because the Buxton Museum Collection is a vast melting pot of archaeology, culture, art, history, geology, biology, the ‘just plain weird’ and plenty of, as yet, undiscovered facts and revelations, with which I was keen to get to grips.

There is something for everyone in this amazing collection: from prehistoric mammoth jawbones and Peak District hill-tribe weapons of war, to the living biology of the landscape, cocooned in the brachiopods, that inhabited the sea which covered the Peak District millions upon millions of years ago. Or, if archaeology and history are not your thing, the beautifully rendered artworks of local painters and sculptors, capturing the monumental and immeasurable rawness of the Derbyshire and Peak District landscape are on regular display.

Dave - hard at work already!

Dave – hard at work already!

Collections in the Landscape is the overall name of the project we are undertaking and my first task is to research and identify objects of interest relating to the ancient Iron Age and Roman Fort of Melandra; situated just above Glossop. These objects of interest will, in turn, be used to plan a walking trail to, and around, Melandra, that can be accessed as a mobile phone app or online.  And, so it was that as I opened my first acid-free archive box and carefully delved into its contents; hundreds of uncategorised pieces of Roman Grey-ware pottery sherds, that trepidation turned to exhilaration as I realised that we were on a journey. A journey through history and time that will be realised, but not end, in 2017.  Who could fail to be inspired?

David Carmichael

A Visit to Carsington Water

One of my latest outings for Collections in the Landscape has been to Carsington Water, an area with which we have strong links via our collections. The site is managed by Severn Trent and I was kindly welcomed by Ranger, John Matkin, who gave me a tour of the landscape.

Carsington Visitor Centre was my starting point, as it is for many visitors. From here, you can take a number of walks or bike rides, including the 8 mile route around the reservoir. Photograph by Stephen Jones.

The area to the north of Carsington was an important lead mining centre in Roman times, and it has been suggested that the valley is the site of Lutadarum, the centre of the Roman lead industry in Britain. Two Roman sites were discovered prior to the construction of the reservoir and three excavations recorded and saved artefacts before the flooding of the landscape. The results of these excavations are stored here at the museum.

Objects on display at the museum include pottery, glass and metal work. More materials are preserved in the museum stores and range from ordinary building remains such as tiles and nails to more unusual finds such as a lead phallus, thought to have been displayed as an amulet in the home or on a horse harness.

Some of the Carsington materials currently on diplay at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery.

Some of the Carsington materials currently on display at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery.

During my short tour of Carsington John led me to Stone Island, one of the most popular short walks for visitors of all abilities. The walk gives excellent views of the Carsington Hills (the source of all that lovely Roman lead) and is also the site of a Bronze Age barrow. A digital ‘stop’ at this location would be able to tie-in multiple elements of Carsington’s history.

Next, we drove north to the Sheep wash Car Park. This spot overlooks the area of the valley that saw the principle Roman excavations. Of course, this spot is now firmly underwater but it’s great to stand overlooking the water and picture how it might have looked over 1,500 years ago.

Carsington Water is well served by paths and bridleways and would be perfect for a joined-up trail to be explored on foot or bicycle. The reservoir is also a popular centre for water sports. However, whilst a canoe based trail sounds like great fun, it’s probably the perfect way to lose a smartphone in to the inky depths!