This week’s blog is by volunteer archivist Ian Gregory, who is currently documenting Buxton Museum’s collection of postcards, not to mention lending his expertise and enthusiasm to the Collections in the Landscape project.
The first impression is either twee or reassuring, depending on your point of view. Four young girls are dancing round a maypole at Buxton Well Dressings. The year is 1907, a time often associated with innocence and prosperity.
It is widely believed that well dressing goes back to pagan cultures where springs, rivers and lakes were sacred to or even physical manifestations of powerful deities. This was the view I was brought up with. For a long time, I never questioned it.
Then I raised the subject with a friend and he disputed this view. Apparently, there are no records of well dressings before the 17th century and some Peakland villages only began doing it in the 20th century. Well dressing is, in my friend’s opinion, a statement regarding the distinctive character of the Peak District, but one more recent than is generally assumed.
That said, I still respect the artistic standards achieved by the well dressers. They show real talent.