Volunteer archivist Ian Gregory often finds meaning in a an object and sparks a discussion which, at the end of the day, is what museums are all about! Over to you, Ian:
Today at Buxton Museum, I’m cataloguing photographs of objects in the collection. I have come to an image of a thermometer made from Ashford Black Marble with inlaid decoration and a pointed top.
This object reminds me that there is currently much interest in the nineteenth century; it is the subject of television shows like Victoria, Ripper Street, Victorian Railways and The Victorian Show. The visual arts and furniture of that age are not so popular but stories and documentaries about it are all over the schedules.
Why a surge of interest in this particular epoch? It’s easy enough to talk of nostalgia but can we go deeper?
Today, we are often being told, rightly or wrongly, that society is increasingly divided between rich and poor, between immigrants and locals, between men and women, etc. Technology is developing at a rate which many find bewildering. Is there a parallel with the age of Victoria? Her culture was divided between rich and poor, there was a high rate of immigration, women had the right to own property and go to university but not until later in the reign. The black marble thermometer reminds us that science was moving fast. Even though the Victorians didn’t invent the thermometer, their technology was advancing quickly with free-thinking pioneers such as Charles Darwin, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Alexander Graham Bell.
I can see why Victorian Arts and Crafts are less desirable to modern buyers. They took a lot of cleaning and most people today don’t have servants to do it for them. Their fashionable colour; black is associated with mourning.
When it comes to stories about that era, whether fact, fiction or a blend of both, do we find it only too easy to relate to that socially-divided, rapidly-changing society that considered itself egalitarian? Perhaps we do, more than say.