New museum attendant Rachel Ibbertson hails from the Midlands and has been teaching us the lingo; donnies are hands. We asked her to share her initial thoughts on the displays in Buxton. Over to you, Rachel:

As you may already know, the eagerly anticipated release of “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is set to hit UK cinemas this November. As an extension of the wizarding world explored in the Harry Potter-verse, the “Fantastic Beasts” series seeks to broaden our magical horizons and further spark our imagination – mine included.

Growing up with this book series, I would often look for magic and mysticism in the world around me and was a little dismayed on my eleventh birthday when I didn’t receive my Hogwarts letter. In spite of this, I became determined to search the realm of the ordinary for examples of the extraordinary. So with this topic in mind, the concept of “Fantastic Beasts” got me thinking about equivalent examples in the “muggle world” and what better place to find inspiration, than Buxton Museum & Art Gallery?

Wandering around the displays in the “Wonders of the Peak” and the “Boyd Dawkins Study”, I was struck by the wealth of objects and extraordinary creatures on display. Some of the more obvious examples include the Buxton Bear and the Buxton Mermaid, whilst additional zoomorphs find a home in our reception area. By the way has anyone spotted the stained glass peacocks that adorn our entranceway or the cluster of cuddly companions sitting patiently in our gift shop awaiting their forever-homes? (merchandise plug over)…

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Through further exploration an abundance of amazing animals can be found around the museum, which in my opinion, can all be considered as “fantastical” for varying reasons…

For starters let’s think about the creatures that no longer inhabit the British Isles, or indeed the earth. Throughout the 4.5 billion year history of our planet, climate change has featured continuously and in turn has shaped the world around us. To picture the scene, you have to imagine a fluctuating series of landscapes and environments very different to our own – (perhaps a little reminiscent of this year’s “beast from the east” and summer heatwave?). For instance, if we visited the Peak District 350 million years ago we would find much of the landscape submerged beneath the sea – Buxton included! Such a dramatic contrast is evidenced in the “Wonders of the Peak”, via the fantastic fossils exhibited there; Trilobites (1), Brachiopods (2) and Ammonites (3) to name a few.

If we travel a little less far back in time – 2.6 million years to be precise – we will reach the start of the current geological period; “The Quaternary”. Characterised by repeated glacial (cold) and interglacial (warm) periods, it is from this time that we find evidence for some of the animals that once featured in our landscape. Many have since migrated or become extinct but a few examples of the animals affiliated with the interglacial periods are highlighted in the “Wonders of the Peak”. They include the remains of cave lions (4), bison (5) and hyenas (6).

In contrast, signs of life from the last glacial period; or ice age, can also be spotted nestled amongst our displays. Remains of reindeers (7), woolly rhinos (8) and mammoths (9) are some of the few that feature. It truly is fascinating to think that we once walked amongst such an array of amazing creatures – imagine the fantastic sights that only our ancestors might have seen?

On the flipside, what could be noted as incredible is the evidence that we find for the continuation of a species into the present day. If you look closely at the Roman tile below, you will see an almost humorous example of man’s best friend leaving his mark on the world. A little paw print pressed into soft clay, provides us with the merest echo of a trivial event from times gone by. You can almost picture the frustration of the tile-maker upon his discovery – perhaps they found a trail of paw prints over multiple tiles? Maybe the dog was caught in the act and a colourful scene ensued? Whilst these musings stretch the imagination, I think it makes for a fantastic story which breathes a little life into the past and makes our forebears and their experiences all that more relatable.

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After all isn’t the purpose of a museum, to make the past relatable? To welcome enquiry and share the remarkable stories that make up our collections? Whenever I visit a museum I often find that pieces of a whimsical nature attract my attention and Buxton Museum & Art Gallery is no exception. When looking in the “Boyd Dawkins Study” I noticed a display case with a taxidermy Dotterel inside – which according to the label, may have been originally mounted by none other than Charles Darwin himself! Whilst we have no concrete proof that this is his actual handiwork, the mystery and prestige surrounding the provenance of the Dotterel makes a great story and puts a different spin on what might be considered a “fantastic beast”.

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I had far too many ideas to note down in one post, so let’s take a rain check on part two. In the meantime why not pay us a visit (we are free admission after all) and see if you agree with me? Perhaps you could find some fantastic beasts of your own…