Derbyshire Museums Manager, Ros Westwood had the recent opportunity to acquire an exciting new object for the collection at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. One that reveals scenes from the Peak District from long ago:
I guess the last thing I’d imagined doing during lockdown was to buy a wonderful new acquisition for the collection, but how that brightened a lonely days of working at home!
Credit must go to colleagues at Peak District Mining Museum for bringing the album to my attention. They saw a notification that an album of drawings ‘mostly of Matlock’ was going to auction in Newcastle. And so the chase started.
With agreement from several colleagues, I called the auctioneers. Because of lockdown, I was relying on their description in the catalogue. I decided to bid over the phone which we’ve done before; you may remember Buxton Museum was one of the partner museums in the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Enlightenment! Derbyshire setting the pace in the 18th century when we were able to buy some amazing objects to our collections. But clear in my memory was the day we requested a phone bid and the auction house did not ring us!
This time I was at home without even my colleagues to cheer from the sidelines. No matter, James at Anderson and Garland was there on the phone in the auction room taking my bid. This was third album in a group and I was bidding against another phone. Bidding was very fast, and the whoop of joy when the hammer came down on our successful bid could be heard miles away. My apologies to the other bidder, but if you are reading this, do get in touch…
I was able to collect the album a few days later. I stood in the reception of the auction house and paged through the huge book. Image after image delighted and thrilled me. The receptionist told me she’d never seen a buyer so pleased with a purchase.
So, what have we bought?
The book is a handsome, large format volume with half calf bindings covering the spine and corners, and with gold tooling. This is the work of P & D Colnachi and Sons of Pall Mall, and clearly was expensive. Inside are 34 drawings and watercolours, drawn by the same person but on several colours and textures of paper, so in several sketchbooks, during two trips to Derbyshire, the first in August 1827 and the next in the following June.
I think the artist is Mary Twopenny. The auction catalogue lists three volumes, all from Wooperton Hall in Wooler, the first of which was inscribed to her and contained some of her work from other trips. The next were botanical drawings and then this one. Is this Mary with her paints looking down on Matlock Bath on the 7th June 1828, with her child alongside? There are other pictures of her or someone of her age with a younger child, and possibly some portraits of her husband and an older child? But this is my speculation.
The pictures have been arranged as a tour, even if from the two trips and sometimes a little out of date order. No matter, so let us follow her journey through the pages of this book of memories.
The journey starts in Mansfield where she visits the rock houses, before arriving in Ashover. Here she steps out in early June to capture the views across to Ogstone Hall and Hall House, the trees and hedges in full leaf. The topographical detail is closely observed and roads and lanes wind through the landscape busy with the many travellers and wagons that trundled by. Mary uses people to give scale to her pictures, but they also provide conversations and activities. Although she works mostly in pencil, when she chooses to apply wash, it provides highlight and texture and glows from the pages.
On the 7th June she arrives in Matlock, where she spends a day drawing many of the sights. Of course she goes to High Tor and she draws the boats on the river, complete with dog swimming behind. But she also goes to see the mine working at Lady Gate and the Side Mine – two very important images.
A week later she spends a few days in Matlock at the New Bath, where she draws the huge lime tree which spread its ancient limbs over the lawns, and painted some exquisite watercolours of views from the hotel windows.
But like many travellers to the Peak District, she doesn’t stay in one place long. There is too much to see. So on the 10th June she revisits Haddon Hall, having been there the year before. Here the remains of the picnic on the river bank suggest an idyllic afternoon while members of her party fished the River Wye.
She travelled to Bakewell and captured the views across the watermeadows and north to Holme Hall. One perspective of Bakewell shows the octagon of the church peeking out over the trees; Bakewell church spire had been taken down about 20 years before because the peal of bells installed within it were far too heavy.
A trip to Stoney Middleton allowed her to draw Lovers Leap. The album then takes us to Castleton but back in time to the previous year, when she visited the Peak Cavern and the rope walk within.
On the 12 June 1828 she sets out on a long walk from Tideswell to see the ruins of Litton Mill, derelict after the fire of about 1815, its waterwheel still an engineering marvel.
She draws Water-cum-Jolly Dale (it is named as Hollow Tor) and then climbs back to Monsal Head drawing a family of poor travellers struggling up the hill in a rare view of the valley without the Headstone Viaduct.
Two views of Dovedale from the previous year complete her tour in which she captures familiar views and the very unusual. Why her interest in these industrial landscapes?
Of course there are many questions raised here? Who was Mary Twopenny – the young mum or her mother? What did the family do – was she a gentlewoman (clearly she had the drawing education expected of a young lady) or the wife of an industrialist? Was there family in Derbyshire, or was this indeed, a holiday? Wooperton Hall is far away in the rich farming uplands of Northumberland – but did the album land up there just by default?
Maybe we’ll never know. But clearly, Mary was blessed with good weather as she sat outside, sketching, during two memorable holidays in Derbyshire.