The Year Ahead: 2019

If you’ve ever wanted to visit the lofty spa town of Buxton and its museum, 2019 would a good time. We have two exhibitions focusing on aspects of local life: As we look forward to the re-opening of The Crescent as a spa hotel and visitor experience, our summer exhibition will focus on this iconic Buxton building with art works and artefacts from our collection.

7. Crescent what's on imageOn May 31st 1999, media in the High Peak changed forever. Radio Buxton took to the airwaves for the first time and five years later High Peak Radio was launched. 20 years on, the two brothers who founded both stations curate an exhibition featuring reconstructions of the original Radio Buxton studio. They’ll also be a ‘pirate’ studio including items of memorabilia, equipment and original recordings.

5. Steve Jenner - Broadcast Brothers 4

 

This year we are excited to be hosting Hoards: The Hidden History of Ancient Britain. Discover buried treasure and find out the various reasons why people put precious objects into the ground and why they did not retrieve them. The exhibition brings together finds from the British Museum and Salisbury Museum, including spectacular Iron Age gold torcs and recent discoveries from Wessex. We’ll also be displaying hoards from Derbyshire and the Peak District including additional material from Beeston Tor.

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As usual, there is also a changing programme of art exhibitions and events. Download your 2019 What’s On below and plan your visit here.

Buxton Museum Whats On 2019_A5 brochure_WEB

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Trio from a Different World

Archivist Ian Gregory discovers another intriguing photograph from Derbyshire’s collection:

While cataloguing images at Buxton Museum, I came across a photo of three men from 1925. The trio are on a limestone plateau bare of trees at Dowlow in Buxton, and are digging a hole in the field. They may well be archaeologists.

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One thing that struck me was that they are dressed in white shirts and waistcoats while toiling at a physical job. My first thought was that their world must have been very different from mine. Or was it? If this was a scientific excavation then we have something in common; a desire to not only know where we came from, but to verify whatever theories they had with hard evidence. This was science as we know it today. Since the Industrial Revolution and compulsory education were already underway perhaps this isn’t surprising.

If I could meet these three today, would we understand each other? Or would there still be wedges between us and not only regarding dress codes? I think there would be stumbling blocks: attitudes to women, attitudes to ethnic minorities, to the British Empire and probably other issues too. Incomplete knowledge could intensify some prejudices. Back then, no one in Europe knew that there had been urban literate cultures in Sub- Saharan Africa before first contact with Europeans. No archaeologists bothered to dig in Africa. No one knew our species was born on leopard-haunted plains.

In some respects my first impression was correct; the trio in my photo came from a different world. In some ways, but perhaps not in all.

The Buxton Cat Mummy

Bret Gaunt reveals another curiosity from Buxton Museum and Art Gallery:

Cats have played an important role in the everyday life of humans: as companions and for hunting vermin, as well as being both revered as gods, and reviled as demons. One of the most recent acquisitions at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is the naturally mummified remains of a cat. This cat, however, is not from the deserts of ancient Egypt, but from here in cold and rainy Buxton! Unlike the cats of ancient Egypt which were worshipped as gods and carefully mummified to be placed in tombs, the presence of the Buxton cat reveals something far more sinister.

buxton cat

Over a hundred naturally mummified cats hidden in buildings are known from across the UK, though more will have existed but been disposed of because their significance was not realised, and possibly many more remain to be found. What all of these cats have in common is that they were hidden in secret cavities within buildings and used in a form of folk magic to repel evil spirits. The majority are positioned as if they are hunting or attacking, with some even having mummied mice or rats in their mouths.

Naturally mummified cats are found sealed into walls, under floors near doorways, sometimes in a roof space, and occasionally in cavities within a chimney – liminal spaces that were believed to be subject to the intrusion of malevolent forces. The cat from Buxton was found during renovation work at the site of the old post office at the Quadrant. Workmen disturbed part of the ceiling in one room and the cat fell out onto the unsuspecting men.

The majority of the cats from the UK seem to have been hidden in buildings during the period of the witch trials in the 16th to 17th centuries, though the practice did continue in some parts of the country well into the 19th and early part of the 20th century; in the case of the Buxton cat this would seem to be the case as the Quadrant was built in the 1850s.

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cat destruction box Derbyshire Police collection

Folklore regards cats with special powers, such as having sixth sense and possessing nine lives, as well as their ability to see in the dark. Cats are also very territorial and will protect their homes from threats and are prolific hunters. But cats also have an ambivalent character where they were regarded in the past as being the familiars of witches, and having associations with the devil.

An important clue to the nature of the cats is the secrecy involved in hiding them, and secrecy is often a key feature in magical practices; they are hidden from view in parts of the house where evil spirits or witches could gain access. Other items are often found sealed into houses, most commonly shoes, but also horse skulls and bottles, the latter often containing urine and nails and commonly known as Witch Bottles and which have a known role in averting the powers of evil.

The Buxton moggy is now safely on display in the Wonders of the Peak Gallery, protecting the museum from the forces of darkness! You can plan your visit here.

Ros gets the MBE

Derbyshire County Council’s Museums Manager Ros Westwood has been recognised for her achievements in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List, receiving the MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for her services to culture in the East Midlands. In the 20 years that she has been Derbyshire Museums Manager, Ros has transformed the service and visitor figures to the museum have doubled, with the county receiving locally, regionally and nationally recognised awards for its exhibitions and events.

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When she took over the running of the museum and art gallery in Terrace Road, it had lost its recognised Museum Association status, but it was quickly turned around and not only was its membership status re-established, it also achieved Arts Council accreditation – a nationally recognised quality mark. As well as her responsibilities as Museum Manager, Ros has worked across the heritage sector, offering advice and support as a curatorial advisor for Buxton Crescent, Castleton Historical Society and Bakewell Old House Museum. She is also a fellow of the Museums Association. She has also led and developed regionally significant partnerships with more than 30 organisations, from the British Museum to the Buxton Civic Society, and recruited more than 100 volunteers to support various museum projects.

Most recently Ros has been at the forefront of the recent £1.5m redevelopment of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, which has transformed the interior and exhibition space. This work has run alongside the use of new technology which has opened up the museum to the world through the internet. “When I found out about the honour I was speechless and I am incredibly humbled by it. I’ve been very lucky, growing up with the opportunities to engage in cultural activities, and working with colleagues who strongly believe we can make a positive difference, ensuring that as many people as possible in all sorts of ways can enjoy, participate and find employment and volunteering opportunities in arts, museums, story-telling, nature and culture.”

the boss

Council leader Councillor Barry Lewis said: “Ros is a tireless advocate for all museums and during her time with Derbyshire County Council she has made a huge contribution to the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery and to countless cultural and heritage related issues across the region and further afield. She is incredibly enthusiastic and passionate about what she does and is a dedicated member of numerous organisations and societies which promote this area of work to the wider community. We are very fortunate to have her at the county council and anyone who visits our museum and art gallery will see for themselves the hard work she has put in to making it the success it is today. This includes leading successful bids for hundreds of thousands of pounds in funding which has seen its transformation. This honour is well-deserved and I’m extremely proud that her work on behalf of Derbyshire has been recognised in this way.”

Magical Teeth

New member of staff Bret Gaunt is a local archaeologist with an interest in the religions of the ancient world, especially the archaeology of ritual and the use of amulets. He has made a study of the worship of water in Romano-Celtic Britain, the mystery Cults of the Roman Empire and the Gods of the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. Here he provides an insight into an enigmatic site in the Derbyshire landscape, and the surprising objects that came from it:

There are many intriguing items on display at the Wonders of the Peak gallery, each with a fascinating story to tell about the people who lived in Derbyshire. One of them is a small beaver’s tooth amulet, kindly lent by the Trustees of the British Museum, which comes from a burial mound known as Wigber Low.

Beaver tooth necklace

The Anglo-Saxons arrived in Britain in the fifth to sixth century CE, a time that saw the collapse of the Roman Empire and Britain left to fend for itself – the first Brexit! The Germanic settlers who filled the power vacuum brought with them a new language, gods and artistic culture that defined the early medieval period.

One of the ways that the Anglo-Saxons seem to have stamped their presence on the landscape was by burying their dead in older Bronze Age burial mounds, of which there are numerous examples in the Derbyshire landscape. One of these is Wigber Low, situated half way between Kniveton and Bradbourne, in the White Peak. The site originally started off in the early Bronze Age as a platform for the practice of excarnation where the dead were laid out for the flesh to rot away before the bones were gathered up and placed in communal tombs. In the Late Bronze Age a mound was placed over the platform forming a familiar burial mound that dot the landscape of Britain.

In the seventh century CE the remains of three females and five males were placed in the mound, along with grave goods to accompany them into the afterlife. Items placed with the dead included a sword, five spearheads, combs, buckles, knives, a firesteel, a silver strap end, a quartz crystal orb, part of a gold bracteate (a type of pendant specific to Germanic people), two gilt-silver pins in the shape of a cross set with garnets (one of which is also on display at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery), and two beaver teeth amulets set with gold caps.

Wigber Low means ‘Wicga’s Mound’ and it is possible that Wicga may have been one of the people buried here. The grave goods certainly indicate wealthy status for the people buried here, possibly the ‘eorlas,’ a warrior elite who lived in this part of the kingdom of Mercia.

The beaver teeth amulets are intriguing – why would someone want to wear the teeth of an animal? The answer seems to be magical and the presence in the mound of the quartz crystal orb would suggest that one of the people buried here was a seer. Only six examples of beaver teeth amulets are known from Anglo-Saxon England and the presence of the gold cap clearly shows that it was an important and valuable item. There was a strong belief in magic at the time, and protecting yourself from malignant spirits that could cause harm was carried out by wearing amulets. In the animistic world of Anglo-Saxon Paganism many animals were considered sacred or imbued with special powers and It would seem that the beaver must have held some sort of special role in Anglo-Saxon society, but what, we do not know.

Whatever its purpose the amulet was held in such high regard that it would be buried with its owner to accompany, and help them, in the afterlife.

See the amulet alongside many other curiosities at Buxton Museum for free. Plan your visit here.