Maps, dragons and tiger-leopards

A golden dragon sits on a crumpled map

First Hoards events

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

golden eggs

We never really know what’s going to happen on an event. We can be fairly sure of the materials we will use and the general direction of activity but it is hard, when planning for dragons, to anticipate Dandelion Cats

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Dandelion Cats

We have started plotting the stories of the hoards we are buolding through the events programme now

 

There were maps to take you to a hidden hoard if you are clever enough to decipher the clues and brave enough to risk the dangers…

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Under the sea?

In a pyramid?

Near the swings in the park?

On the other side of the moon?

Surrounded by trees and fiercely guarded by a cat!

Where will you hide your treasure? 

And how will you know how to find it?

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On Thursday, there were dragons hatching from golden eggs to guard golden hoards….or maybe not. Hence the Dandelion Cats who guard golden flowers for bumblebees. There were several very laid back foxes who could sort of, maybe, OK now and then, guard, well, something. Someone had said, you know, Someone asked them to…well, someone offered to pay…but what are pennies to a fox who is counting rabbits?

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What hoard would a Viking guard?*

And there is an ongoing question: what do you value?

What is the precious thing that you would keep safe for centuries?

Would it be golden wonders?

Or a pottery ball full of coins?

Or seeds for a future flowering?

Friendship?

 

And there was Molly, the Tiger Leopard, guarding her wonderful little Leopard Cub, the rarest cub in all the world. And there was Bessie the Bear with her Unicorns who were very interested in that same cub…..

Tiger leopard

 

The next Hoards events are as follows. All these events are at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery and all events are free and unless it says otherwise, you can just turn up and join in. With talks please arrive for the scheduled start. For other events allow 30 minutes at least for the activity.

 

1. Dave the Moneyer, Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th April, 12 – 3.30pm. Come and watch how money used to be made….

 

More details, here: https://buxtonmuseumandartgallery.wordpress.com/2019/04/24/a-glitter-of-coins-event/

Or here: https://www.facebook.com/events/830578163972722/

Dave’s own company, Grunal Moneta, can be visited, here.

 

2. Talk: Hoards and hordes – the Viking conquest and settlement of the East Midlands,

Tuesday 30 April, 11am–12noon Join British Museum curator Gareth Williams to find out how archaeological discoveries combine with historical evidence and place-names to shape our understanding of the Viking presence in Derbyshire and surrounds.

 

More information here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2214633065510425/

 

3. Managing your own Hoard

Thursday 2 May, 12noon–4pm

Get information on handling household finances and managing debt from the money advisors at Citizens Advice Derbyshire District.

 

4. Treasure Chests 

Sunday 5 May, 12 noon–3.30pm

Make and take a treasure chest for the hoard you haven’t got yet…or that you might be hiding under the bed. In a sock. With a dragon. Allow 45 minutes.

More information:

Here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2153931458047298/

 

Or here; http://creepingtoad.blogspot.com/2019/03/from-maps-to-dragons-events-at-buxton.html

 

Or call Buxton Museum and Art Gallery on 01629 533540

 

Hoards: a hidden history of ancient Britain

A British Museum and Salisbury Museum Partnership Exhibition

This exhibition runs from Saturday 13th April to Sunday 16th June, 2019 in Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

 

* Vikings: we had a Viking today with a very big, very fluffy beard who sailed away in an eggshell boat – probably following a treasure map drawn by a fox…. 

And many thanks to our friends from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust who joined us on Sunday on such a lovely day we had hardly any visitors!

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The Ecton Mine Child’s Shoe

Sometimes, even an object as simple as a shoe can tell a story. Once again, we’ve raided the brain of new collections assistant Bret Gaunt for a glimpse in to a murky part of Peak District history.

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In the Wonders of the Peak gallery at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is a small, rather unassuming, battered leather shoe once belonging to a child. The shoe dates to the 18th or early 19th century and was found in Ecton Mine in the Staffordshire part of the Peak District. Despite its battered appearance the shoe forms part of the story of atrocious working conditions for children in the mines of Britain.

The mines at Ecton are unusual for the Peak District in that they predominantly produce copper, rather than lead and zinc, as so often seen at other mines of the area. There is evidence to show that Ecton has been mined for copper since the Bronze Age.

In the 17th century Ecton mine was the first in Britain to use gunpowder for extraction, and the engine house is believed to be the earliest surviving example in the world used for winding out ore.

The mines were owned by the Dukes of Devonshire and it was in the 18th century that the site was fully exploited; records show that the Duke made £300,000 profit in the latter half of the 18th century, the money being used to finance the building of Chatsworth and the Crescent in Buxton.

Children often worked in a range of dirty and dangerous jobs, such as chimney sweeps, or in mills, as they were essential to contributing to the household income; in the case of mining often whole families worked together in appalling conditions; children as young as five years of age would start work in the mines. The mines were cramped, poorly ventilated and highly dangerous and children were often injured or killed by explosions, roof falls or being run over by carts.

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Ecton Mine entrance

Children performed a number of tasks in the mines such as ‘door keepers’, who operated the ventilation doors to allow carts through; ‘drammers’, who pulled carts to and from the work face; ‘helpers’, who assisted with the actual cutting of the stone, usually alongside fathers and older brothers; and ‘drivers’, who led horses which pulled the wagons along the main roadways. The working day for a small boy would start at 2am, when the ‘caller-out’ came round. By 3am they were expected to be in the pits working and did not return home until the evening.

Many people in Britain were unaware of children working in mines and it was not until an investigation by the government was carried out between 1840 and 1842 that the full extent was realised, with inspectors visiting mines and speaking to many child miners. The horrific stories of dangerous conditions and abuse at the hands of employers and fellow miners were presented to Parliament as part of the Commission of Enquiry into the State of Children in Employment and would lead to the Mines Regulation Act being passed in 1842.

From 1843 it was illegal for women or any children under the age of ten to work underground in Britain. There was no compensation for those made unemployed which caused much hardship. However, evasion of the act was easy as there was only one inspector to cover the whole of Britain and he had to give prior notice before visiting the mines. It was only until the Sandon Act of 1876, which required all children to be in education, that the exploitation of children in mines fully came to an end.

In the 19th century the ores began to run out at Ecton mine and the site was eventually abandoned in 1891. Today it is now run as a trust promoting education in applied geology, chemistry, mining and mineral extraction.

See the shoe and many more intriguing items at Buxton Museum, admission free. Plan your visit here.

Proud Boys in the Background

Archivist Ian Gregory unveils another glimpse in to the past:

Every now and then, as I number and re-number photographs in our collection, one will catch my eye. It happened the other day as I catalogued a group photo from 1902. Men and boys have gathered round a collection of fossil animal bones. They sit or stand by a quarry face, similar to one where both my grandads once worked.

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Two figures at the back hold my attention. They are young boys, probably in their early to mid-teens. One has a hand on his lapel while the other has both hands behind his back. Their faces are a little blurred, but their postures indicate pride. Did they help in recovering those bones? Were they the first people to have seen them for millennia? Were they excited? Nervous? Did someone order them to help or had they volunteered? If ordered then I think they came to enjoy their task.

In those days most people left school at the age of twelve. How much did these boys understand about the excavations? No one would’ve known that humans evolved in Africa or that dinosaurs had feathers and so on, not even the men in suits who presumably directed operations. Then again, Darwin’s theory of evolution was already well established in the academic community. Perhaps these two boys had already heard something about it. If not then the people leading the dig could have told them of it.

My mother was at school in the 1930s and she told me that subjects like religion were taught in a simple way, even then. Pupils learned little about non-Christian belief systems. Yet neither she nor her friends were Creationists, they all accepted that the earth is millions of years old. Perhaps when you work long hours at physically demanding jobs you haven’t time to ask too many questions. I suspect that my two youths were in that situation of the time. My grandparents certainly were. That said, when help with an excavation was needed, experts often called on local people who had never been to university as there was no one else available. The said locals must’ve picked up some knowledge.

What did the future hold for those proud looking youngsters? Did they resume backbreaking labour? Did they try to find out more about the past? Or did an accident or the First World War end their dreams too soon? I don’t know, but if that day in 1902 they swaggered on their way home, then it’s quite understandable.

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.

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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.

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.