Category Archives: Curiosities

Bicycles of the Stone Age

Archivist Ian Gregory makes another curious discovery amongst the myriad collections of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery:

It has often been said that there is nothing new under the sun. When it comes to technology this is, I think, an exaggeration. If we are thinking of art or entertainment, it’s more accurate.

Today at Buxton Museum, I’ve catalogued a cartoon on a glass slide. Although it has a Victorian look to it, the idea of it reminded me of The Flintstones TV series that I watched as a child.


The glass slide depicts a cartoon cave dweller on a Penny Farthing bicycle with stone discs for wheels. He is cycling down a gentle slope, watched by onlookers dressed in animal skins. Cave mouths yawn in the background. On seeing this, I thought of The Flintstone clan with their stone car and their “prehistoric” equivalents of 20th century devices. Oh, and a pet sabre-tooth which its owner puts out for the night over the closing credits.

I don’t know if the creators of Fred Flintstone ever saw our little cartoon; they probably didn’t, but despite a gap in time of about 100 years, the brains of the two cartoonists must have thought along similar lines. There is irony here as people in the 1960s often depicted the Victorians as repressive. Could it be that they had more in common than they realised?


When did They Start Bottling Water in Buxton?

In the light of new research, Derbyshire Museums Manager probes into the history of what the town is most famous for.

Over to you, Ros:

Buxton Mineral Water Company – when did they start bottling water?


Hamilton bottle from the Buxton Mineral Water Company

The new displays in the Wonders of the Peak gallery contain a section on mineral water bottles from Buxton. Hardly surprising, since Buxton has long been associated with water, both for bathing in and drinking. William Henry Robertson MD, the doctor at the Devonshire Hospital in the 1850s and 60s sets out Rules for Drinking the Water, saying that ‘it is seldom necessary to take more than two half pints of the waters every day’ and that you should ease yourself into the practice of drinking it. ‘The waters are so fully charged with gas…apt to occasion some degree of giddiness of even headache, that it is prudent at first to drink the water by sips…’ (A Handbook to the Peak of Derbyshire and to the use of the Buxton Mineral Waters; or Buxton in 1854).

water use 01

water use 02

What he doesn’t say is run down to the local supermarket or off licence and buy some bottles of it. William Henry Robertson MD is recommending that you need to take this water at the previous pump room at St Anne’s Well, a small Georgian temple near the Crescent. It would be served to you by one of the well women (Martha Norton was the most famous, but she was now dead) who volunteered to do this work and benefitted from the drinkers’ tips.


St Anne’s Well House

But the evidence suggests that at some point around this time, the Buxton Mineral Water Company with a bottling plant in Fairfield, and one Mr Tebbs, who business location is unclear, where bottling the water.

Their choice of bottle was a Hamilton, shaped like a torpedo. When sealed, it is placed on its side and the effervescence (bubbliness) in the water is retained. Hamiltons were first made in the 1840s.

But when, asked a researcher, was the Buxton Mineral Water Company established? The earliest record the museum has found have is that a trademark was awarded in 1876. These trademarks appear as diamond shapes impressed on the bottles. But this Hamilton is surely a bit earlier that that? By 1876, the Company may well have started to use the newest sort of bottle: a Codd bottle, with a marble sealed in the neck to keep by the bubbliness. It needed a special bottle opener to press the marble down and so release the liquid.

So a challenge: since the reference books are very coy about the appearance of bottled water from the Buxton Mineral Water Company – Does anyone have any evidence of the company before 1876 – can we find out when bottling water started in Buxton. And where was Mr Tebb’s establishment – I don’t think it was the main well in Buxton, but where?

Do let the museum know if you can help with this conundrum.

A Monkey’s Puzzle

On first moving to Buxton I would walk out to explore the footpaths behind Fairfield or take off along the lanes and bridleways by bike. After one such excursion I was describing to a colleague a particular short but severe, lung busting hill on the road from Peak Dale. ‘You mean Monkey Brew!’ was the response. I was intrigued.
P1010331I asked around but the most I got by way of explanation was that the name derived from the little monkey carved into a cornerstone high up on the end of Forest View Cottages part way up the bank on Batham Gate Road. I suspected there was more to the story.
Old Ordnance Survey maps suggest the row of cottages was built around the 1890’s, but why the monkey carving? Was it added for hill’s namesake or did the hill gain its name after the monkey was added? And what about the word ‘brew’? I had wondered if ‘brew’ had derived from ‘brow’ or even a mispronounced ‘Brough’, as much of Batham Gate Road follows the Roman route to Templeborough via Brough. A little enquiry revealed ‘brew’ or ‘bru’ to be a northern dialect term for hill. This explanation seemed to fit the bill but the monkey continued to niggle. Every time I dropped my bike into its lowest gear to trawl myself up that hill I would look up at that mischievous, curly tailed beast and curse … and wonder.
After a few years of not knowing I threw the question out there on social media and later the same day I got a response. Curiously, a fellow cyclist said that as a boy he used to live in ‘the house with the monkey’.
So thank you Jamie Stafford for your story, I do hope it is true because I love it. And here it is;
“Growing up in that house, we used to tire of the ramblers and passers-by that would knock at the door asking about the monkey. For years we had little idea why it was there. One day an elderly walker called by who used to live in the area and proceeded to recount a tale. He said that the chap who built the cottages was a raving alcoholic and ran out of money to finish the job to the tune of five hundred pound (a monkey). Back then it was shameful to borrow money so to ward off potential investors and employers the stone mason carved the monkey on the house to state that the owner couldn’t be trusted. ‘Brew’ could simply relate to ale: ‘Monkey Brew’ a bad debtor due to alcohol.”
Maybe someone out there lives in a house with a carving of another monkey, maybe a pony, a bag of sand or even a Lady Godiver! Do shout up if you do.


Volunteer archivist Ian Gregory poses another meditative inquiry:

I have, whilst working at Buxton Museum, catalogued a map of a continent that no longer exists. The geologists call it Gondwana or Gondwanaland, and most of the present day southern landmasses were once part of it. It broke up gradually but the process began about 200 million years ago.


Seeing this map on a plate for a slide reminded me of how hard it can be for new ideas to be accepted. The theory of continental drift, of which Gondwanaland is a crucial part, was first proposed in 1912 by Alfred Wegener but few people took it seriously. In 1957, Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen published a map of the sea floor of the Atlantic Ocean and it showed the sea floor gradually spreading out from underwater volcanoes in the middle of said ocean. For the first time, scientists knew of a mechanism that could power continental drift and it is known as plate tectonics.

Not everyone who rejected Wegener’s theory was a mindless conservative; since he hadn’t explained what could power continental drift. Tharp and Heezen’s discovery came after Wegener’s death. Still, when thinking about their stories, I wonder what other ideas that are currently out of favour might be one day accepted as facts?

Easter Eggs-hibits at Buxton Museum

Museums commonly deal with old things and creatures that have long shuffled off the mortal coil. You would not immediately associate them with a holiday like Easter which celebrates new life. However, among the collections at Buxton Museum, there are a few peculiar eggs; traditional symbols at this time of year. We thought we would share some of them with you while we are closed for renovation.

Eggs made from rock, minerals and gemstones were popular in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. We can only speculate why. With no internet, the people of these eras had to resort to talking to each other so perhaps such novelties inspired cheerful conversation. Indeed, Buxton Museum still sells quite a lot of colourful marble eggs in its gift shop. They look pretty and feel pleasingly tactile in the palm of your hand.

blue john egg

This egg has been crafted from the local rare mineral called Blue John, mined in small quantities in the Peak District village of Castleton.  It dates from the early 20th century and is 13cm long. Buxton Museum has all sorts of intriguing objects made from Blue John, all displaying the same unusual purple-blue-yellow colour from which it gets its name; bleu-jaune, meaning blue-yellow in French.


This is a close-up of a petrified birds’ nest. Objects can be turned into limestone by exposing them to mineral-rich water or “petrifying them”.  This specimen is from the collection of Randolph Douglas who once had his own museum in Castleton, the same village where Blue John can be found. He gathered fascinating items from around the world and exhibited them alongside keys, locks and miniature dioramas of his own ingenious creation. Douglas had a passion for escapology; the art of breaking free from death-defying traps, which ultimately hooked him up with famous magician and escapologist Harry Houdini.

When Buxton Museum and Art Gallery reopens on Tuesday 6 June, you will be able to see brand new displays featuring both Blue John and Randolph Douglas; admission free! We hope to see you.