Category Archives: Events

Sharing the solstice

Over a year ago, when we were planning events to take place while the museum was closed for our redevelopment project, we came up with the idea of doing an event to celebrate the winter solstice at Arbor Low. If you haven’t heard of Arbor Low, it’s the most important prehistoric site in the East Midlands and is often called the Stonehenge of the north.

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Print of a pen and ink drawing by E E Wilmot, 1859

The monument consists of a henge surrounding a circle of around 50 limestone slabs (now fallen, if they were ever standing) and a central cove. There are also several burial mounds and pathways nearby. Arbor Low shows periods of use over 1,000 years from around 2,500-1,500 BC, placing it in the Neolithic and early Bronze Age. Mesolithic flints found in the landscape show that people were visiting the area even earlier than this.

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Panorama of Arbor Low henge, around midday on 21 December 2016

Buxton Museum has lots of archaeological finds from Arbor Low (others are the care of Museums Sheffield), the site is easily accessible from around the Peak District, and apparently the henge aligned with the sunset on the shortest day of the year. Doing an event here on the winter solstice seemed like a fine idea.

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Neolithic and Bronze Age arrowheads from Buxton Museum found at Arbor Low by Rev W Storrs Fox, 1904-11

Of course, we did have a few concerns: the monument is in a very exposed position, the weather in the Peak District in December is often absolutely atrocious and there are no facilities there. We wondered if anyone would want to join us there – or indeed if we’d even be able to get there at all!

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Our guided walk on the monument around 2pm on 21 December 2016

Turns out we shouldn’t have worried. We limited numbers because there’s only so many people you can talk to on an exposed hilltop in a howling gale, and both the events we put on sold out before we ran them. Everyone who came was dressed for the weather and were full of enthusiasm despite the cold and damp. Special thanks must go to Nicky and Steve from Upper Oldhams Farm/Arbor Low B&B who provided bowls of warming soup for us and our visitors, and to Creeping Toad and Bill Bevan for being excellent guides for our two sessions. We’re hoping to do it again next year!

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Late afternoon sky over Gib Hill, a Neolithic long barrow topped with a Bronze Age round barrow, located a short distance from the henge monument. 21 December 2016.

Listen to John Barnett, Peak District National Park archaeologist, talking about Arbor Low on our web app here: http://buxtonmuseumapps.com/?page_id=49

 

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While the Museum is Closed …

It’s been two weeks since Buxton Museum and Art Gallery closed for refurbishment and there have already been dramatic changes to the building. The staff room has been emptied to make way for a lift and the builders have ripped out the old toilets. This means the museum staff are temporarily having lunch in an empty art gallery and visiting a portable lavatory. We are happy to endure these provisional measures to improve the facilities for you, dear public.

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Closure has given us the opportunity to take stock of the museum shop and pack everything away. This entails counting hundreds of imitation Roman coins, gemstones and Woolly Mammoths. The retail is actually part of the redevelopment. Arts Council England are kindly funding Buxton Museum to help improve both the shop and the merchandise. Some of the items on sale when we re-open next Spring are based on the collections and they will help the museum to establish a stronger identity. Click here for more information about our funding.

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Goyt’s Bridge over the River Goyt by G.M. Brown. Copyrighted.

Some of the front-of-house staff are mucking in and have begun to write content for the new gallery. I’m working on a digital trail around the Goyt Valley. We aim to supplement a walk around the heritage-rich location by revealing items from the museum. It is based on an old blog of mine but we hope to build on this with the help of the Peak National Park rangers who care for the Goyt.

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Empress cinema, Chapel-en-le-Frith 1935 Board collection. Copyrighted.

Jasmine is busy with a similar assignment on Chapel-en-le-Frith, a small town in the Peak District. Her granddad once lived there and Jasmine is applying the family knowledge to form a picture of the town’s fascinating and little-known history. Our goal is to do this with a lot of places in the Peak District. Buxton itself is ready to explore with a fledgling trail; see pocket.wonders.co.uk

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The museum’s temporary closure doesn’t mean we have stopped running events. Our pop-up museum was previewed outside Buxton Opera House on Heritage Day two weeks ago and it will be making more appearances over the next few months. Watch this space.

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Sooty was putting on a show too!

For more Buxton Museum and Art Gallery events, check our website.

May these waters never cease to flow

This week Buxton celebrates the well dressing festival, which began in 1840 to thank the Duke of Devonshire for piping a supply of fresh water to a well on the Market Place. Apart from a break between 1912 and 1925, the event has been held annually.

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Celebrations on the Crescent in 1864, the first year that St Ann’s Well was decorated.

Since Thursday volunteers have been busy creating the dressings inside St John’s Church and this morning the results will have been installed at the three wells around the town ready to be blessed this afternoon.

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The blessing of Higher Buxton Well in 1910.

 

The blessing of the wells starts with a service at St Anne’s Church on Bath Road followed by a procession that marches to each of the three wells in turn for a short blessing at each one. Afterwards the new well dressing Queen is crowned in a ceremony at St John’s Church. Next Saturday she will lead the annual carnival procession through the town.

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Festival Queen Florence Morten leading the carnival procession in 1925.

 

The three wells are  St Ann’s Well on the Crescent, the Children’s Well (or Taylor Well) on Spring Gardens and Higher Buxton Well on the Market Place. The displays remain up until the following Monday (11th July this year) for visitors and residents to enjoy.

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Palace Hotel Laundry parade float, June 1932

 

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has a large collection of photographs and postcards that record the history of well dressing in the town, including wonderful well dressings, former festival queens, prize-winning parade floats and spectacular street scenes. Thanks to the people who collected them and the generosity of our donors and supporters, we’ll be able to keep and look after these snapshots of Buxton tradition for future generations to enjoy.

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May pole dancing on the Crescent in front of St Ann’s Well, 1912.

More information about Buxton well dressing and associated events can be found on the official festival website here.

Easter Fun (and hard work) at Buxton Museum

Although most of the museum team are busy building a new gallery as part of the Collections in the Landscape project, you can visit the space to see the work in progress and get involved. A few treasures from the art collection are available to see and there are objects from the museum too, some of which you can handle. A special event on Saturday 2 April called Animal Roadshow plays host to a variety of real creatures. You can book your place on Eventbrite.

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Animal Roadshow

Creeping Toad is a well-known local storyteller and workshop leader and no stranger to Buxton Museum. He is running an event at Castleton Visitor Centre on Wednesday 6 April called The House of Wonders. Based on the collection of Randolph Douglas, a.k.a Randini, this unique event is free and not to be missed. More details on Toad’s blog.

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Randini with friend and hero Harry Houdini

Like Creeping Toad, I’m a fan of Randini and his collection. I wrote a blog about him a couple of years ago.

One Last Walk through the Old Wonders?

This Saturday sees the door closed for the final time on the Wonders of the Peak gallery at Buxton Museum. A characterful and treasured museum display, The Wonders first opened in 1988 with an anticipated short lifespan. Due to the creativity and resourcefulness of the museum team, the gallery became very popular and won Museum of the Year in 1989.

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Despite its credentials, it is no surprise that the gallery is starting to look its age over twenty-five years later. It is dark and atmospheric but anyone with less than perfect eyesight, such as myself, can struggle to see particular sections. The long winding tunnel format is exciting and mysterious but less than ideal to anyone with a push chair or wheel chair. The labelling is informative but a little too wordy for today’s sound byte generation. And there’s no buttons to push!

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If you would like one last walk through the Old Wonders before it closes, last admission today is 5pm, Thursday 31st December at 4.30pm or Saturday 2nd January at 4.30pm.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery, the new Wonders of the Peak will open in Spring 2017. Like its predecessor, the gallery will attempt to tell the unique story of the Peak District using the museum collections. Despite being closed for redevelopment, you can still visit the project space and talk to the museum team as they work. Infact, it’s your chance to become more involved than ever before. Click here for more information.