Sacred Waters and Altars

Bret Gaunt sheds more light on some of the Roman artefacts at Buxton Museum:

With the arrival of the Romans in the 1st century a new culture was introduced to the tribal lands of the Corieltauvi, the native, Iron Age people of the Peak District. Although the region remained largely agricultural, the Romans exploited the rich lead deposits and established forts, such as Melandra and Brough, to control both the commodities and the local people. The Romans also built the town of Buxton, centred on the sacred thermal spring.

One of the ways in which the Romans integrated into the local cultures that became part of the Empire, was by the adoption of local gods into the pantheon of Rome. The Iron Age Celts largely worshipped at open air sites, most often associated with water, such as lakes, bogs, rivers and sacred springs. One of the most famous watery sites in the Peak District is the thermal spring at Buxton, then known as Aquae Arnemetiae, meaning ‘the Waters of the goddess Arnemetia’.

Buxton is one of only two places in Roman Britain known to have the prefix ‘Aquae’, the other being Bath in Somerset, known to the Romans as Aquae Sulis (the Waters of the goddess Sulis). Like its counterpart in the South, Roman Buxton consisted of a series of Bath houses, now under the Crescent, close to the sacred springs. On the Slopes, overlooking the site of the baths and springs, was a temple dedicated to the goddess Arnemetia; excavations in the late 18th century revealed that the temple was of typical Classical design with a rectangular podium supporting a shrine room with portico of columns to the front. Such temples are a rarity in Roman Britain with only five such examples being known; temples in Roman Britain more often take the form known as Romano-Celtic, being a tower type structure with colonnaded ambulatory around all four sides.

The name of the goddess Arnemetia contains the Celtic word ‘nemeton’, meaning ‘sacred grove’; so her name is interpreted as being ’she who dwells over against the sacred grove’. The springs at Buxton must have held special powers for the local people as there are six grouped closely together in the valley floor and which provide both hot and cold water. During the Roman period offerings of jewellery and coins were made at one of the springs located between The Old Hall Hotel and the Crescent; these finds are now in the Wonders of the Peak gallery at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

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Altar to Arnomecta from Brough

Other evidence for the goddess Arnemetia comes in the form of an altar from the fort of Navio, close to the village of Brough, and now in the Wonders of the Peak gallery. Here the goddess is given the name Arnomecta. The altar was found in the underground strong-room of the headquarters building and consists of the typical block shape with a pair of bolsters to the top and inscription to the front. The inscription, which is contained within a wreath, reads ‘Deae Arnomecte Ael(ius) Motio V(otum S(olvit) L(aetus) L(ibens) M(erito), meaning ‘To the goddess Arnomecta, Aelius Motio gladly, willingly, and deservedly fulfilled his vow’.

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Imperial altar top from Melandra

Altars were central to the cults of most gods and was the focus for sacrifices and offerings to the particular deity. At temple sites the altar was generally outside, and opposite the main door, though at military shrines in forts and Romano-Celtic temples the altars were often placed inside and against the walls. The large outdoor altars were for the public ceremonies associated with the deity, which generally involved the sacrifice of animals accompanied by prayers for the well-being of the Emperor and the community. The smaller altars would have been more suitable for the offering of food, incense and for wine to be poured over the top. It was not unusual for an altar to be erected or promised to a god in exchange for a safe journey or other favour, thus the phrase ‘gladly, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow’ on the Navio altar shows that whatever Aelius Motio asked for, the gods provided!

Other altars in Buxton Museum and Art Gallery include the top to a large Imperial altar from Melandra Roman fort near Glossop, a badly weathered altar from Hope village, as well as a small altar dedicated to Mars, god of war, from Brough. There must have been numerous altars set up at the healing shrine of Arnemetia in Buxton, including a large altar outside the temple for the focus of worship, but to date none have been found. Many of the altars were dedicated by people from across the Empire; an altar at Haddon Hall, near Bakewell, is dedicated to the Roman god of war Mars, and the Celtic goddess of sacred intoxication, Braciaca, by a high ranking officer from Numidia in North Africa, revealing the diverse cultures that existed in Roman Derbyshire.

 

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Ghostly Echo of Fin Cop

Following an exhibition about the Iron Age hill fort of Fin Cop near Buxton in the Autumn of 2018, a lady who used to live locally got in touch to relate a strange experience by a man called Gordon Phillip Cave :

A few months or so ago, a friend of mine told me of his father’s experience whilst out driving his car in the Peak District area in 1965. Mr Cave heard the frantic screaming of women, children and the shouting of men and the sounds of weapons. His experience so chilled and frightened him that he never drove down that road again. Mr Cave actually left written descriptions of what he heard on a dry and sunny afternoon in 1965 quite a few years later; obviously the experience lingered powerfully with him.

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This 19th century painting from the collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery focuses on the viaduct crossing Monsal Dale but Fin Cop looms ominously in the background.

The location of the encounter was near Fin Cop where an archaeological excavation unearthed the remains of a brutal massacre. It is easy to write off the experience as the product of a stimulated imagination until you realise that Fin Cop was only excavated ten years ago; forty-five years later!

Of course, museums are bastions of knowledge and only deal in scientific facts but you could argue that experiences like this are just phenomena that have yet to be explained by established logic and should not be dismissed lightly.

If you have any experiences of Fin Cop you would like to share, ghostly or otherwise, please get in touch. The mysterious site features permanently in The Wonders of the Peak exhibition at Buxton Museum and admission is free. Plan your visit here. 

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.

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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.

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The Yoshida Studio

New recruit at Buxton Museum: Nikki Anderson shines some light on an equally new exhibition that showcases a lesser-known part of Derbyshire’s art collection:

 If you are interested in Japanese art and woodblock printing then there is a great exhibition at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery you must see. This exhibition is to celebrate 20 years of the twinning of Derbyshire and Toyota City in Aichi Province, Japan.

As a Textile Designer myself I was excited to be able to enjoy this amazing exhibition and view the incredible detail in each work up close.

Mimi
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The print ‘Mimi’ by Yoshimi Okamoto grabbed my attention immediately. It is particularly interesting, and the vivid colours of the blue sky achieved by using Japanese water based inks are prominent. The use of blank space is intriguing and it’s as if the sky above is so far away it is in another world. I could find little information on the print, but the artist was a pupil of Toshi Yoshida’s Art school Toshi being one of The Yoshida Family Artists, a group whose work became known for its innovation. The artists were using traditional Japanese woodblock printing techniques and being influenced by Western styles. These 20th Century new generation artists were pushing the boundaries in art and the Shin-hanga ‘new prints’ movement was born.

The Yoshida Studio was established in 1925 by Toshi Yoshida’s parents Hiroshi Yoshida and Fujio Yoshida. After the death of his father, Toshi (his first-born son) took over the studio in which is younger brother also joined.

The Yoshida brothers, Yoshimi Okamoto and the other studio artists’ all shared similar concepts and in art and are known for their use of colour field abstraction and asymmetrical compositions and leaving large areas of empty space within the art work. They brought a whole new array of ideas in terms of the placing of the subject matter in the painting. In ‘Mimi’ by Yoshimi Okamoto a large proportion of the space is left white, the vivid blue sky is at the very top and the farmhouse is bottom right and the long grass is cut off at the bottom of the painting. A similar composition can also be seen in the work ‘Silent Landscape’ by Hodaka Yoshido.

In terms of the printing process the artists kept more in line with traditional woodblock printing although Hodaka Yoshido would also use other printing methods such as lithograph, silk screen and photo-transfer method.

A bit about woodblock printing techniques:

Bokashi: Bokashi is a technique creating variations in lightness and darkness of colours. This effect is achieved by hand applying a graduation of ink to a moistened wooden printing block.

Fukibokash: This technique will give inconsistent results from print to print and requires gradations of ink to be applied to the printing block.

Itabokashi: Here, uneven edges on areas of colour are achieved by ’block shading’. By first cutting an area slightly larger than needed for a colour, the abrading the edges of that area to make the transition from that colour less sharp. requires gradations of ink to be applied to the printing block. Again, like Fukibokash, Itabokashi was not a precise technique and would deliver inconsistent results.

What techniques do you think have been used in the prints on display?

You can see the Japanese art for yourself until mid March, alongside other exhibitions, all admission free. Over the festive season; we are open on Thursday 27th, Friday 28th and Saturday 29th, 10am to 5pm.

In proud remembrance: Lt Douglas Marshall Rigby in the First World War

A few weeks ago, I promised to write more about Douglas Marshall Rigby, the talented amateur artist brought up in Buxton, whose artwork we have been delighted to display at the museum over recent months. My previous blog explored Douglas’ family life and growing up in Buxton where, at a remarkably young age, he produced many of his surviving sketches and watercolours. Now I want to talk about his life as a soldier, as we move towards remembrance Sunday and the close of our exhibition.

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Douglas in uniform, 1915

The 1911 census records solicitor Marshall Rigby and his wife Grace still living at White Knowle, Buxton with their children. Honor (aged 22) has her occupation listed as gymnastics teacher and Douglas (19) as clerk to a iron merchant. Later that year the family moved from Buxton to the market town of Knutsford in Cheshire. When the First World War broke out in 1914, Douglas soon enlisted in the Cheshire Yeomanry, a cavalry brigade formed of men of every class from the county. Several months later he took a commission in the Cheshire Regiment, which would eventually take him to the front.

Like many young men of his age, Douglas had enlisted quickly and he was apparently frustrated by the subsequent delays that kept him from the front line. Once he had disembarked for France, in the summer of 1915 and a year into the war, his letters and postcards home reveal a cheery disposition and a fascination with the world around him that seems undiminished by the conflict. As a first lieutenant, he was responsible for the welfare, accommodation and entertainment of the men under his command, and his surviving correspondence is rich in observations of the landscape and an obvious concern for the comfort of his men.

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Douglas with his parents Grace and Marshall Rigby, Knutsford, 1918

Douglas was first wounded by debris from a mine explosion at Fricourt in June 1916. This ‘Blighty wound’ led to a short period of recuperation in Lincoln General Hospital, after which Douglas rejoined his regiment at Oswestry in Shropshire. Here Douglas was a Bombing Officer, training others to throw grenades into enemy trenches.  Very early into this role, a man dropped his missile on Douglas’s foot leading to 18 months of painful operations and physiotherapy. After this protracted and frustrating convalescence, Douglas returned to the front in August 1918, rejoining his regiment at Ypres in Belgium. Two weeks later, on 4 September 1918, he was shot dead by a sniper while leading his company in the advance which contributed to ending the war.

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Douglas’s medals, recently on display in Cheshire Military Museum

Douglas’s family received news of his death in a War Office telegram on 10th September, almost a week after the event. In the correspondence they received from those he had known and served with, Douglas was universally acclaimed as a splendid chap and a fine officer. His mother Grace wrote this dedication in her journal: “In glad thanksgiving for his life, in proud remembrance of his death.”

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Rigby family items displayed in Chester Military Museum.

Thanks to the generosity and hard work of Douglas’s surviving family members, we have been privileged to share Douglas’s story and artistic output with our visitors this autumn. You can enjoy the display of Douglas’s artworks and a small selection of personal items during our normal opening hours, until Saturday 10 November 2018. A companion book and DVD produced by Douglas’s great nephew, Richard Elsner, are available for purchase from the museum shop. Additional artworks and other items kindly loaned by Douglas’s family can be seen at Knutsford Heritage Centre until 22 December.