Nikki Anderson one of our Museum Attendants and Textile Designer has put together this blog about the 19th Century embroideries that are on display here at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.
To celebrate the reopening of ‘The Crescent’, the iconic hotel in the centre of Buxton, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery are exhibiting some rare and exciting art works dating back to the early 18th Century alongside some more contemporary paintings and prints.
The Crescent was built in 1788 and included a hotel at each end of the building and six town houses in the middle and was commissioned by ‘The 5th Duke of Devonshire’. Its purpose was to provide luxurious accommodation for visitors to the town. His vision, to create a spa town to rival Bath. Architect John Carr designed the building which was completed in 1788. It quickly became a popular visitor attraction and became a focus for artists whom would interpret ‘The Crescent’ in various art forms.
I was fascinated in particular with 3 pieces of embroidery on display. All 3 embroideries show the view of ‘The Crescent’ as the focal point from the slopes at St Ann’s Cliff. There is little known about the embroideries other than they were created in the mid 19th Century. The detail achieved in these works is incredible. You can see in the detail below the accuracy in very small detail. This photo has been magnified so the tiny stitch work can be seen.
These embroideries have been created from etchings by Henry Moore which were made in 1819. Often the etchings were printed onto the silk fabric and the free hand embroidery was used to create the painting. On close inspection it appears that most of the embroidery would have been done by machine possibly using a pantograph method to transfer the stitches. Silk became very popular in the late 18th Century and by the mid 19th Century it became a common pastime to make these silk embroideries. I love the different contrasting effects used by the satin stitch on the machine and the hand stitching using running and seeding stitch (embroidery 3) whilst still obtaining such a delicate nature to the works. The fashioning of metallic threads of the 18th century have also influenced these works alongside the popularity of satin stitch and long and short stitch. In the magnified photo below a method called ‘couching’ has been used. This is where threads are placed on the surface of the fabric and then sewn stitched on by hand or machine. If you look closely you can see where the couching has unraveled showing the loose yarn.
It is interesting to note the fact these embroideries were worked upon in only 2 or 3 shades. Black and gold and/or beige silk. This may have also been influenced by’ Blackwork’, which was developed in the 16th and 17th Century and was incredibly popular.
These incredibly beautiful pieces of embroidery are on display alongside etchings, paintings and photographs until the 1st September at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery.
The staff recently enjoyed the assistance of a young man called Dylan who gave up his Saturday mornings to sample life in a museum and art gallery. We strive to give placements to students aspiring to a career in the arts or heritage and hopefully, we don’t put them off!
We asked Dylan to write about his favourite objects in the museum and he chose one which attracts a lot of curiosity in this part of the world:
Blue John crystals are only found in two places in the whole world: the Treak Cliff and Blue John caverns in Castleton. And is hailed as “Britain’s rarest mineral”, it is a mineral called fluorite. Yes I have nabbed this straight from the ’Wonders of the Peak’ exhibition, but none the less a fascinating crystal. It is still being mined and sold today but their peak in popularity was throughout the 19th century and Regency period with people making vases, columns, tables and even windows in many of the finest houses in Britain, most notably Buckingham Palace and Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.
They also played a role in World War One; there was a rising need for supplies and machinery to help assist with the ongoing war effort. This meant that fluorspar also became in high demand as it was often used in blast furnaces. Blue John being a rare form of calcium fluorite was mined purely for this purpose throughout the war period. During this time tons of Blue John material had been extracted and transported to the nearby city of Sheffield. Leaving many of the recognised Blue John veins in very short supply and in some instances fully worked out, which meant that the larger Blue John pieces required to produce ornamental items had been lost during this period but at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, there is a collection of Blue John ornaments bowls, urns, cups and even souvenir eggs. You can plan your visit here.
Archivist Ian Gregory probes a rare image of one of Buxton’s most iconic buildings:
I have recently catalogued one of the many images of The Old Hall, Buxton. This particular photo has a Victorian look to it. Three people stand on the corner, by a building which was old even then.
The Old Hall’s most famous resident was Mary, Queen of Scots but how many others have lived and worked there over 450 years? My first thought was of maids and waiters in Victorian times, perhaps because of this pictures age, but maybe due to a stream of period dramas about masters and servants. The latter were often overlooked in fiction penned at that time; today no costume drama is complete without them.
This is overall a change for the better as it shows us a broader cross-section of society, including the ancestors of many readers or viewers, including many women, who otherwise would be overlooked. Yet I wonder, do we still exclude people? Outdoor servants like gardeners and stable lads rarely figure in the period dramas, yet without them there would be no parks and water features at country houses. Head gardeners had to manage large teams, design greenhouses and grow plants which were then new to Britain. They provided much of the food eaten by their masters and mistresses.
Why did the Victorians seldom write about their servants? Snobbery is the obvious answer but was there another factor at work? Years ago, a writer of contemporary screenplays said ‘you can’t have a series about plumbers’; apparently they don’t do exciting enough things.
I’ve met plumbers whom I like, but that aside perhaps we forget something. To our ancestors hiring a maid or a footman was a mundane activity, just as employing a plumber is to us. It seems exotic and unfamiliar today because time has passed and much has changed, but at that time it was not. Had I been born a 100 years before I was, then I may have worried about some clumsy maid or randy footman but whether I’d have built a novel around them is another matter. I’m in favour of inclusive history, but also wondering if we today overlook the experiences of large numbers of people. How often do we write about contemporary hotel staff or shop workers? Will our grandchildren think we could’ve done more?