I recently happened upon some material which piqued my interest: it was a small envelope of correspondence 1896-1900 relating to a former governess to Sir Vauncey Harpur Crewe’s daughters, named Miss Adams, who was involved in a court case. If you’ve read my blog posts about Elizabeth Appleton, you’ll know that governesses have a particular fascination for me, so I felt compelled to find out more about Miss Adams.
There was a suggestion that Lady Crewe might have to testify and letters from his daughter to the governess might be produced as evidence. Sir Vauncey Harpur Crewe was clearly trying to prevent this happening and distance his family from any scandal. With a bit of judicious searching on Ancestry, Findmypast, and the British Newspaper Archive (all free to use at the Record Office and your local Derbyshire library) I found a wealth of information about Sarah A’Court which paints…
Working on the School Library Loans project at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery I come across a diverse range of wonderful objects; Maori clubs, Egyptian amulets, African statues and Tibetan ritual paraphernalia, to name but a few. One item that I came across, was, I have to be honest, not very exciting to look at. A block of polished fossiliferous limestone, 12cm square, with a small bronze plaque set into one side which reads, ‘A piece of rock on which the ROYAL CHARTER struck MOELFRE October 25th 1859’. However, all objects in a museum have a story to tell, and this rather unassuming block of stone tells of a tragedy that struck the coast of Anglesey over 150 years ago.
The stone commemorates the wrecking of the Royal Charter, a passenger ship that was destroyed in one of the worst storms to hit Britain. The Royal Charter was built at the Sandycroft Ironworks on the River Dee at Hawarden, Flintshire, and was launched in 1855. She was a new type of ship, a 2719-ton iron-hulled steam clipper, built in the same way as an ordinary clipper ship but with auxiliary steam engines which could be used in the absence of suitable winds. The ship was used to take passengers to and from Australia and could carry up to 600 passengers. The ship was considered one of the fastest at the time and could make the journey to Australia in 60 days via the Cape of Good Hope.
On the fateful day of 25th October 1859 the ship was returning from Australia with 371 passengers and 112 crew, though exact numbers are sketchy as the inventory was lost in the wreck; the passengers included many gold miners, some of whom had struck it rich in Australia and were carrying large sums of gold about their persons. A consignment of gold was also being carried as cargo. As the ship reached the north-western tip of Anglesey the weather turned for the worse – in fact it would prove to be one of the most ferocious and destructive storms ever to hit the shores of Britain.
As the storm gathered the captain of the ship, Thomas Taylor, was advised to dock at Holyhead for shelter, but instead he decided to try and carry on to Liverpool, a decision that would have disastrous consequences. Near Point Lynas the Captain signalled to a Liverpool Pilot Boat, but conditions were so bad that the pilot could not reach the ship. During the night of 25/26 October the wind rose to Hurricane force 12 on the Beaufort Scale in what became known as the “Royal Charter Storm”.
Also known as the Great Storm of 1859, it is considered to be the most severe storm to hit the Irish Sea in the 19th century. There was extensive structural damage along the West coast of Britain and a total of 133 ships were sunk during the storm and another 90 badly damaged. The death toll was estimated at around 800, including some people killed on land by falling rocks and masonry.
As the conditions got worse the ship dropped both of its anchors late at night in the hope of riding out the storm. However, at around 2am on the morning of the 26th both anchor chains snapped. Despite cutting the masts to reduce the drag of the wind, the Royal Charter was driven inshore, with the steam engines unable to make headway against the gale. The ship initially grounded on a sandbank, but the rising tide drove her on to the rocks at a point just north of Moelfre at Porth Alerth on the north coast of Anglesey. Battered against the rocks by huge waves whipped up by winds of over 100 mph, she quickly broke up.
One member of the crew, Joseph Rogers, managed to swim ashore with a line, enabling a few people to be rescued, and a few others were able to struggle to shore through the surf. Unfortunately most of the passengers and crew, a total of over 450 people, died. Many of them were killed by being dashed against the rocks by the waves. Others were said to have drowned, weighed down by the belts of gold they were wearing around their bodies. The survivors, 21 passengers and 18 crew members, were all men, with no women or children saved. Bodies continued to wash up on the beach over the weeks following the shipwreck, and a memorial was placed on the cliff top, reading:
“Where the Royal Charter met its end and the memory of those who died.”
The aftermath of the storm was described by Charles Dickens in ‘The Uncommercial Traveller’. The disaster had an effect on the development of the Meteorological Office as Captain Robert FitzRoy, who was in charge of the office at the time, brought in the first gale warning service to prevent similar tragedies. The intensity of the “Royal Charter storm” and winds were frequently used as a yardstick in other national disasters – when the Tay Bridge collapsed in 1878 the Astronomer Royal referred to the Royal Charter storm frequently in his report. During an episode of the BBC TV Show Who Do YOu Think You Are?, gardener Monty Don discovered his great-great-grandfather, Reverend Charles Vere Hodge, died on board the Royal Charter.
The memorial stone from Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has now been transferred to Oriel Yns Mon on Anglesey, a museum dedicated to the history of the island, where it forms part of the displays and tells the story of the tragic events.
Three cheers! The brand new catalogue of our material relating to Sir John Franklin, his family and friends, can now be viewed on our online catalogue in collection D8760.
Archives Revealed funding and the help of volunteers has enabled us to catalogue in much greater detail than we normally would. This means there are now four times more catalogue entries than there were before! That’s a lot to browse through, so if you’d like to search the Franklin material instead, click on ‘Search our catalogue’, put ‘D8760*’ (don’t forget the asterisk at the end) into the ‘Reference number’ box, and then add your keywords into the ‘Any Text’ box at the top. You can also add a date range to narrow down your search.
Over 1000 letters have also been exported into a spreadsheet. If you are interested in Franklin, or just 19th century letters in general, the spreadsheet enables you to keyword…
There are a series of sharp edged limestone ridges on the north side of the upper Dove Valley where, 340 million years ago coral reefs formed the edges of tropical lagoons.
Look east as you travel out of Buxton on the A53 towards Staffordshire. The leaning, sharpened peaks of Parkhouse and Chrome Hill are out of place amongst the softer landscape. And at only 425m you look down on them, a mini Switzerland sunken amongst rolling hills.
Typical of limestone landscapes these hills are riddled with a network of cave systems formed by swallets and resurgence waters which in later and colder times became places of hibernation, shelter and burial. There are notable caves; Dowel Cave was a burial place 6,000 years ago, the skulls and skeletons of ten people were found here but charcoal fragments reveal its use as far back as 11,000 years. Nearby Fox Hole cave on the pyramid shaped High Wheeldon had human bone, pottery, an axe and sharpened antler points that date the occupation of the cave at 15,000 years ago and excavations at Hitter Hill uncovered two cists and four rock cut graves. The finds are in Buxton Museum. Then there is the potholers’ favourite, the huge but hidden Owl Hole and the mysteriously deep and lesser known Etches cave, named after the family who farm the land.
The view from Hitter Hill is stunning and can easily be accessed from a footpath running behind The Quiet Woman pub at Earl Sterndale. It is this same view that features in Buxton Museum’s Wonder of the Peak gallery. From here the ridge of Parkhouse looms tall and imposing and the ‘spine’ of Chrome Hill clearly articulated giving rise to its local name ‘The Dragons Back’. Sharp sunlight adds vividity to this view when both crags cast their dense shadows into the valley accentuating the amphitheatre they create around Glutton and Dowel Dale.
Take a walk here and you will sense this area is indeed unique giving the impression that you are simultaneously in expansive space and yet closed in on all sides.
It is here in the valley of Dowel Dale that two artists, Tony Wild and Brian Holdcroft decided to plot their materials and their ideas to take their work on a journey for twelve months.
Both artists originally hail from the Potteries. Tony having worked in the arts ever since studying at Burslem School of Art in the late 1950’s, and Brian developing his art form in more or less isolation from other artists until meeting Tony over twenty years ago. Over the years their work has diverged and returned to the landscape many times.
This exhibition is a culmination of work they created throughout the year from spring 2018 to spring 2019.
Most months are inclement here in the Peaks, they needed shelter. And so they hired a barn from farmer Mr Etches to store their materials, keep a stove and when needed take refuge.
Throughout the twelve months they drew, explored, walked and photographed. Their work shows the industry of their origins both in its output and how it now appears in series and variations.
Tony’s work falls into set of images. Chrome Hill and groups of trees appear as a repeated motif in small heavily textured and expressive paintings, their energy punching out from their size. Butterflies are lost in the textures of limestone and the microscopic world of lichens are honed in and magnified into much larger paintings. And there is colour, lots of it.
He has two folders of work on display. One has sets of ink drawings created on the spot reminiscent of Japanese Sumi-e painting. The other, a series of photo montages cut from striking images of the hills, close-ups of tracks and the limestone’s lichen, again with a repeat motif. There seems to be four or more threads to Tony’s work, each with the potential to go on a journey of their own from this same central point.
Brian’s work evolves into series; growth, erosion and mapping, as he considers the layered histories of the area and the interactions between its geology, materials, animal and human activity. He uses beeswax, pigment, ink and earth in his paintings. All were created outside at Chrome Hill.
Also on display are Brian’s lead bowls- lead runs through the veins of the hills here- and note books he buried behind the barn they hired. Later exhumed they become objects in themselves that have withstood compression and change – albeit for a short period- as did the giant brachiopod fossils abundant at Chrome Hill. What do they contain?
Many would describe both artists’ work as abstract or expressive. Brian’s more so but the colours are naturalistic- and having experienced this area first hand- particular and precise. The work of both artist is lively and not always recognisable or descriptive, preferring to reveal its imagery and topography slowly as you immerse yourself into it, walk along with it, much as a landscape or a view unravels itself on a journey or by simply observing it quietly, in increments. In essence it’s all here.
The exhibition continues at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery until Saturday 23rd November 2019
More information on the artists can be found here: