Derbyshire, A Place for Poetry and Politics

This week’s blog has been written by Lorna Ormiston, a history undergraduate from Sheffield University who specialises in the 17th and 18th century.

During my four week placement at Buxton Museum, I had the opportunity to handle both Thomas Hobbes’ and Charles Cotton’s poems on the “wonders” surrounding Derbyshire.

hobbes coverThomas Hobbes’ poem De mirabilibus pecci, which was first published in Latin in 1636 and then published later in English, is a celebration of what Hobbes referred to as the seven wonders of Derbyshire.[i] These wonders included: Chatsworth House, Tideswell’s Ebbing and Flowing Stream, Mam Tor, Peak Cavern, Poole’s Cavern, St Ann’s Well in Buxton and Eldon Hole in Peak Forest.[ii]  Whilst, photographing the topographical poem for the museum’s historical records, it was clear that Hobbes’ recognition of Derbyshire was in part motivated by Hobbes wanting to bolster his reputation. Unbeknownst to Hobbes, Hobbes later becomes well-known for his political theory in his work Leviathan published in 1651.[iii]

hobbes dedicationHobbes’ use of “flowery” language and his dedication to his client William Cavendish, the second Earl of Devonshire and the person he tutored around Europe. This was a journey which many nobles took known as the “Grand Tour” often with chaperones as the journeys were meant to better educate the nobles to prove that elites should be in positions of power.  However, often nobles engaged in ill-pursuits.  One place which was known for this was in Venice and as a result became a part of its mythology. For instance, in Thomas Dekker’s ‘Penny-Wise, Povnd Foolish’ which was published in 1631, it tells the tale of an Englishman swayed by a “bewitching” courtesans in Venice.[iv] Therefore, it is also interesting that having come from touring Europe, Hobbes wanted to promote Derbyshire since domestic travel was not prized during this time and his poem is even considered Derbyshire first guidebook. Yet, Hobbes aggrandisement of William Cavendish also suggests Hobbes intended not only to paint a picture of Derbyshire but place importance upon himself as a writer and upon his clients.

Charles Cotton’s satirical poem The Wonders of the Peake, published five years later than Hobbes’ English version of the poem was brought out reaffirms that Hobbes’ poem was not entirely accurate and had other motivations than just encouraging tourism in Derbyshire.[v] For instance, Cotton refers directly to Hobbes in his poem stating that Hobbes takes “rational guesses” and does not take seriously his descriptions of Derbyshire. [vi] Nevertheless, it is clear Cotton had admiration for Hobbes’ referring to him as someone who “thinks best” and is ‘best read’.[vii] Yet, Cotton can be seen as being more at ease with Derbyshire having been born close to the county. Cotton even takes ownership of Derbyshire, which can be seen in one of Cotton’s most descriptive verses (pictured below).

cotton dove verse

This is because Cotton refers to the River Dove as part of ‘our little world’ which includes himself as part of Derbyshire’s “world”. [viii] Cotton work also contains humour as Cotton “pokes fun” at himself by depicting himself as having a lack of awareness and sophistication something which the reader can guess he has. For example, in his verse about Poole’s cavern guides where he states, ‘Your Peak-bred Convoy of rude Men and Boys,   All the way whooting with that dreadful Noife [noise].’[ix]  The use of word  ‘rude’ not only suggests the characters of the men in Poole’s cavern but also that of Cotton because his use of the word makes him seem ‘rude’ in terms of meaning something which is crude or simplistic in this case Cotton’s  use of language.[x]  Thus, this is an intentional way in which to create humour with an audience aware, that Cotton is presenting Cotton the poet as a parody of himself.

Ultimately, both poems give wondrous accounts of Derbyshire and point out some of its sights which are still very popular today including Chatsworth House, which has been referred to as a ‘pallace’.[xi] And even though, the poems are not accurate and exaggerate Derbyshire “beauties” during the Seventeenth Century, they are useful in showing what elite members of society were interested in and the way in which they presented themselves in written texts.

Further Reading:

Edwards, Jess, ‘Thomas Hobbes, Charles Cotton and the “wonders” of the Derbyshire Peak’, Studies in Travel Writing 16:1 (2012)

Buzard, James, ‘The Grand Tour and after (1660–1840)’ in The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing, eds. Peter Hulme and Tim Youngs (Cambridge, 2002)

[i] Thomas Hobbes, De mirabilibus pecci (London, 1636).

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (London, 1651).

[iv] Thomas Dekker, Penny-wise, Povnd Foolish (London, 1631).

[v] Charles Cotton, The Wonders of the Peake (London, 1681).

[vi] Charles Cotton, The Wonders of the Peake (2nd edn, London, 1683), p.27.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid., p.2.

[ix] Ibid., p.18.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Thomas Hobbes, De mirabilibus pecci (London, 1636), p.10.



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?

The Derbyshire Open Art Exhibition 2017

The 35th Derbyshire Open Art Exhibition is now available to see until 1st September. Each year we invite artists, both professional and amateur, to capture aspects of life and landscape in Derbyshire, illustrating why the county is special to them.

This year the judges looked at 264 entries, and selected 80, including 17 works from young people aged 21 and under.  The selection was made by Louise Potter, Derbyshire representative for the Art Fund; Louise Cross, Director of Buxton Crescent Trust; Simon Watson, sculptor and artist in residence at the museum and Jean Monk, a member of the Friends of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. The judges were pleased that artists entered work to a really high standard, showing Derbyshire in many different ways.

Come and decide for yourself if you agree with the judge’s choices. You will see dramatic landscapes and intimate events. There is great energy in some works and calming reflection in others. There’s a Visitor’s Choice Award too. decided by visitors to the gallery.

You can plan your visit here.

The new Buxton Museum shop

The recent renovation at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery gave us chance to review all aspects of our service including the gift shop. These days, most museums and art galleries have really great shops where you can purchase souvenirs that reflect the unique character of the place, as well as raise some revenue. Funded by the Arts Council and guided by retail expert Polly Redman, we decided to embark on an enterprise of our own.


I started by collecting an assortment of images from the collections and asked my colleagues which ones appealed to them from a retail perspective. Our marketing advisor, Jen Francis, quickly pointed out that what the museum staff liked might be different from what the majority of the public liked, which was a good point; we can be a bit geeky! Most of the team agreed that we could not go wrong with the museum bear; a fierce character from the old Wonders of the Peak display that seems to have become Buxton Museum’s unofficial mascot. The many fans of the bear will be pleased to know that you can now get the furry guy on a postcard, a mug, a bag and a t-shirt.


Some of the other images we thought our visitors might like have ended up on postcards, coasters, scarfs, tea towels water bottles and lens cloths. Of course, the ultimate gift shop would be one where you can have any image you like printed on any product you like and we will work towards this ideal in the future. Until then, I hope you will come in and have a look at the gift shop. There’s a museum and art gallery attached!