Buxton Museum’s Favourite Visitor

As well as providing a focal point for the heritage of The Peak District, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is also a meeting place for the local community. One of our most frequent visitors is a Buxton resident called Cynthia who makes use of the public computers at the museum. More often than not, Cynthia is there to greet us when we open the door at 10am. It’s always nice to see a friendly face and get an early morning chuckle from one of her jokes or anecdotes. Cynthia often mentions her dad who was served in the RAF during World War 2 but her past is equally fascinating.

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Cynthia lost an eye to a wayward arrow when she was just four years old. 67 years later, she still remembers being taken to Stockport Infirmary in a maroon-coloured ambulance and being put into a cot; the only child in a cot! The surgeon, Mr Faulkner, told Cynthia’s mum and dad that he could save her eye but there was a risk she would be completely blind by the time she was 14. They decided to completely remove it and Cynthia was the town’s first ever recipient of an artificial plastic eye. Not only did she overcome the accident but Cynthia developed a new party trick; taking out her eye and showing it to her school pals at playtime. The entertainment was brought to an end when the head teacher called mum and dad. At home, they “grizzled” at her and she wasn’t allowed out at playtime for six weeks.

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Cynthia’s mum died when she was 8 but her dad, Ernest did a wonderful job of bringing her up. Holidays were at the seaside but one year, they went to Downham Market in Norfolk where Ernest was stationed in the war and met Mr and Mrs Barlow, whom he used to stay with. Mr Barlow was the town’s railway signal man. One morning, he took Cynthia to the box and she was allowed to use the signals; under supervision, of course!

In 1977, Cynthia worked at a school and one of the teachers asked for volunteers for a charity parachute jump and she and her dad got involved. Despite being an RAF man, Ernest had never jumped. He was the eldest of the volunteers and the event soon attracted the attention of the media. Ernest hit the headlines. He went on to do a lot more parachuting and even tried hand-gliding and hot-air ballooning.

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Cynthia recalls the adventures with her dad with great fondness. A couple of years ago, she developed a problem with her eye and had an operation in Manchester. She learnt a few things from her consultant:

1) She was not the youngest person in Stockport to have an artificial plastic eye but the youngest in the country.

2) She is no longer classified as having an artificial eye but a prosthetic limb.

3) Her “eye fitter” is now called a prosthetic engineer.

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Cynthia often laughs at the way things have changed. She has researched what her dad did in the RAF during the war as it was kept under wraps for years afterwards. This final story from Ernest himself gives you an insight into the tenacity and spirit that she has clearly inherited.

I was in a Bomber Squadron based in Norfolk during World War Two. Our aircraft were dispersed for miles around the huge airfield, which was surrounded by woods. Next to our aircraft on the edge of these woods, was a Nissen hut. This was our home. One Christmas, we were ordered to stand-by for operations, despite the fact that the ground was covered in snow a foot deep with huge, mountainous drifts.

I had promised to ring my wife at 19.00hrs. The nearest phone was a lonely road on the other side of the woods so, giving myself plenty of time due to the adverse weather conditions, I decided to set off an hour early. After struggling through the snow drifts, I finally reached my destination with seconds to spare. My relief turned to misery when after my battle against the elements, the operator greeted me with “sorry, the phone lines are fully booked until 21.00hrs”.

In order not to be caught out again, I booked a call myself for 21.00hrs. Not fancying the thought of standing around for two hours, I set off again on my bleak trek through the woods, back towards civilisation, and the hut. I crawled and crawled, finally arriving there at 20.00hrs. I looked in and explained my situation to the lads; they were highly amused at my predicament. Well, an hour there, an hour back and an hour left before I was due to place my call. Off I set once more, to fight my way back through the frozen wastes of Norfolk.

I made it with two minutes to spare, the operator connected my call and I then managed to wish my dear wife a Belated Merry Christmas. It was roughly 22.00hrs when I arrived back. I was cold, wet and thoroughly exhausted.

The Squadron Leader had invited Joe Loss and his Band over for the evening, to give a little comfort to those of us who weren’t on duty. And despite my physical sufferings, I couldn’t help but smile when during my journey, I heard their melodic rendition of In the Mood. It was a Christmas Night I will always remember.

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Buxton Museum Gift Shop Online

Do you have a favourite object, photograph or artwork in the collections of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery? Would you like it on your T-shirt? Scarf? Apron? Framed on your wall? Well now you can and you can do it without stepping foot in the place.

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www.wondersofthepeak.co.uk is a brand new website that provides unique quality products featuring images from the museum and art gallery and there’s thousands to choose from. Although it’s early days for the website, you can expect the possibilities to grow over time. Do tell us what you think. All ideas welcome.

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Cheddar Man in Buxton

Volunteer archivist Ian Gregory makes another thought-provoking discovery:

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While much of the collection at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is devoted to The Peak District, it has never been cut off from the wider world. The collection includes some photographs from the caves of Cheddar Gorge in Somerset.

You may have watched a recent documentary on Channel 4 called The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man. The programme was about analysis of DNA and a reconstruction of a hunter-gatherer whose bones were excavated in Gough’s Cave, one of several in Cheddar Gorge. Two photographic slides in Buxton Museum depict the remains in question, while others feature the gorge. One image of a skull with two crossed bones in front of it brings to mind a pirate’s flag.

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Since the discovery was made in 1903, much has been learned about prehistory in general and Cheddar Man in particular. Even so, there are still gaps in our knowledge. We don’t know if this man was buried by his tribe or whether he stumbled in to the cave ill or injured and died alone there. The cause of his death isn’t clear. That said, studies of DNA have given us knowledge that the Edwardians could only dream of. We share 10% of our genes with his people. He had blue eyes, curly hair and brown skin.

100 years from now, will our descendants know the answers to questions that baffle us? Or will they still have to ask “who was this person and how did he meet his death?”

Moving a Hill into a Gallery

Hill is the story of one Derbyshire hill told in photography, film, sculpture, poetry and song. The hill featured in the exhibition rises north from Wirksworth. It is home to families, wildlife, farming, quarries, mine shafts and wind turbines.

Phil Spencer

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has worked with award-winning photographer Kate Bellis who has spent the last 20 years documenting the relationships between rural communities and the land around them. Kate’s images feature the working life of the hill; farming and quarrying, as well as images of the community that lives in the shelter of the hill.

A Hare

 

Alongside Kate’s photographs the exhibition features a full-sized dairy cow made from the materials of the hill itself, partly using Longcliffe Limestone, by acclaimed sculptor Sally Matthews. Kate and Sally’s work is complemented by a film from Wirksworth-based film-maker Gavin Repton, poetry by Lucy Peacock and a song by Carol Fieldhouse.

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Hill has already attracted a lot of attention from visitors, with one person commenting “I didn’t realise farmers worked so hard”. You can see this remarkable and diverse display for yourself until Wednesday 6 June and you can meet the artists on Saturday 24 March, Saturday 14 April and Saturday 12 May, 2-4pm. A book with accompanying DVD is on sale in the museum gift shop at £20.00.

You can plan your visit here.

Aysgarth Force!

Volunteer archivist Ian Gregory discovers another contemplative image in the glass plate negative collection:

We have amongst our many slides at Buxton Museum, an image of a low waterfall in a wooded setting. Below the falls, water gushes over flat-stoned rocks as the river opens out. This is Aysgarth Force on North Yorkshire’s River Ure.

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The name Aysgarth means “the open space in the oak trees”. It doesn’t come from the English language but from Old Norse, the language of the Vikings.

During the 9th and 10th centuries, Viking armies ruled large areas of England. Today, there are few remains of their culture above ground, what survives has been excavated from mud and earth. When it comes to place names, it’s another story, northern England is full of names derived from Old Norse. The Force in Aysgarth means waterfall in that language, while other Norse place names include thwaite (clearing), thorpe (village or farm), toft (site of house or farm), fell (hill) and beck (stream).

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Beeston Tor brooch, Manifold Valley, Derbyshire 875CE on display at BMAG kindly lent by the Trustees of the British Museum

 

The county I live and work in bears a Viking name; Derby means “deer village” in their ancient tongue. Danish warriors conquered this area in the 9th century but in the 10th century, their leaders were defeated by Anglo-Saxons. The latter were commanded by Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great. Although the Viking army had been defeated, Danish civilians were allowed to remain. Their descendants intermarried with Anglo-Saxons and gradually became one people.