From Time to Time

Volunteer Ian Gregory gives us a personal account of this week’s official reopening of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery:

opening day 03

Manager Ros Westwood reveals The Wonders of the Peak to The Duke of Devonshire

From time to time, long-lasting establishments have to reassess themselves and make changes. Some of you will know this happened recently at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery when the Wonders of the Peak exhibition was revitalised and updated. On Tuesday 12 September, I was privileged to attend the official reopening ceremony for the display.

opening day 01

Dave makes last minute adjustments to the Roman soldier

The ceremony took place in the art gallery upstairs, under a plaster ceiling from the days when the building was a hotel. It was very well attended; infact the place was crowded and so many people made the gallery rather hot. As well as staff and volunteers like myself, there were journalists, members of the public, County Councillors and the 12th Duke of Devonshire. One woman fainted but she quickly recovered and didn’t need medical attention.

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The reopening of the museum coincides with the legend that is Emily leaving for a new job

Ros, the manager of the museum, gave a speech. She outlined the history of the building, which was a hotel and then a military hospital before becoming the museum in 1928.

Ros’ speech

Then the leader of Derbyshire County Council spoke, followed by Jonathan Platt from the Heritage Lottery Fund and finally The Duke of Devonshire, who emphasised the importance of community and Buxton Museum belonging to the whole community. He also reminded us that the landscape has always changed and felt the hand of humanity, and he urged us to embrace recent changes in technology. This ties in with an app which we are developing for the museum. The Duke also remarked that he remembered telephones like the one in the first case visitors come to. Ros then spoke again. Some children were present and she told them that the bear is still here, adding that he was hungry.

opening day 02

Remember these?

It was time to view the new Wonders of the Peak exhibition. We entered the new gallery which is much spacious than its predecessor. It also features videos and touch screens new to our museum. I was impressed and everyone else appeared to be too. The exhibition starts with the Carboniferous Period about 350 million years ago when the limestone which underlies much of the Peak District was formed. It picks up the history about 1.9 million years ago with bones of mastodon and scimitar-toothed cats, then goes on through The Stone Age and Iron Ages into Roman and Saxon times, then through the Blue John and Ashford Black Marble objects from Victorian times and so to the 20th century.

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The reopening is accompanied by music from Amanda Johnson of Kidology

The visitors left and the staff locked up. It had been hard work preparing for all this but it was worth the effort. I’m sure the vast majority of people who came that day would agree with me there.

Ros’ speech

You can plan your own visit here.


Buxton Museum Blacksmith Wins Award

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery was thrilled to learn this week that one of its exhibits has won a prestigious award. The Tonypandy Cup is awarded annually for a piece which is considered to be an outstanding example of the skill of a blacksmith. It is given in memory of Lord Tonypandy (George Thomas, Speaker of the House of Commons) who was an Honorary Member of the Court of the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths. A special Committee is established every year to assess the nominated works.

The 2017 winner is professional blacksmith and artist David Tucker FWCB, based in Derbyshire, for his creative interpretation of a display case for the Long Cross Coins at Buxton Museum.

Buxton Sculpture 098

In 2012, a hoard of 43 medieval coins was found by a metal detectorist in the Kirk Ireton Parish, Derbyshire. Most of the coins were made in 1247 and have a long cross pattern on the back.  The long cross pattern was introduced to try and stop the clipping of coins, a common practice at the time. Clipping was a problem and reduced the value of currency. The idea was that the size of the cross design would limit how much silver could be cut off the edges of the coin before the clipping was noticed.

The coins were declared Treasure and purchased by Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. The museum received funding from the Art Fund’s Treasure + scheme to commission a unique display case for the coins. David wanted to create a stack of giant coins with touchable patterns based on the silver pennies. Nice job, David!

Bending long crosses

You can see the award-winning display for yourself, not to mention the new Wonders of the Peak gallery and lots of fabulous art; all admission free. You can plan your visit here.

Wonderful Wonders?

Since Buxton Museum and Art Gallery reopened on 6 June this year, visitors have had the chance to come in and see the brand new Wonders of the Peak gallery. Though not yet complete, we have found that giving people the opportunity to see the developments in progress and talk to staff has been a welcome one.


Of course, the old dark and spooky Wonders of the Peak was cherished by a lot of people over its 27 year lifespan and the change has not been valued by everyone. However, the majority of recent visitors have given the new brightly-lit Wonders of the Peak the thumbs up, along with the refurbished foyer, gift shop, toilets and lift to the first floor. Here are some of their comments:

Never realised before that the museum had such a wide variety of objects. New display much better.

Love the changes; it feels much more accessible. So glad you kept the bear!

Absolutely stunning and fascinating! A treasure of a find and such a pleasure to visit this beautiful museum. You can see the care and attention to detail has gone into the renovation – so beautifully done.

The staff are very informative and very pleasant. Well worth the visit.

Excellent restoration, inviting and interesting. Although the quirkiness of what I remember has gone, the eclectic items are still there. A lovely surprise.


Love accessible lift, light open spaces, excellent for grandchildren.

Great choice in the gift shop.

A beautiful find after just arriving in Buxton.

Wonderful – we are lucky to have this here!

I really enjoyed every minute of this magical place.

Really impressed. Thank you. Lots of interactive things to engage our kids and very varied content.

Brilliant little museum. Great displays and interesting stuff. Thank you for the hard work!

the boss

After years of endeavour, it’s great to have some appreciation and we do listen to the suggestions too. The most common criticisms are that the museum looks closed from the outside, that there’s not enough for children to do and that the bear doesn’t growl. We will take notice of the feedback and work to rectify these grumbles.

You can plan your own visit here.


The English Civil War: A Local Study

In the second of two posts, Lorna Ormiston, a history undergraduate from Sheffield University, looks at Derbyshire’s role in a tumultuous era of British history.

The English Civil War (or rather civil wars) began in 1642 with the king raising his standard in Nottingham after failing to reach a settlement with parliament.  This was because one of the fundamental causes of the war was the king’s and parliament’s inability to agree on how the state should be run. Charles I believed, as his father James I did, in divine rule which was the idea that the King was appointed by God and thus can only be accountable to God. Whereas, parliament believed that they were there to limit the king’s power and to legislate new laws. As a result, the king’s controversial personal rule (which meant the king ruled without convening parliament) included Charles I reinstating archaic laws to gain money for foreign wars in order to bypass asking parliament for money. As well as, that Charles I’s implementation of new religious policies in England, Scotland and Ireland only proceeded to aggravate parliament further, since some parliamentarians were convinced Charles I “evil advisers” were part of a “popish plot” to force Catholicism on Protestant England.


Thus, both parliament’s and Charles’ inability to understand one another contributed to the outbreak of the English Civil War, which led to two other civil wars (the last one ending in 1651) and  the execution of Charles I in 1649. Therefore, it is unsurprising that historians such as Christopher Hill have noted that this dispute was a revolution and ultimately an event which “turned the world upside down”. [i] The sentence of Charles I interestingly, was carried out by John Bradshaw who came from Marple in nearby Cheshire, as the President of the High Court of Justice at the trial. Here is a painting of him which Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has in its collection.

This suggestion that the “English” Civil War had a profound impact is correct, since the whole of what later becomes the United Kingdom both influences and is influenced by the war. And thus, is why we will move on to look more generally at Derbyshire’s role within in the civil war with reference to its surrounding areas, because counties do not operate in isolation. This can be seen with historian Brian Stone noting, that along with Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire ‘whichever side first secured those two vital counties…would be half-way to winning the war’.[ii] This is because according to Stone the king could unite his army in Oxford and the Earl of Newcastle’s in Yorkshire and then ‘outnumber parliament at every turn’ which made Derbyshire a strategic place to maintain support.[iii] Although, we should be cautious with this idea that by obtaining Derbyshire it could alter the result of the war-as different circumstances often alter the course of history-, it shows the importance of why Derbyshire’s “big” personalities in terms of military commanders should be discussed.  One such key figure is Sir John Gell of Hopton Hall, who was wealthy member of the gentry because of his family’s engagement in sheep farming and lead mining and later becomes a skilful parliamentarian commander.[iv] This being the case, one of Sir John Gell’s notable achievements was the successful fortification of Derby against threats, which included Prince Rupert and the hated Spanish queen Henrietta Maria.[v] William Cavendish, who owned Chatsworth, also engaged with the civil war but was a royalist and ended up living in exile because of parliament’s victory, although he did return with the restoration and repaired Bolsover Castle (which had been demolished to stop Royalist reprisals).[vi] Hopefully, this short snippet of Derbyshire’s personalities and role within the civil war (after restraining myself from writing copious amounts) demonstrates that there is always more history to be uncovered.

For more information on this topic I recommend the following academic works:

Brian Stone, Derbyshire in the Civil War (Northampton, 1992)

Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (London, 1991)

Conrad Russell, The Causes of the English Civil War (Oxford, 1990)

[i] Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (London , 1991)

[ii] Brian Stone, Derbyshire in the Civil War (Northampton, 1992), p.17.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Trevor Brighton, ‘Gell, Sir John, first baronet (bap. 1593, d. 1671)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) [accessed 28 July 2017].

[vi] Ibid.

[1] Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (London , 1991)

[1] Brian Stone, Derbyshire in the Civil War (Northampton, 1992), p.17.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Trevor Brighton, ‘Gell, Sir John, first baronet (bap. 1593, d. 1671)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) [accessed 28 July 2017].

[1] Ibid.

The Provenance of the Oatcake


Oatcakes in various forms hail from all over the country. For many it is a Scottish food item, somewhere between a cracker and a biscuit, dry and savoury.

But here in the north and east Midlands an oatcake is a very different creature. Taking the form of a dark pancake, the batter; a mix of oatmeal, wheat flour and yeast is left to ferment over night before being cooked in a dry pan or a hot plate. It is often served as a breakfast dish or as a light meal with bacon, cheese, mushrooms, sausage, tomato…

From as far north as Chesterfield to the Derbyshire dales and the Staffordshire moorlands people are proud and protective of their form of oatcake. But nowhere more than the Staffordshire Derbyshire borders do folk vie for its provenance.

From both regions families have tales of a great grandma ladling jugs of live, fizzing oatcake batter onto a hot griddle pan. Written accounts of oatcake consumption in Derbyshire date back to the 1600’s when officials in the High Peak note that the local grain stock consisted of ‘oats and not much else’. In 1817 J. Farey describes an account of oatcakes being made in Pilsbury where an ‘acid fermentation process became excited in batter’ before being poured onto a hot bakestone. More famously is Sir Humphry Davy’s account of Derbyshire miners’ preference of ‘oat-cakes to wheatened bread’. In ‘The Staffordshire Oatcake: A History’ food historian Pamela Sambrooke found seventeenth century probate inventories from the Staffordshire moorlands listing ‘doshens’ and ‘back sprittles’, fermentation buckets and boards to flip oatcakes as well as the tell-tale ‘baxtons’ or bakestones.

It was there in north Staffordshire that oatcake making was taken to a higher level. Here housewives would make batches by the dozen on the range to sell from the windows of terraced houses to miners returning home from their shift. This tradition developed into the more commercial enterprise of oatcake shops still seen in towns of north Staffordshire today. Stoke City football club have grabbed the glory by even naming their football fanzine after the dish.

Recipes are closely guarded which accounts for much of the regional differences. Leek and Buxton have the most substantial of oatcakes, thick with oatmeal. The Potteries towns of Tunstall and Longton have the finest, with oatcakes as lacy and delicate as edible brown doilies. ‘Feed me an oatcake blindfolded,’ my brother used to say. He could always tell which oatcake shop or bakery it was made. For indeed now many of the oatcakes bought in supermarkets are made in large bakeries.

Here I have to confess to being a Staffordshire lass by birth and I am prepared to take the flack if Derbyshire oatcake makers call me out with evidence to the contrary; but I think they originate over the border.

What greater fact could endorse north Staffordshire as being the genesis of the oatcake than it also being the birth place of the pikelet:

‘The Pikelet you ask, what’s that?

It’s a sort of female Oatcake

Smaller, thicker, sweeter

More immediately seductive

Sometimes with currents in

A muffin for the lumpen working class

Best eaten soaked in butter or marge…….’


Arthur Berry, artist and playwright, ‘Homage to the Oatcake’, 1993

Celebrate National Oatcake Day this August 8th