Volunteer archivist Ian Gregory is currently photographing and cataloguing an immense collection of glass slides. Being a man of the Peaks, he recognises the occasional view:
In the collection of Buxton Museum are two photographs of a limestone dale. Its name is Lathkill Dale and it lies between Monyash and Youlgreave in the Peak District. One picture shows a lazy river between limestone cliffs with leafy branches reflected in the water. The other depicts a wider pool, again flanked by trees at their June-time best.
The River Lathkill that gives its name to the dale is special, as it is one of the few that rises on limestone and stays on limestone all along its course. This means that its waters are unusually pure and clean. Sometimes its upper course dries up as limestone is permeable and absorbs moisture. I have often walked in parts of this dale, but I keep to the path as there are abandoned lead mines whose hidden shafts are dangerously nearby.
These photographs are dated June 1911. Looking at them now, it’s easy to believe that nothing has changed in the dale. With regard to the physical structure, little has but the human world is another story. The last time I walked in Lathkill Dale, I started from Monyash and finished near Youlgreave. My Dad was waiting at the other end to give me a lift home in his car. He died a few years later. He will never collect me after a beautiful walk again.
The Serpentine Walk in Buxton is a secluded extension of the Pavilion Gardens. Crossing Burlington Road, the path follows the same River Wye and snakes back round again to rejoin the larger expanse of public park. Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has some old views of The Serpentine Walk that show how the trail has changed dramatically over the years.
The children posing in the foreground of this black and white postcard are dressed in Victorian fashion, giving us a clue to its age. The background reveals a Serpentine that looks so wild and untamed, it is almost unrecognisable. Only the characteristic bending of the river betrays its location. Over a hundred years ago, this part of Buxton would have been on the fringe of town, decades before the encroachment of an urban sprawl. It must have been wonderful to be a child with all that wilderness to explore.
We fast forward to 1935 for this next image by J.R. Board who ran a photography shop on The Quadrant not too far away. Again, the way the people are dressed confirms its age. We can see clearly that The Serpentine has been trimmed and tidied and supplied with ample seating, probably to suit the more refined expectations of the age. It looks slightly bigger than the park does today, though the house in the background is still there.
There are several prints in Buxton Museum’s collection depicting this view of The Serpentine. The Rustic Bridge must have been an attractive feature at one time but there is no trace of it now. Only the presence of the spire on St. John’s Church in the background is familiar.
The far end of the Serpentine was captured in watercolour by J.W. Keightley in 1962. The painting is currently on display on the landing of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, along with an assortment of rarely-seen artworks from Derbyshire’s collection until Easter. You can plan your visit here.
For those interested in the history of the town, adjacent to The Serpentine Walk is the oldest settlement in Buxton; Lismore Fields. My colleague, Joe Perry, has already written about this and it even has its own dedicated website.
Derbyshire County Council retains copyright for all images in the collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery so please drop us a line at email@example.com if you wish to use them.
Throughout the John Vere Brown exhibition I have found myself wondering about the exact location of his photographs.
My hunch that the churchyard in two of the photographs was that of St John’s in Chelmorton echoed that of a number of visitors to the museum. But the many photographs of the snowbound fields have a different quality to them. Not only does the snow make each scene appear timeless, but it also seems to softly take away the particularity of the landscape and its contours.
The narrow fields in some of the photographs could be anywhere in the White Peak; Chelmorton, Litton, Butterton to name a few all retain some of the drystone boundaries of strip farms from times before the Inclosure Acts.
But with the aid of Google Earth and my trusty OS map I was able to narrow down some of the locations to one or two copses of trees close to Flagg. But I had to see for myself.
Stood in some of the exact spots John Vere Brown must have stood for these photographs simply adds to the beauty and timelessness of these images.
Looking sw from Main Road, Flagg. SK135 685
Looking west from Main Road, Flagg: SK131 869
Dew Pond just off the footpath from Pasture Lane: SK128 688
Few changes at Chelmorton’s St John the Baptist churchyard.
More research reveals more questions: If this is the view of a bend in Pasture Lane then there has been alterations in some of the nearby field boundaries by the footpath. If anyone can anyone confirm, please let us know?
A few weeks ago, we issued an appeal to help identify the location of an entire photography exhibition currently on display. You can read the original blog here.
Since then, a few visitors to John Vere Brown’s exhibition have suggested that the photographs were taken in Chelmorton; a Derbyshire village near Buxton, albeit in the 1970s. Two intrepid museum staff visited Chelmorton over the festive season to investigate and they were able to validate the suggestions, based chiefly on the sloping church yard, which hasn’t changed much.
Some Chelmorton residents who just happened to call in offered some very precise information; stating that the distinctive copse of trees in two of the images is the view over to the adjacent village of Flagg from the top of Pippenwell.
A couple who visited us over Christmas said that they knew the photographer, John Vere Brown, and that he snapped their children in the early 1970s and they too suspected that he probably took his walk in and around Chelmorton.
So from no information to lots of information! Thanks to the combined efforts of the staff and the public, the mystery has been solved and the exhibition that’s been in the care of Derbyshire County Council for over four decades now has an exact location. No one has been able to pinpoint the characterful stone in two of the pictures but this may be due to the fact that it’s no longer there. However, it’s not a bad thing to be left with a tiny morsel of enigma.
We have a bit of a mystery at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. “Winter” is a photography exhibition by John Vere Brown. The portfolio of 23 silver bromide prints of winter landscapes is his only known Derbyshire work. Why these images were taken and how they came into Derbyshire County Council’s collection is not clear. Equally perplexing is the precise location of the photographs and visitors and museum staff alike are wondering exactly where Mr Vere Brown took his walk.
John Vere Brown (1925 – 2000) trained as a painter at Kingston Art School and took up photography during his military service in India in the 1940s. He is best known known for his photographs of actors working in British theatre in the 1960s and 1970s. He also photographed public figures and took pictures for magazines including House & Garden and The World of Interiors. John Vere Brown’s work can also be found in the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum archive and the Mander & Mitchenson Theatre Collection at the University of Bristol.
The prints on display in Buxton are wonderfully representative of a time before digital photography and mild winters. Most of the landscapes show endless white fields and dry stone walls and could be anywhere in Derbyshire. The best chance of pinpointing the trail probably lies with identifying the remote sloping cemetery shown in two of the images, or the stone with the hole. These photographs may have been taken 40-50 years ago so it’s a long shot but if you think you know, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Winter is on display until 27 January and Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is open over Christmas and the new year (click here for opening times) so you could come in and view the exhibition for yourself. You can also see the brand new Wonders of the Peak gallery, an exhibition by local art students and a gift shop brimming with unusual trinkets. All admission free. We look forward to seeing you.