Gold for the Gods

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is one of five venues to host ‘Hoards: a hidden history of ancient Britain,’ and the only one in the Midlands and North West. The exhibition showcases objects from Prehistory to the post-medieval period that tell us how people lived, what they valued, why they collected and stored objects that they considered precious and what circumstances may have led to hoards remaining hidden.

More often than not objects were hidden because of times of economic hardship, warfare, or as gifts to the gods. Three of the most spectacular items on display at the Hoards exhibition are gold neck torcs dating to the Iron Age, and which were most likely deposited in the ground as offerings to the gods. Two on display come from a hoard from Ipswich in Suffolk, territory of the Trinovantes tribe, and the other was found as part of a hoard from Snettisham in Norfolk, the territory of the Iceni. 

Anyone visiting the exhibition cannot fail to be impressed by these huge collars of twisted and plaited gold, and this must also have been the effect, and the intention, during the time of the Celts. For the Celts jewellery was a highly important status symbol and a clear sign of wealth and rank. The torc was reserved for the aristocracy, as well as the gods, and they seem to have possessed an intrinsic magical and religious significance. Depictions of Celtic gods and goddesses often show them wearing a torc.  G

Ipswich torc with La Tene decoration

Roman authors provide a good description of the Celtic aristocracy, often describing them as ostentatiously flaunting their wealth. Diodorus Siculus describes warriors going into battle, hair spiked using lime water, and completely naked except for their weapons and gold torcs. Cassius Dio describes Queen Boudicca of the Iceni as wearing a huge gold torc, and Quintilian writes that a delegation of Gallic Celts presented the Emperor Augustus with a gold torc weighing thirty three kilograms – far too heavy to wear!

A question we are often asked at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is “how were the torcs put on?” Julia Farley, curator of British and European Iron Age collections at the British Museum, has suggested that they were put around the neck “by being bent slightly out of shape, slipped onto the neck, and then bent back into shape again.” One torc from Ipswich, which is on display in the Hoards exhibition, clearly shows that it has been bent out of shape to make the opening larger. Some torcs do show repeated flexing of the metal; this eventually leads to a lot of stress being exerted onto the metal which eventually becomes brittle and snaps. One gold torc from Snettisham (not on display at Buxton) had snapped in antiquity and been soldered back together again, the break being hidden by a thin sheet of gold. Some torcs have hidden hinges or removable sections to allow easier fitting to the neck; when worn they would have given the impression of a solid ring of metal.

Ipswich torc bent out of shape to wear

Some torcs are far too rigid and heavy to be bent out of shape and worn, and it is possible that these were attached to cult statues or held aloft during ceremonies. A clue to this can be seen on the famous Gundestrupp cauldron from Denmark; one scene on the cauldron shows a seated deity with antlers to his head, interpreted as the god Cernunnos, surrounded by animals and wearing a torc around his neck and holding one up in his right hand. At Maily, Champagne, France, comes a torc with an inscription in Greek which alludes to it being part of a large offering of treasure dedicated to the gods by the tribe of the Nitrobriges in south-west Gaul. By offering precious items into the ground, or in water, the Celts were placing them into a liminal world between that of humans and the gods.

One of the Snettisham torcs with associated torc fragments

It is possible that torcs were placed around the neck of Celtic aristocracy at a rite of passage, such as a coming of age ceremony, or upon inauguration as a king or queen of a tribe. Some may have been only produced as votive offerings, intended to be buried and sent to the realm of the gods, out of reach of humans. Some bog bodies have been found wearing leather torcs around their necks, and this type may be associated with sacrificial rituals.

You may notice that one of the Ipswich torcs is decorated to both of its terminals with a foliate curvilinear pattern; this is known as the La Tene style (named after an archaeological site in Switzerland) and was a much favoured style of art across most of Europe and the British Isles from the 5th to 1st century BC; in fact it was so popular that the Celts are also known as the La Tene culture.

Torcs are frequently mentioned in the vernacular mythology of Wales and Ireland. The tale of Culhwch and Olwen describes Olwen as wearing a large gold neck-ring, and Giraldus Camberensis mentions a well in Pembrokeshire which contained a gold torc guarded by a serpent who bit anyone who attempted to steal it.

If you would like to discover more about hoards please come along to one of the following free talks at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery:

Hoards and hordes: – the Viking conquest and settlement of the East Midlands, by Gareth Williams, curator of early medieval coins at the British Museum, on Tuesday 30 April, 11am – 12 noon.

Talking torcs – the Leekfrith Hoard, by Teresa Gilmore, Finds Liaison Officer for Staffordshire and the West Midlands, on Wednesday 12 June, 11am – 12 noon.

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A Library in a Field

A blog by BM125 artist Creeping Toad, who’s out and about running all manner of exciting events for the project.

Make your own Haymeadow Book

This idea can lend itself to all sorts of situations – you could put together a little book-building kit and make books about different places or different occasions

On our National Meadows Day event (http://creepingtoad.blogspot.com/2018/07/rippling-ribbons-of-colour.html), we invited people to gather their own experiences, reflections and knowledge about the meadows they were visiting into little books….These are concertina books which essentially fit one long folded strip of paper into a cover. Once you are used to doing these, you could experiment – stick books together by the cover to make thicker volumes, have sections that fold out in different directions….

You will need:

  • 1 piece of thin cardboard (about 15cm x 10.5cm)
  • scissors
  • glue or a gluestick
  • paper for the bookblock (see below)
  • pencils, wax crayons, coloured pencils, scrap paper…

Make your bookblock: this is the set of pages that make the body of the book. You might use a long strip of paper (A2 cut into quarters lengthwise works well) or take a sheet of A4 (standard printer size) and cut or tear it in half lengthways. Overlap the ends by about 1cm and stick them together

Write a poem for a page?

Falling sky splinters
Into scabious and cornflower blue,
While tormentil nestles in the grass,
Droplets of sunshine on the green

Concertina: fold your strip of paper in half and then in half again. Unfold it: this should give you 8 sections of about the same size. Use those folds as guides to now fold the paper into a zig-zag pattern

card cover and tearing paper for book block

first fold should give you this

concertina fold

 Try an acrostic perhaps?

M – many harvest mice hiding
I  – in the long grass, swaying,
C – curl up in careful nests
E – every night in safety.

You might write, draw or print on pages

Now you are ready to make your book! It is easier to work on the book before you fit it into the cover. Work on one side of your paper. On your pages you might:

write
draw
add a patch of scrap paper and draw on that
make a pocket
do a rubbing
print
add a map
make a pop-up
think of something else….

Add a patch perhaps or a rubbing?

 

Add a map?

Make a pocket?

When it is done decide if you are having
a) a book that unfolds completely – stick one end page into the cover. You could now work on the back side of your pages (Picture 9: stick one end of the finished block into the cover)”
Or
b) a book that is fixed at both ends. If you are going for this, you might need to refold your concertina so it looks like the picture below:

Cover: fold the card in half. Decorate the cover. Glue in the book block….Title? Author?

Please, send us a picture of your finished book! creepingtoad@btinternet.com

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.

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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.

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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!

Time for a bit of Spring Cleaning

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With the reopening of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery close on the horizon, the time has come to dust the cobwebs off the collection so that it can match the rest of the new shiny gallery.

 
I have been working closely with the museum’s bone material. In the picture above you can see that some of the pieces – like this hyena jaw bone discovered in Elderbush cave – were in definite need of a little TLC after being displayed for so many years in the old gallery. So, adorned with a set of brushes and little pieces of rubber sponge I began the task of patiently dabbing, wiping and brushing away the years to breathe new life into each of the bone objects.

 
Below you can see the after shot of my work, and evidently
a little bit of spring cleaning really does make all the difference!

 
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Jasmine Barnfather MSci MA, Museum Attendant / Museum Assistant,
Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

7 Buildings in Buxton That No Longer Exist

It is natural for people to affectionately remember places that were once part of their daily lives. A town the size and age of Buxton has seen many changes. Businesses have changed hands countless times and shop fronts have transformed with the fashions of the age. These seven buildings are just a selection of notable structures that have vanished from the landscape altogether.

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Cavendish Girl’s School, Corbar Road

For nearly 300 years, Buxton had segregated comprehensive schools. The boys went to Buxton College on College Road, now the co-educational Community School. No longer required, the girl’s school was flattened in the 1990s and swiftly replaced by a housing estate. I did the first year of my English A Level here and I recall that having to cross the playground as a shy teenager through a swarm of young ladies was a minor test of courage. There was a well-established belief that the place was a psychiatric hospital before it was a school but I’ve never come across any evidence to back up this claim.

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Buxton Youth Hostel, Harpur Hill Road

Considering Buxton’s proximity to the Peak National Park, it seems peculiar that it doesn’t have a youth hostel. For many years, there was one at the bottom of Harpur Hill Road. The impressive Victorian building closed in 2002 and was demolished not long afterwards so I assume that it needed repairs beyond the means of the YHA.

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Empire Hotel, Park Road

The Empire Hotel was essentially a failed business. There was nothing wrong with the original turn-of-the-century vision; a majestic palace for 300 wealthy guests to stay in the heart of one of England’s most beloved spa towns. In 1901, however, no one could foresee the advent of two world wars and the Empire never got its anticipated amount of clients. It became a depot for Canadian soldiers after the First World War and was wiped off the face of the map after falling into disrepair in 1964.

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High Peak College, Harpur Hill

This windswept fortress of higher education opened in 1966 and was demolished only forty years later when it was replaced by the University of Derby which occupies the undeniably prettier Devonshire Dome. Despite its short lifespan, High Peak College is fondly remembered by its former students who came here to study subjects as diverse as welding, catering, hairdressing and Judo. The decision to put a college on the remotest edge of Buxton at the top of the enormous summit of Harpur Hill was an interesting one and its students faced a challenge just to get there, although it did offer residency for the hardcore few.

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The Picture House, Spring Gardens

Films are shown regularly at the Arts Centre in the Pavilion Gardens but it seems a pity that a town the size of Buxton doesn’t have a full-time cinema. A few have come and gone, most notably the Picture House at the end of Spring Gardens, which was condemned in the 1980s. I recall queueing up to see Ghostbusters when I was a teenager, hardly able to contain my excitement but generations before me will also have fond memories of this place all the way back to the early 1900s.

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Market Hall, Market Place

The Market Hall is the only location on this list to have been unintentionally lost. Some modern day residents have questioned the logic of running an outdoor market in the one of the coldest and wettest place in the UK. Many years ago, they enjoyed the luxury of an indoor version until it burnt down in 1885. This rare photograph is a sombre vision of the traders whose livelihood went up in smoke. It’s curious to modern eyes that the photographer, B.W. Bentley, has gathered them all together to pose amongst the ruin but it remains a powerful testimony to the human cost of a tragic event.

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Milligans, Spring Gardens

After working at Buxton Museum for nearly twenty years, it seems that the most affectionately remembered of all local shops was Milligans, founded in 1846, demolished in the 1970s and later rebuilt: Argos currently occupies the spot. E.C. Milligan’s Drapery and Milliner’s (hat-making) shop, to give its full title, is remembered by older residents who tearfully recount tales of how magical it was to visit, often compared to Grace Bros. in 1970s sitcom Are You Being Served? Apparently, there was a gentleman “floor walker” in charge of the shop and money was sent upstairs to the accounts department in an air tube! This photo was taken around 1940 and it is interesting to note the colonnades that once protected visitors from the elements for the entire length of Spring Gardens.

These black and white photographs are from the collection of J.R. Board who had a photography shop in The Quadrant in Buxton from the 1920s to the 1970s. Buxton Museum cares for some of the collection, which provides an invaluable insight into the history of the town. If you wish to reproduce any of the images, please contact buxton.museum@derbyshire.gov.uk. There are many more to see on www.picturethepast.org.uk