Introducing My Sister’s Scarf (working title)

If you had to leave your home at a moment’s notice and could only take one possession with you, what would you choose? For this blog, Richard and Amanda Johnson from Kidology Arts describe their current ‘work in progress’.

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery’s collection is made up of objects that have been chosen. Someone, at some point in time, has deemed them to be special and worth keeping. One of those objects is the Hopton hand axe. Around 350,000 years ago it was lost by its owner – probably a migrant hunter-gatherer following herds of deer north having crossed the land bridge that then connected what is now Britain to continental Europe. The axe would have been essential to its owner; its loss would have been serious.

Hopton Handaxe
The Hopton hand axe displayed in the Wonders of the Peak gallery at Buxton Museum

We want to make an artwork that draws parallels between the story of the people who first migrated to Britain and migrants who have come here recently. We hope to point out that migration is not something that has only happened in the UK in the last 50 years, but something that has been essential to its growth for millennia.

To enable us to hear first hand accounts of the journeys that migrants take and the choices they have to make we have recently begun a series of engagement workshops at Derby Refugee and Asylum Centre.

To make the artwork we will collaborate with choreographer Kevin Turner and emerging dance artist Maddie Shimwell from Company Chameleon in Manchester. The work will be inspired by real stories of recent migrants and will result in a 20 minute dance piece devised by Kevin and performed by Maddie, accompanied by Amanda on violin, performing a new piece of music she has written especially for the project. During the performance Maddie will interact with a piece of visual art made by Richard that, at this stage, we envisage will take the form of a large square of printed or painted material. As Maddie dances, she will manipulate the material into different forms: she might hide beneath it, wrap herself in it or bundle it up to cradle it like a baby.

The performance will be filmed and will appear on Buxton Museum’s web app, the Wonders of the Peak.

Funded by Arts Council England, this commission is a creative collaboration between Kidology Arts and Company Chameleon in celebration of Buxton Museum’s 125th year.




Portraits of a lady

This week I was planning to write about some of the pictures of Martha Norton that I’ve recently discovered in the museum collection. However, I see now that she has been a popular subject for my colleagues in previous years – you can read what they said about her on this blog here and on our Enlightenment blog here.

As an attendant, or well woman, at St Ann’s Well, Martha must have been a familiar sight for residents of and visitors to Buxton during the fifty or so years that she worked there. She must have become something of a local celebrity as otherwise it would be unusual for her to have had her portrait made.

Like spas, sea bathing also became fashionable in the late 1700s/early 1800s and another favourite Martha of mine is Martha Gunn. This much loved ‘dipper’ from Brighton was apparently friendly with the Prince Regent (later George IV) and her portrait can still be seen in the Royal Pavilion.

Both the Martha’s worked with water for much of their long lives, leading observers to suggest that this was further proof of its health-giving properties. Now this is an exhibition I’d like to organise! What do you think?


Images of a winter wonderland

With the shortest day of the year upon us, this seems like a timely moment to share some wonderful winter images from the photographic archive at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

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Newspaper delivery man on Fairfield Common, Buxton 1947 (J D Meddins)

These photographs are from the Board Collection. James Robert Board was born in Lancashire and later lived in Sheffield, where he may have first trained as a photographer. He was in Derby by 1922 and operating a photographic studio at 9 Cavendish Circus in Buxton from 1926 until the 1970s. His step-son John Meddins was also a photographer, whose work is well represented in the collection.

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Snow ploughing on High Street, Buxton 1928 (J R Board)

Picture the Past has examples of Board and Meddins work from all over Derbyshire, which are available for purchase in a variety of formats.

Wherever you are in the world, we send you warm wishes for a joyful festive season and a happy new year!

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Children sledging in Buxton, 1947 (J D Meddins)

Wonderful Wiltshire

Although I firmly believe that Derbyshire is the finest county in England, I also believe that inspiration can come from anywhere. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Wiltshire, attending the annual Association of Heritage Interpretation conference and visiting several sites that have recently re-displayed their archaeology collections. This has particular relevance for those of us working on the Collections in the Landscape project at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, and I was keen to discover what these places had done.


My trip began at Salisbury Museum, which opened its new Wessex Gallery last year. Project curator Jane Ellis-Schon showed me around the displays and talked me through how they had been developed with input from visitors and local groups, specialists and contractors. I particularly like the way the gallery works back in time from medieval Old Sarum to the earliest evidence of human occupation in south Wiltshire around 500,000 years ago. The object-rich displays focus both on what the objects can tell us about the people who made them, and on the archaeologists who excavated them (including Pitt-Rivers), and there is a useful trail leaflet showcasing 10 highlights for visitors in a hurry as well as gallery guides and activity cases for children and families.

Wessex Gallery, Salisbury Museum
Wessex Gallery, Salisbury Museum

During the conference we visited Wiltshire Museum in Devizes, which also opened new prehistoric galleries in 2014. Founded by the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society in the 1850’s, the museum has the largest collection of Bronze Age gold in Britain – and is now able to put it on display! As well as their spectacular grave goods, I really enjoyed seeing Keiller’s trowel displayed in a case alongside a marmalade jar (the source of the family fortune that funded his archaeological pursuits.) And there were some great things for families – and big kids like me – including hands on activities and a replica Iron Age hut.

Foam Henge, Wiltshire Museum
Foam Henge, Wiltshire Museum

We couldn’t leave Wiltshire without going to the iconic site at Stonehenge, now much improved with the removal of the A344 road which used to run immediately next to the monument. The new visitor centre is just a short walk (or shuttle ride) from the monument itself over the archaeologically rich Stonehenge landscape and includes an exhibition space where objects from Stonehenge (loaned from Salisbury and Wiltshire museums) are displayed. Outside a replica stone age village has been constructed and a giant sarsen stone laid on a wooden sledge for groups to try – and fail – to move. It was interesting to visit a site that has to be designed for crowd control – a million visitors a year, half in coach parties, many from overseas and with little prior knowledge.

Stonehenge visitor centre
Stonehenge visitor centre

If you are visiting Wiltshire, I can’t recommend enough that you visit Wiltshire Museum and Salisbury Museum rather than just going to Stonehenge. The best objects from Stonehenge and the surrounding landscape are in the collections from these two independent museums, and by visiting them you will enjoy the bigger picture of the region rather than seeing the monument in isolation.

Salisbury Museum
Salisbury Museum

I came back from Wiltshire with lots of new ideas, and look forward to exploring them further as we begin the Wonders of the Peak gallery redevelopment in the new year. Keep an eye on our website and social media for details of how you can get involved!

Carnival memories

We recently accepted a donation of photographs that belonged to a lady called Miss Dorothy Thomas, who used to lived on Leek Road in Burbage, Buxton. The photographs were given to the museum by her niece, Myfanwy, who thought they might be useful for us as they show floats entered by Burbage Youth Social Club in Buxton well dressing festival and Chapel-en-le-Frith carnival in the 1940s and 1950s.

We would love to know more about this photograph. Can you tell us anything?
We would love to know more about this photograph. Can you tell us anything?

There are also several photographs of the Burbage Youth Social Club building decorated for the wells dressing, and of a Mr Franguplo, who lived on Bishops Lane in Burbage.  We are told that he made his money in the Manchester textile trade and funded the youth social club building, as well as other philanthropic causes in his adopted town.

Willow Pattern Bridge over Buxton Youth Social Club driveway, June 1957.
Willow Pattern Bridge over Buxton Youth Social Club driveway, June 1957.

Looking at these photographs, you can see how much hard work and effort went into creating the spectacular floats and costumes, mostly with fresh flower petals. Work didn’t stop there as houses and streets in various neighbourhoods were also festooned with garlands and banners.

This image is from 1953, the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.

The unseasonal Buxton weather is also evident in the umbrellas and raincoats seen in some of the images. A note on the back of a photograph from June 1957 reads: ‘it was raining hard and we had to take most of the children off.’ Clearly the Buxton weather wasn’t enough to dampen everyone’s spirits as the ‘Cinderella’ float went on to win first prize that year. Myfanwy – who kindly donated her aunt’s photographs to the museum – can be seen as Cinderella sitting in the coach in the photograph below.

The Cinderella float also featured a castle and four horses!

We look forward to capturing and sharing more carnival memories in years to come.