This week, as well as being the Derbyshire schools half-term holiday, the Discovery Days festival is being celebrated across the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. When we were asked to join in, we wanted to find a way to use the museum collections in a different setting. We don’t have many objects that relate to the mills themselves but we do have some wonderful images of the local area.
Cromford, taken from the Bridge. Watercolour by William Day, 1789.
Cromford has been attracting visitors since the 1700s, when artists came to paint the landscape and tourists came to admire the industrial innovations taking place at the mills. The images in the museum collection span the period from then until the 20th century, with the landscape reproduced in paintings, drawings, engravings and photographs.
Engraving, published by Rock and Co, 1852
This is also a revival of a project that first took place in…
While we enjoy the last days – and rays – of summer, it seems like as good a time as any to share some images of the season from the museum collection. There are certainly plenty to choose from, even though you’d be forgiven for thinking that Buxton is better known for its somewhat wintry reputation!
These pictures, reproduced on postcards, demonstrate the variety of activities available to residents and visitors in Buxton during the warmer months of the year.
As well as sporting activities like tennis, bowls, boating and golf, visitors and residents could enjoy strolls in landscaped areas around the town and walks in the countryside.
The more adventurous could explore further afield with trips by horse-drawn carriage and charabanc to scenic destinations including Dovedale, Ashford-in-the-Water, the Cat and Fiddle public house and the Goyt Valley.
While adults enjoyed promenading through Pavilion Gardens, there was also plenty of entertainment for children. We love this postcard of a Punch & Judy show by the Crescent:
Lest we forget that the sun doesn’t always shine in Buxton in the summer, we have two postcards showing a flood in Pavilion Gardens, which (while it may not have been the result of heavy rain?) certainly must have put a dampener on the usual summer pursuits.
Enjoy the rest of the summer – wherever you are and whatever you’re doing! Remember Buxton Museum and Art Gallery closes for redevelopment on 5 September so you only have until the weekend to pay us a visit.
Last weekend we changed some displays in the project space so we could show off some of the fantastic items from the Randolph Douglas collection. This was acquired by Derbyshire County Council in 1984 with help from the PRISM (preservation of industrial and scientific material) fund. The scheme is administered by Arts Council England to encourage collecting and conserving items that tell the story of the development of science, technology, industry and related fields.
The new display in the project space at Buxton Museum
Randolph Douglas has already been written about by my colleague Ben Jones in a previous blog here, and we know from the questions we get asked that he is a popular subject of interest for our visitors. He is particularly well-known in the magician community and for the museum he ran in Castleton, called the House of Wonders.
Randolph Douglas took the stage name Randini. Here he is on a postcard signed Jan 1914.
This week Buxton celebrates the well dressing festival, which began in 1840 to thank the Duke of Devonshire for piping a supply of fresh water to a well on the Market Place. Apart from a break between 1912 and 1925, the event has been held annually.
Since Thursday volunteers have been busy creating the dressings inside St John’s Church and this morning the results will have been installed at the three wells around the town ready to be blessed this afternoon.
The blessing of the wells starts with a service at St Anne’s Church on Bath Road followed by a procession that marches to each of the three wells in turn for a short blessing at each one. Afterwards the new well dressing Queen is crowned in a ceremony at St John’s Church. Next Saturday she will lead the annual carnival procession through the town.
The three wells are St Ann’s Well on the Crescent, the Children’s Well (or Taylor Well) on Spring Gardens and Higher Buxton Well on the Market Place. The displays remain up until the following Monday (11th July this year) for visitors and residents to enjoy.
Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has a large collection of photographs and postcards that record the history of well dressing in the town, including wonderful well dressings, former festival queens, prize-winning parade floats and spectacular street scenes. Thanks to the people who collected them and the generosity of our donors and supporters, we’ll be able to keep and look after these snapshots of Buxton tradition for future generations to enjoy.
More information about Buxton well dressing and associated events can be found on the official festival website here.
This week’s blog is by volunteer archivist Ian Gregory, who is currently documenting Buxton Museum’s collection of postcards, not to mention lending his expertise and enthusiasm to the Collections in the Landscape project.
The first impression is either twee or reassuring, depending on your point of view. Four young girls are dancing round a maypole at Buxton Well Dressings. The year is 1907, a time often associated with innocence and prosperity.
It is widely believed that well dressing goes back to pagan cultures where springs, rivers and lakes were sacred to or even physical manifestations of powerful deities. This was the view I was brought up with. For a long time, I never questioned it.
Then I raised the subject with a friend and he disputed this view. Apparently, there are no records of well dressings before the 17th century and some Peakland villages only began doing it in the 20th century. Well dressing is, in my friend’s opinion, a statement regarding the distinctive character of the Peak District, but one more recent than is generally assumed.
That said, I still respect the artistic standards achieved by the well dressers. They show real talent.