Tag Archives: Derbyshire

Sharing the solstice

Over a year ago, when we were planning events to take place while the museum was closed for our redevelopment project, we came up with the idea of doing an event to celebrate the winter solstice at Arbor Low. If you haven’t heard of Arbor Low, it’s the most important prehistoric site in the East Midlands and is often called the Stonehenge of the north.


Print of a pen and ink drawing by E E Wilmot, 1859

The monument consists of a henge surrounding a circle of around 50 limestone slabs (now fallen, if they were ever standing) and a central cove. There are also several burial mounds and pathways nearby. Arbor Low shows periods of use over 1,000 years from around 2,500-1,500 BC, placing it in the Neolithic and early Bronze Age. Mesolithic flints found in the landscape show that people were visiting the area even earlier than this.


Panorama of Arbor Low henge, around midday on 21 December 2016

Buxton Museum has lots of archaeological finds from Arbor Low (others are the care of Museums Sheffield), the site is easily accessible from around the Peak District, and apparently the henge aligned with the sunset on the shortest day of the year. Doing an event here on the winter solstice seemed like a fine idea.


Neolithic and Bronze Age arrowheads from Buxton Museum found at Arbor Low by Rev W Storrs Fox, 1904-11

Of course, we did have a few concerns: the monument is in a very exposed position, the weather in the Peak District in December is often absolutely atrocious and there are no facilities there. We wondered if anyone would want to join us there – or indeed if we’d even be able to get there at all!


Our guided walk on the monument around 2pm on 21 December 2016

Turns out we shouldn’t have worried. We limited numbers because there’s only so many people you can talk to on an exposed hilltop in a howling gale, and both the events we put on sold out before we ran them. Everyone who came was dressed for the weather and were full of enthusiasm despite the cold and damp. Special thanks must go to Nicky and Steve from Upper Oldhams Farm/Arbor Low B&B who provided bowls of warming soup for us and our visitors, and to Creeping Toad and Bill Bevan for being excellent guides for our two sessions. We’re hoping to do it again next year!


Late afternoon sky over Gib Hill, a Neolithic long barrow topped with a Bronze Age round barrow, located a short distance from the henge monument. 21 December 2016.

Listen to John Barnett, Peak District National Park archaeologist, talking about Arbor Low on our web app here: http://buxtonmuseumapps.com/?page_id=49


Visitor’s Choice 2016

The Visitor’s Choice Award in the 34th Derbyshire Open Art Competition goes to Millstone Graveyard by Stuart Johnson. Well done, Stuart, you are the people’s champion!

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Stuart with Millstone Graveyard

Stuart is pleased to receive the recognition of Buxton Museum’s visitors but also very relaxed. He is no stranger to success in the county’s premier art competition. In 2012, his painting, Mam Tor- Sunrise, also bagged the Visitor’s Choice Award. Last year, another of his creations, Kinder Downfall, received no less than the top prize, the Derbyshire Trophy.

Visitors Choice Award - Mam Tor - Sunrise by S Johnson copy.jpg

Mam Tor – Sunrise

It seems that if you want to succeed in the Derbyshire Open, you should take a leaf out of Stuart’s book. I asked him why he thought his art resonated so well with both judges and visitors. He speculated that it is easy to relate to his choice of subjects; many of the images that Stuart selects exemplify Derbyshire, particularly the millstones of this year’s winning picture.


Kinder Downfall

Despite his achievements, it is encouraging to some of us that Stuart has no formal training in art. It is merely a pastime he has kept up for fifty years, alongside walking, rock climbing and other outdoor pursuits. He takes his time in his own studio, allowing two or three weeks to complete a piece. We look forward to seeing what he brings in next year. If you feel inspired by Stuart’s endeavours and you would like to have a go yourself, check our website.

Visitor’s Choice 2015

Visitor’s Choice 2014


Don Bramwell: The archaeological artist

When most people think about the work of Don Bramwell they will be reminded of his accomplishments within the field of archaeology, working on sites in Derbyshire such as Fox Hole Cave and Elder Bush Cave. But a select few might also recognise his creative side through his archaeological drawings of finds like this bear skull seen below. The accompanying photograph (showing the actual bear skull drawn in his diagram) helps to highlight the precision to which he gave to these drawings and how invaluable his talent was to aid in the recording of these sites, at a time when it was much harder to get a perfectly clear image from a camera.

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His talent for the arts was not just kept to archaeological objects and finds however, and while searching through boxes of archived material I have come across many detailed illustrative drawings, complete with watercolour additions, of plans and scenes strait from the digs themselves.


Some of his drawings are filled with vibrant colours and tiny detailed patterns. This sets them apart from most ordinary plans and sketches found in archaeology leaving these artworks to appeal to a widely varying audience – as who doesn’t enjoy the satisfying imagery presented in the images below?


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Although, what actually caught my attention most were the charming little doodles and sketches found around the boarders of his notes. Scattered and hidden throughout excavation notebooks containing his daily musings regarding the current state of the dig and the everyday occurrences of the archaeologist are hordes of little scenes. Some revealing animals which could be spotted around the Derbyshire countryside set within the margin of a page complete with a backdrop of rolling hills and a tree studded horizon. There can also be found doodles of flowers so tiny that they could be easily missed if you were simply skimming though the journals looking for information about the excavations. I should also not forget to mention the small sketches depicting the archaeological tools of the trade. Possibly trial sketches for his more elaborate drawings and excavation plans seen above or simply just Bramwell sketching out the items he could see around him. Either way they are still just as well drawn and fun to discover.

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(Above.) The man himself, Don Bramwell.

Curiosity of the Month

A recent enquiry at Buxton Museum prompted my discovery of a very peculiar item. Despite working at the museum for nearly two decades, I was unaware that the collections contained something known as The Sheldon Duck. A quick check of the museum database confirmed that we did indeed have a photographic print of said creature, along with its story. I’m sure that you will be astonished as I am to learn of this lesser-known Derbyshire legend. Whether or not modern science can support such a remarkable claim is another matter; I shall merely present it to you so you may judge for yourself.


The text in the print reads:

A Sheldon tradition, now nearly 300 years old is verified from Ashford-in-the-Water, as to a duck having been seen flying towards an ash tree in that village, which it entered, and from that moment mysteriously disappeared. Sheldon is a small hamlet lying to the west of Bakewell and is noted for nothing in particular but the magnificent country which surrounds it, and the difficulty of getting supplies up there in during the long dreary winter.

The duck went into the tree in the year 1601, and the tale handed down from one generation to another from that day to this. The tree was always known as “the duck tree” and stood near the residence of Mr. Harry Buxton, overhanging the road. It having become partially decayed at the bottom, it was resolved to cut it down, Messrs. Wilson & Son, joiners, of Ashford, becoming the purchasers.

The tree was taken from Sheldon to Ashford and operated upon. The lower portion was thrown aside as being to a great extent useless, but lately it was resolved to cut it up. Two boards taken from the centre gave unmistakable evidence of the genuineness of the Sheldon tradition about the lost duck. On one side of each of these boards, about an inch in thickness, was the perfect form of a full-sized duck. The body measures eight inches across, and the length from tail to beak is twenty-one inches. The neck is five inches long. There are holes in both boards at the point where the duck’s brains would rest, as if these agencies rotted the timber. This also occurs where the lights and liver settled. The duck appears to have gone head-foremost into a hole which was known to be in the tree, and couldn’t get out again. In the course of time the parts became united and thus there was an end of the duck. An indelible impression of its full form was, however, left in that extraordinary prison where the duck was confined. Mr Samuel Ashton of Ashford, Bakewell, Derbyshire, is now in possession of the two boards.