Tag Archives: Derbyshire

Moving a Hill into a Gallery

Hill is the story of one Derbyshire hill told in photography, film, sculpture, poetry and song. The hill featured in the exhibition rises north from Wirksworth. It is home to families, wildlife, farming, quarries, mine shafts and wind turbines.

Phil Spencer

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has worked with award-winning photographer Kate Bellis who has spent the last 20 years documenting the relationships between rural communities and the land around them. Kate’s images feature the working life of the hill; farming and quarrying, as well as images of the community that lives in the shelter of the hill.

A Hare


Alongside Kate’s photographs the exhibition features a full-sized dairy cow made from the materials of the hill itself, partly using Longcliffe Limestone, by acclaimed sculptor Sally Matthews. Kate and Sally’s work is complemented by a film from Wirksworth-based film-maker Gavin Repton, poetry by Lucy Peacock and a song by Carol Fieldhouse.

HILL 1 landscape

Hill has already attracted a lot of attention from visitors, with one person commenting “I didn’t realise farmers worked so hard”. You can see this remarkable and diverse display for yourself until Wednesday 6 June and you can meet the artists on Saturday 24 March, Saturday 14 April and Saturday 12 May, 2-4pm. A book with accompanying DVD is on sale in the museum gift shop at £20.00.

You can plan your visit here.


Peak District Mystery Solved (almost)

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.

JVB 03

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.

JVB 01

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.

JVB 02

The English Civil War: A Local Study

In the second of two posts, Lorna Ormiston, a history undergraduate from Sheffield University, looks at Derbyshire’s role in a tumultuous era of British history.

The English Civil War (or rather civil wars) began in 1642 with the king raising his standard in Nottingham after failing to reach a settlement with parliament.  This was because one of the fundamental causes of the war was the king’s and parliament’s inability to agree on how the state should be run. Charles I believed, as his father James I did, in divine rule which was the idea that the King was appointed by God and thus can only be accountable to God. Whereas, parliament believed that they were there to limit the king’s power and to legislate new laws. As a result, the king’s controversial personal rule (which meant the king ruled without convening parliament) included Charles I reinstating archaic laws to gain money for foreign wars in order to bypass asking parliament for money. As well as, that Charles I’s implementation of new religious policies in England, Scotland and Ireland only proceeded to aggravate parliament further, since some parliamentarians were convinced Charles I “evil advisers” were part of a “popish plot” to force Catholicism on Protestant England.


Thus, both parliament’s and Charles’ inability to understand one another contributed to the outbreak of the English Civil War, which led to two other civil wars (the last one ending in 1651) and  the execution of Charles I in 1649. Therefore, it is unsurprising that historians such as Christopher Hill have noted that this dispute was a revolution and ultimately an event which “turned the world upside down”. [i] The sentence of Charles I interestingly, was carried out by John Bradshaw who came from Marple in nearby Cheshire, as the President of the High Court of Justice at the trial. Here is a painting of him which Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has in its collection.

This suggestion that the “English” Civil War had a profound impact is correct, since the whole of what later becomes the United Kingdom both influences and is influenced by the war. And thus, is why we will move on to look more generally at Derbyshire’s role within in the civil war with reference to its surrounding areas, because counties do not operate in isolation. This can be seen with historian Brian Stone noting, that along with Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire ‘whichever side first secured those two vital counties…would be half-way to winning the war’.[ii] This is because according to Stone the king could unite his army in Oxford and the Earl of Newcastle’s in Yorkshire and then ‘outnumber parliament at every turn’ which made Derbyshire a strategic place to maintain support.[iii] Although, we should be cautious with this idea that by obtaining Derbyshire it could alter the result of the war-as different circumstances often alter the course of history-, it shows the importance of why Derbyshire’s “big” personalities in terms of military commanders should be discussed.  One such key figure is Sir John Gell of Hopton Hall, who was wealthy member of the gentry because of his family’s engagement in sheep farming and lead mining and later becomes a skilful parliamentarian commander.[iv] This being the case, one of Sir John Gell’s notable achievements was the successful fortification of Derby against threats, which included Prince Rupert and the hated Spanish queen Henrietta Maria.[v] William Cavendish, who owned Chatsworth, also engaged with the civil war but was a royalist and ended up living in exile because of parliament’s victory, although he did return with the restoration and repaired Bolsover Castle (which had been demolished to stop Royalist reprisals).[vi] Hopefully, this short snippet of Derbyshire’s personalities and role within the civil war (after restraining myself from writing copious amounts) demonstrates that there is always more history to be uncovered.

For more information on this topic I recommend the following academic works:

Brian Stone, Derbyshire in the Civil War (Northampton, 1992)

Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (London, 1991)

Conrad Russell, The Causes of the English Civil War (Oxford, 1990)

[i] Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (London , 1991)

[ii] Brian Stone, Derbyshire in the Civil War (Northampton, 1992), p.17.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Trevor Brighton, ‘Gell, Sir John, first baronet (bap. 1593, d. 1671)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)  http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/10508 [accessed 28 July 2017].

[vi] Ibid.

[1] Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (London , 1991)

[1] Brian Stone, Derbyshire in the Civil War (Northampton, 1992), p.17.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Trevor Brighton, ‘Gell, Sir John, first baronet (bap. 1593, d. 1671)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)  http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/10508 [accessed 28 July 2017].

[1] Ibid.

The Provenance of the Oatcake


Oatcakes in various forms hail from all over the country. For many it is a Scottish food item, somewhere between a cracker and a biscuit, dry and savoury.

But here in the north and east Midlands an oatcake is a very different creature. Taking the form of a dark pancake, the batter; a mix of oatmeal, wheat flour and yeast is left to ferment over night before being cooked in a dry pan or a hot plate. It is often served as a breakfast dish or as a light meal with bacon, cheese, mushrooms, sausage, tomato…

From as far north as Chesterfield to the Derbyshire dales and the Staffordshire moorlands people are proud and protective of their form of oatcake. But nowhere more than the Staffordshire Derbyshire borders do folk vie for its provenance.

From both regions families have tales of a great grandma ladling jugs of live, fizzing oatcake batter onto a hot griddle pan. Written accounts of oatcake consumption in Derbyshire date back to the 1600’s when officials in the High Peak note that the local grain stock consisted of ‘oats and not much else’. In 1817 J. Farey describes an account of oatcakes being made in Pilsbury where an ‘acid fermentation process became excited in batter’ before being poured onto a hot bakestone. More famously is Sir Humphry Davy’s account of Derbyshire miners’ preference of ‘oat-cakes to wheatened bread’. In ‘The Staffordshire Oatcake: A History’ food historian Pamela Sambrooke found seventeenth century probate inventories from the Staffordshire moorlands listing ‘doshens’ and ‘back sprittles’, fermentation buckets and boards to flip oatcakes as well as the tell-tale ‘baxtons’ or bakestones.

It was there in north Staffordshire that oatcake making was taken to a higher level. Here housewives would make batches by the dozen on the range to sell from the windows of terraced houses to miners returning home from their shift. This tradition developed into the more commercial enterprise of oatcake shops still seen in towns of north Staffordshire today. Stoke City football club have grabbed the glory by even naming their football fanzine after the dish.

Recipes are closely guarded which accounts for much of the regional differences. Leek and Buxton have the most substantial of oatcakes, thick with oatmeal. The Potteries towns of Tunstall and Longton have the finest, with oatcakes as lacy and delicate as edible brown doilies. ‘Feed me an oatcake blindfolded,’ my brother used to say. He could always tell which oatcake shop or bakery it was made. For indeed now many of the oatcakes bought in supermarkets are made in large bakeries.

Here I have to confess to being a Staffordshire lass by birth and I am prepared to take the flack if Derbyshire oatcake makers call me out with evidence to the contrary; but I think they originate over the border.

What greater fact could endorse north Staffordshire as being the genesis of the oatcake than it also being the birth place of the pikelet:

‘The Pikelet you ask, what’s that?

It’s a sort of female Oatcake

Smaller, thicker, sweeter

More immediately seductive

Sometimes with currents in

A muffin for the lumpen working class

Best eaten soaked in butter or marge…….’


Arthur Berry, artist and playwright, ‘Homage to the Oatcake’, 1993

Celebrate National Oatcake Day this August 8th

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