In proud remembrance: Lt Douglas Marshall Rigby in the First World War

A few weeks ago, I promised to write more about Douglas Marshall Rigby, the talented amateur artist brought up in Buxton, whose artwork we have been delighted to display at the museum over recent months. My previous blog explored Douglas’ family life and growing up in Buxton where, at a remarkably young age, he produced many of his surviving sketches and watercolours. Now I want to talk about his life as a soldier, as we move towards remembrance Sunday and the close of our exhibition.

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Douglas in uniform, 1915

The 1911 census records solicitor Marshall Rigby and his wife Grace still living at White Knowle, Buxton with their children. Honor (aged 22) has her occupation listed as gymnastics teacher and Douglas (19) as clerk to a iron merchant. Later that year the family moved from Buxton to the market town of Knutsford in Cheshire. When the First World War broke out in 1914, Douglas soon enlisted in the Cheshire Yeomanry, a cavalry brigade formed of men of every class from the county. Several months later he took a commission in the Cheshire Regiment, which would eventually take him to the front.

Like many young men of his age, Douglas had enlisted quickly and he was apparently frustrated by the subsequent delays that kept him from the front line. Once he had disembarked for France, in the summer of 1915 and a year into the war, his letters and postcards home reveal a cheery disposition and a fascination with the world around him that seems undiminished by the conflict. As a first lieutenant, he was responsible for the welfare, accommodation and entertainment of the men under his command, and his surviving correspondence is rich in observations of the landscape and an obvious concern for the comfort of his men.

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Douglas with his parents Grace and Marshall Rigby, Knutsford, 1918

Douglas was first wounded by debris from a mine explosion at Fricourt in June 1916. This ‘Blighty wound’ led to a short period of recuperation in Lincoln General Hospital, after which Douglas rejoined his regiment at Oswestry in Shropshire. Here Douglas was a Bombing Officer, training others to throw grenades into enemy trenches.  Very early into this role, a man dropped his missile on Douglas’s foot leading to 18 months of painful operations and physiotherapy. After this protracted and frustrating convalescence, Douglas returned to the front in August 1918, rejoining his regiment at Ypres in Belgium. Two weeks later, on 4 September 1918, he was shot dead by a sniper while leading his company in the advance which contributed to ending the war.

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Douglas’s medals, recently on display in Cheshire Military Museum

Douglas’s family received news of his death in a War Office telegram on 10th September, almost a week after the event. In the correspondence they received from those he had known and served with, Douglas was universally acclaimed as a splendid chap and a fine officer. His mother Grace wrote this dedication in her journal: “In glad thanksgiving for his life, in proud remembrance of his death.”

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Rigby family items displayed in Chester Military Museum.

Thanks to the generosity and hard work of Douglas’s surviving family members, we have been privileged to share Douglas’s story and artistic output with our visitors this autumn. You can enjoy the display of Douglas’s artworks and a small selection of personal items during our normal opening hours, until Saturday 10 November 2018. A companion book and DVD produced by Douglas’s great nephew, Richard Elsner, are available for purchase from the museum shop. Additional artworks and other items kindly loaned by Douglas’s family can be seen at Knutsford Heritage Centre until 22 December.

 

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Lt. Douglas Marshall Rigby – a celebration

On Saturday we were delighted to open a display of sketches and watercolours by amateur artist Douglas Marshall Rigby (1891-1918). This is one of three exhibitions taking place locally to mark the centenary of Douglas’s death, organised by his family to celebrate the life of this remarkable but little-known man.

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Cottage with haystack and hills, watercolour by Douglas Marshall Rigby

Douglas was born on the 27 July 1891 in Timperley, near Altrincham in Cheshire, the second child of Marshall and Grace Rigby.  Marshall worked as a solicitor. His father, John Rigby, was a partner in Armitage & Rigby, one of the north-west’s most successful manufacturing and merchant businesses, operating mills and warehouses in and around Manchester. John’s business partner and brother-in-law, William Armitage, was also the father-in-law of William Oswald Carver, from another wealthy cotton manufacturing family. The extended family were known as ‘the clan’ because of the large New Year gatherings they held annually in Altrincham. Many of the men in this extended family would later serve in the Great War.

Douglas as a baby with Grace & Honor
Douglas as a baby with his sister Honor and their mother Grace

Douglas grew up with his older sister Honor (born 25 June 1888), first in Altrincham and then in Buxton, where the family moved in March 1898 for the children’s health. The family lived at White Knowle House in Burbage, enjoying a comfortable middle class existence with live-in servants, regular visits to family around the country and holidays on the Welsh coast. Grace records in her journal that Douglas had drawn from infancy but began to draw and paint in earnest aged about 7 years old. In May 1899 his father took him to Manchester Art Gallery, and Grace noted several months later that her son would still occasionally tell her something new about a painting he had seen there. In November 1899 she writes: “He is of a restless nature, unable to keep still for a minute together – except when drawing or painting” and “at any spare minute he is always drawing.”

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Douglas drawing circa 1897 with Grace and their pets

After the move to Buxton, Honor and Douglas were first schooled by a governess and then by their mother. By the end of 1899 Grace was reporting that they also had private lessons in gymnastics and dancing, and that Honor went fencing once a week! In 1900, Douglas had his first art lessons, but these were sporadic. He was later enrolled at Holmleigh Preparatory School on Devonshire Road in Buxton (demolished 1961), and by 1905 he was studying at Marlborough College, a boys boarding school in Wiltshire. Here he took painting and drawing lessons alongside his other subjects. In his own time he drew caricatures of fellow pupils and school staff and was encouraged to paint by his housemaster. In autumn 1907 he won the school watercolour prize.

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Postcard sent to Grace Rigby from Douglas while at Marlborough College, 1908

Douglas begged to leave school when he was 17 and go to a studio so that he could become an artist. He went to a studio in Kensington, London and boarded with a family nearby. Apparently he enjoyed his time there, both working in the studio and visiting places of interest, but soon realised that he was not good enough to make a living as an artist and worried about how much money was being spent on his training. After about a year he decided that he had better follow his father into business. He returned to live with the rest of the family at White Knowle in Buxton and joined the office of one of his uncles, an iron and steel merchant in Manchester.

 

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Untitled and undated pencil sketch by Douglas Marshall Rigby

I can’t imagine that working in an office in the city held much joy for a young man of artistic inclination who loved the outdoors, but this is Douglas’s last known occupation. A few years later, war would break out and his life would change forever. I’ll write more about that in a few weeks time.

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Douglas photographed while painting, December 1903

You can enjoy the display of Douglas’s artworks and a small selection of personal items during our normal opening hours, until Saturday 10 November 2018. A companion book and DVD produced by Douglas’s great nephew, Richard Elsner, are available for purchase from the museum shop. Additional artworks and other items kindly loaned by Douglas’s surviving family members can be seen in exhibitions in Chester and Knutsford*.

*Related exhibitions are running at Cheshire Military Museum until 31 October and Knutsford Heritage Centre until 22 December.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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

 

Scenes of summer

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!

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Postcard sent from Buxton, postmarked July 11th 1908

These pictures, reproduced on postcards, demonstrate the variety of activities available to residents and visitors in Buxton during the warmer months of the year.

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Ashwood Park was built in the early 1920s on the grounds of the Ashwood Park Hotel. 

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.

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The Serpentine Walks extend along the River Wye to the west of Pavilion Gardens

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.

 

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Passengers leaving Buxton with their driver J Wilkinson and guard A Gallinson, pulled by the horses Black Jack and Little Arthur. Early 20th century.

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:

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Postcard dated 1896

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.

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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.

 

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.