Tag Archives: Peak District

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

 

May these waters never cease to flow

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.

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Celebrations on the Crescent in 1864, the first year that St Ann’s Well was decorated.

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.

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The blessing of Higher Buxton Well in 1910.

 

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.

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Festival Queen Florence Morten leading the carnival procession in 1925.

 

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.

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Palace Hotel Laundry parade float, June 1932

 

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.

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May pole dancing on the Crescent in front of St Ann’s Well, 1912.

More information about Buxton well dressing and associated events can be found on the official festival website here.

Dancing Round the Maypole

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.

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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.

More information about the Buxton Well Dressing Festival.

Curiosity of the Month

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While wandering through The Wonders of the Peak exhibition, before reaching our infamous bear, you will pass several pieces of his fallen comrades. Featured here is the right side of a brown bear’s jaw bone, from Elderbush Cave in Staffordshire.

Considering its large size and the sharpness of its teeth, even to this day. It may be hard to imagine a great beast such as this roaming the Manifold Valley. Looking for something tasty coming its way.  So the next time you are out enjoying a nice stroll around the Peak District. Try to picture the silhouette of a bear off in the distance and bring a little bit of the past into your present.

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From Kilns to Mountains

Work by two different artists is currently on display at Buxton Museum. Micheal Pritchard creates compositions inspired by the majestic shapes of the bottle kilns of North Staffordshire. From the 18th century until the 1960s, bottle kilns were an instantly recognisable symbol of the Potteries. There were over two thousand of them standing at any one time and they formed the main part of our industrial heritage.

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In his distinctive style, Micheal embraces both traditional painting in oil and acrylic on canvas as well as digital printmaking. In this work he uses techniques of sampling, mixing and montage. Initial pencil drawings and photographic images are scanned. The image is then manipulated on screen, introducing elements of a structured composition and a palette of rich, intense colours. Beyond the Grit and Grime is on until 14 March.

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Walking in remote areas, particularly the Lake District and the Peak District inspires Tracy Barlow’s work. Walking in the elements enables her to paint and draw from nature, reflecting the immediacy of her experience. She records the landscape in all conditions to capture the different moods and effects of light and weather.

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Tracy focuses more on the experience of being in the landscape than on the specifics of a site. Monochrome depicts the atmospheric qualities, having an infinite scale of values and portraying a sense of danger characteristic of these landscapes. Tracy paints in oils and uses a wide range of printing techniques. The unpredictability of the method is reminiscent of the unexpected incidents that occur on a journey through the wilderness. Monochrome is on until 12 April.