The Chrome Hill Project

Chrome Hill is steeped in history- layers of it.

There are a series of sharp edged limestone ridges on the north side of the upper Dove Valley where, 340 million years ago coral reefs formed the edges of tropical lagoons.

Look east as you travel out of Buxton on the A53 towards Staffordshire. The leaning, sharpened peaks of Parkhouse and Chrome Hill are out of place amongst the softer landscape. And at only 425m you look down on them, a mini Switzerland sunken amongst rolling hills.

Typical of limestone landscapes these hills are riddled with a network of cave systems formed by  swallets and resurgence waters which in later and colder times became places of hibernation, shelter and burial. There are notable caves; Dowel Cave was a burial place 6,000 years ago, the skulls and skeletons of ten people were found here but charcoal fragments reveal its use as far back as 11,000 years. Nearby Fox Hole cave on the pyramid shaped High Wheeldon had human bone, pottery, an axe and sharpened antler points that date the occupation of the cave at 15,000 years ago and excavations at Hitter Hill uncovered two cists  and four rock cut graves. The finds are in Buxton Museum. Then there is the potholers’ favourite, the huge but hidden Owl Hole and the mysteriously deep and lesser known Etches cave, named after the family who farm the land.

The view from Hitter Hill is stunning and can easily be accessed from a footpath running behind The Quiet Woman pub at Earl Sterndale. It is this same view that features in Buxton Museum’s Wonder of the Peak gallery. From here the ridge of Parkhouse looms tall and imposing and the ‘spine’ of Chrome Hill clearly articulated giving rise to its local name ‘The Dragons Back’. Sharp sunlight adds vividity to this view when both crags cast their dense shadows into the valley accentuating the amphitheatre they create around Glutton and Dowel Dale.

Take a walk here and you will sense this area is indeed unique giving the impression that you are simultaneously in expansive space and yet closed in on all sides.

It is here in the valley of Dowel Dale that two artists, Tony Wild and Brian Holdcroft decided to plot their materials and their ideas to take their work on a journey for twelve months.

Both artists originally hail from the Potteries. Tony having worked in the arts ever since studying at Burslem School of Art in the late 1950’s, and Brian developing his art form in more or less isolation from other artists until meeting Tony over twenty years ago. Over the years their work has diverged and returned to the landscape many times.

 

T and B at Chrome Hill
Brian Holdcroft and Tony Wild at the barn at Chrome Hill.

This exhibition is a culmination of work they created throughout the year from spring 2018 to spring 2019.

Most months are inclement here in the Peaks, they needed shelter. And so they hired a barn from farmer Mr Etches to store their materials, keep a stove and when needed take refuge.

Throughout the twelve months they drew, explored, walked and photographed. Their work shows the industry of their origins both in its output and how it now appears in series and variations.

Tony’s work falls into set of images. Chrome Hill and groups of trees appear as a repeated motif in small heavily textured and expressive paintings, their energy punching out from their size. Butterflies are lost in the textures of limestone and the microscopic world of lichens are honed in and magnified into much larger paintings. And there is colour, lots of it.

TREES AT PARKHOUSE HILL i
Trees at Parkhouse Hill – Tony Wild

He has two folders of work on display. One has sets of ink drawings created on the spot reminiscent of Japanese Sumi-e painting. The other, a series of photo montages cut from striking images of the hills, close-ups of tracks and the limestone’s lichen, again with a repeat motif. There seems to be four or more threads to Tony’s work, each with the potential to go on a journey of their own from this same central point.

BIRD AND BARK
Bird and Bark – Tony Wild

Brian’s work evolves into series; growth, erosion and mapping, as he considers the layered histories of the area and the interactions between its geology, materials, animal and human activity. He uses beeswax, pigment, ink and earth in his paintings. All were created outside at Chrome Hill.

MAPPING SERIES RESPONSE X
Mapping Series: In and Around Chrome Hill – Brian Holdcroft

Also on display are Brian’s lead bowls- lead runs through the veins of the hills here- and note books he buried behind the barn they hired. Later exhumed they become objects in themselves that have withstood compression and change – albeit for a short period- as did the giant brachiopod fossils abundant at Chrome Hill. What do they contain?

buried book
Buried Book- Brian Holdcroft

Many would describe both artists’ work as abstract or expressive. Brian’s more so but the colours are naturalistic- and having experienced this area first hand- particular and precise. The work of both artist is lively and not always recognisable or descriptive, preferring to reveal its imagery and topography slowly as you immerse yourself into it, walk along with it, much as a landscape or a view unravels itself on a journey or by simply observing it quietly, in increments. In essence it’s all here.

 

The exhibition continues at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery until Saturday 23rd November 2019

More information on the artists can be found here:

Brian Holdcroft: http://www.brianholdcroft.co.uk/

Tony Wild: https://www.artuk.org/discover/artists/wild-tony-b-1941

Gallery – Wild About Colour

Ref: DOWEL CAVE

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1011923

ETCHES CAVE

https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=35279

HATCH-A-WAY CAIRN

https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=32984

 

Ghostly Echo of Fin Cop

Following an exhibition about the Iron Age hill fort of Fin Cop near Buxton in the Autumn of 2018, a lady who used to live locally got in touch to relate a strange experience by a man called Gordon Phillip Cave :

A few months or so ago, a friend of mine told me of his father’s experience whilst out driving his car in the Peak District area in 1965. Mr Cave heard the frantic screaming of women, children and the shouting of men and the sounds of weapons. His experience so chilled and frightened him that he never drove down that road again. Mr Cave actually left written descriptions of what he heard on a dry and sunny afternoon in 1965 quite a few years later; obviously the experience lingered powerfully with him.

DERSR 41493
This 19th century painting from the collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery focuses on the viaduct crossing Monsal Dale but Fin Cop looms ominously in the background.

The location of the encounter was near Fin Cop where an archaeological excavation unearthed the remains of a brutal massacre. It is easy to write off the experience as the product of a stimulated imagination until you realise that Fin Cop was only excavated ten years ago; forty-five years later!

Of course, museums are bastions of knowledge and only deal in scientific facts but you could argue that experiences like this are just phenomena that have yet to be explained by established logic and should not be dismissed lightly.

If you have any experiences of Fin Cop you would like to share, ghostly or otherwise, please get in touch. The mysterious site features permanently in The Wonders of the Peak exhibition at Buxton Museum and admission is free. Plan your visit here. 

Introducing My Sister’s Scarf (working title)

If you had to leave your home at a moment’s notice and could only take one possession with you, what would you choose? For this blog, Richard and Amanda Johnson from Kidology Arts describe their current ‘work in progress’.

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery’s collection is made up of objects that have been chosen. Someone, at some point in time, has deemed them to be special and worth keeping. One of those objects is the Hopton hand axe. Around 350,000 years ago it was lost by its owner – probably a migrant hunter-gatherer following herds of deer north having crossed the land bridge that then connected what is now Britain to continental Europe. The axe would have been essential to its owner; its loss would have been serious.

Hopton Handaxe
The Hopton hand axe displayed in the Wonders of the Peak gallery at Buxton Museum

We want to make an artwork that draws parallels between the story of the people who first migrated to Britain and migrants who have come here recently. We hope to point out that migration is not something that has only happened in the UK in the last 50 years, but something that has been essential to its growth for millennia.

To enable us to hear first hand accounts of the journeys that migrants take and the choices they have to make we have recently begun a series of engagement workshops at Derby Refugee and Asylum Centre.

To make the artwork we will collaborate with choreographer Kevin Turner and emerging dance artist Maddie Shimwell from Company Chameleon in Manchester. The work will be inspired by real stories of recent migrants and will result in a 20 minute dance piece devised by Kevin and performed by Maddie, accompanied by Amanda on violin, performing a new piece of music she has written especially for the project. During the performance Maddie will interact with a piece of visual art made by Richard that, at this stage, we envisage will take the form of a large square of printed or painted material. As Maddie dances, she will manipulate the material into different forms: she might hide beneath it, wrap herself in it or bundle it up to cradle it like a baby.

The performance will be filmed and will appear on Buxton Museum’s web app, the Wonders of the Peak.

Funded by Arts Council England, this commission is a creative collaboration between Kidology Arts and Company Chameleon in celebration of Buxton Museum’s 125th year.

 

 

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery part one

New museum attendant Rachel Ibbertson hails from the Midlands and has been teaching us the lingo; donnies are hands. We asked her to share her initial thoughts on the displays in Buxton. Over to you, Rachel:

As you may already know, the eagerly anticipated release of “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is set to hit UK cinemas this November. As an extension of the wizarding world explored in the Harry Potter-verse, the “Fantastic Beasts” series seeks to broaden our magical horizons and further spark our imagination – mine included.

Growing up with this book series, I would often look for magic and mysticism in the world around me and was a little dismayed on my eleventh birthday when I didn’t receive my Hogwarts letter. In spite of this, I became determined to search the realm of the ordinary for examples of the extraordinary. So with this topic in mind, the concept of “Fantastic Beasts” got me thinking about equivalent examples in the “muggle world” and what better place to find inspiration, than Buxton Museum & Art Gallery?

Wandering around the displays in the “Wonders of the Peak” and the “Boyd Dawkins Study”, I was struck by the wealth of objects and extraordinary creatures on display. Some of the more obvious examples include the Buxton Bear and the Buxton Mermaid, whilst additional zoomorphs find a home in our reception area. By the way has anyone spotted the stained glass peacocks that adorn our entranceway or the cluster of cuddly companions sitting patiently in our gift shop awaiting their forever-homes? (merchandise plug over)…

RB 01

 

Through further exploration an abundance of amazing animals can be found around the museum, which in my opinion, can all be considered as “fantastical” for varying reasons…

For starters let’s think about the creatures that no longer inhabit the British Isles, or indeed the earth. Throughout the 4.5 billion year history of our planet, climate change has featured continuously and in turn has shaped the world around us. To picture the scene, you have to imagine a fluctuating series of landscapes and environments very different to our own – (perhaps a little reminiscent of this year’s “beast from the east” and summer heatwave?). For instance, if we visited the Peak District 350 million years ago we would find much of the landscape submerged beneath the sea – Buxton included! Such a dramatic contrast is evidenced in the “Wonders of the Peak”, via the fantastic fossils exhibited there; Trilobites (1), Brachiopods (2) and Ammonites (3) to name a few.

If we travel a little less far back in time – 2.6 million years to be precise – we will reach the start of the current geological period; “The Quaternary”. Characterised by repeated glacial (cold) and interglacial (warm) periods, it is from this time that we find evidence for some of the animals that once featured in our landscape. Many have since migrated or become extinct but a few examples of the animals affiliated with the interglacial periods are highlighted in the “Wonders of the Peak”. They include the remains of cave lions (4), bison (5) and hyenas (6).

In contrast, signs of life from the last glacial period; or ice age, can also be spotted nestled amongst our displays. Remains of reindeers (7), woolly rhinos (8) and mammoths (9) are some of the few that feature. It truly is fascinating to think that we once walked amongst such an array of amazing creatures – imagine the fantastic sights that only our ancestors might have seen?

On the flipside, what could be noted as incredible is the evidence that we find for the continuation of a species into the present day. If you look closely at the Roman tile below, you will see an almost humorous example of man’s best friend leaving his mark on the world. A little paw print pressed into soft clay, provides us with the merest echo of a trivial event from times gone by. You can almost picture the frustration of the tile-maker upon his discovery – perhaps they found a trail of paw prints over multiple tiles? Maybe the dog was caught in the act and a colourful scene ensued? Whilst these musings stretch the imagination, I think it makes for a fantastic story which breathes a little life into the past and makes our forebears and their experiences all that more relatable.

RB 11

After all isn’t the purpose of a museum, to make the past relatable? To welcome enquiry and share the remarkable stories that make up our collections? Whenever I visit a museum I often find that pieces of a whimsical nature attract my attention and Buxton Museum & Art Gallery is no exception. When looking in the “Boyd Dawkins Study” I noticed a display case with a taxidermy Dotterel inside – which according to the label, may have been originally mounted by none other than Charles Darwin himself! Whilst we have no concrete proof that this is his actual handiwork, the mystery and prestige surrounding the provenance of the Dotterel makes a great story and puts a different spin on what might be considered a “fantastic beast”.

RB 12

I had far too many ideas to note down in one post, so let’s take a rain check on part two. In the meantime why not pay us a visit (we are free admission after all) and see if you agree with me? Perhaps you could find some fantastic beasts of your own…  

To wander Lathkill

Volunteer archivist Ian Gregory is currently photographing and cataloguing an immense collection of glass slides. Being a man of the Peaks, he recognises the occasional view:

lathkill 1

In the collection of Buxton Museum are two photographs of a limestone dale. Its name is Lathkill Dale and it lies between Monyash and Youlgreave in the Peak District. One picture shows a lazy river between limestone cliffs with leafy branches reflected in the water. The other depicts a wider pool, again flanked by trees at their June-time best.

The River Lathkill that gives its name to the dale is special, as it is one of the few that rises on limestone and stays on limestone all along its course. This means that its waters are unusually pure and clean. Sometimes its upper course dries up as limestone is permeable and absorbs moisture. I have often walked in parts of this dale, but I keep to the path as there are abandoned lead mines whose hidden shafts are dangerously nearby.

lathkill 2

These photographs are dated June 1911. Looking at them now, it’s easy to believe that nothing has changed in the dale. With regard to the physical structure, little has but the human world is another story. The last time I walked in Lathkill Dale, I started from Monyash and finished near Youlgreave. My Dad was waiting at the other end to give me a lift home in his car. He died a few years later. He will never collect me after a beautiful walk again.