Mary Mitford watercolour of Dovedale

Mary Mitford, Dovedale (DERSB 2015.25)

Mary Mitford, Dovedale (DERSB 2015.25)

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is thrilled to announce its latest eighteenth-century acquisition.  The Museum was successful in securing funding from the Museum Association’s Beecroft Bequest, to acquire a watercolour of Dovedale painted by Mary Mitford.

This watercolour is important as it is a rare and early example of a woman artist painting in Dovedale. Little is known about the life of Mary Mitford, she was born around 1742 and appears to have been working up until around 1774. We don’t know when Mitford visited Derbyshire but we do possess another watercolour by her, showing the old baths at Matlock Bath.

Mary Mitford, Old Baths, Matlock Bath (DERSB 40004)

Mary Mitford, Old Baths, Matlock Bath (DERSB 40004)

Mitford’s brothers, Colonel William Mitford and Lord Redesdale were both students of William Gilpin and Mary’s watercolours follow the Gilpin tradition. Kim Sloan in ‘A Noble Art’ (2000) has suggested that she was a pupil of William Marlow.  This is interesting as Marlow painted the bath complex in Matlock Bath too, a painting that we bought as part of the Enlightenment! project in 2011.

William Marlow, Matlock Bath (DERSB 2011.4)

William Marlow, Matlock Bath (DERSB 2011.4)

Mitford ‘s work is poorly represented in museum collections. The British Museum has a watercolour attributed to her showing a scene in Switzerland, which is very similar in style to the Dovedale watercolour.

‘But since they are called Wonders, let it be so….’

This summer I was awarded a Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grant to research 18th and early 19th century tourism to Derbyshire.  I am particularly interested in the artists who visited the County; whether they were professionals like Joseph Farrington or the army of amateurs who filled their sketchbooks with views of the picturesque and the sublime.

I have also been looking at travel journals from the period which are full of descriptions of the Peak; its towns, villages, natural wonders and inhabitants.  Some of these journals show travellers with an antiquarian interest while other are ticking of the county’s country houses or subterranean delights.

The research follows on from the project I did at the Yale Center for British Art and will help us interpret Buxton Museum’s own collections and the period in general.   The research is ongoing but I thought I would kick it off with a quote from a rather unimpressed gentleman who wasn’t too enamoured with the Wonders of the Peak*

“There are severall things which I find termed Wonders, tho I do not think any of them in particular deserve the name, since this whole Country to me found nothing [of interest?] and all the Wonder I could find out was to see a church, an hedge or an Handsome House – But since they are called Wonders, let it be so.”

Letter from John Egerton to Reverend John Pointer, dated 1715. Bodleian Library Ms Eng. Letters d.77 (fols 37-40).

Letter from John Egerton to Reverend John Pointer

*The Wonders of the Peak refers to the seven wonders of Derbyshire popularised by Charles Cotton and Thomas Hobbes and not Buxton Museum’s own gallery of the same name.

Martha Norton, the Well Woman of Buxton

 Martha Norton by John Nixon Back in 2012 I blogged about Martha Norton and in particular a sketch we had recently had identified as being by John Nixon.  This sketch had been in the Museum’s collection since 1985 but it wasn’t until Charles Nugent (a watercolour specialist) visited, that we found out who painted it.  Since then we have added another image of Martha to our collection and you can read about this and Martha in general, in a post written by Ros Westwood on the main Buxton Museum blog.   

St Anne's Well, 1796

St Anne’s Well, 1796

A Prospect on the River Manyfold at Wetton Mill after Thomas Smith of Derby

A Prospect on the River Manyfold, at Wetton-Mill - DERSB 2009.30.1 One of the earliest purchases for the Enlightenment! project was back in 2009 when we bought an engraving after Thomas Smith of Derby (1721 -1767) of A Prospect on the River Manyfold at Wetton Mill. This print was published as part of a set in July 1743 titled ‘Eight of the most extraordinary Prospects in the Mountainous Parts of Derbyshire and Staffordshire commonly called the Peak and Moorlands’.

They were popular engravings and smaller version soon appeared in magazines.
The engravings were all after work by Thomas Smith and were engraved by a couple of different engravers including Vivares and Granville.

The eight views are:

1. A Prospect in Dove-Dale

2. A prospect in the upper part of Dove Dale

3. A Prospect on the River Manyfold, at Wetton-Mill

4. A Prospect of Matlock-Bath &c from the Lover’s Walk

5. A Prospect of that beautiful cascade before Matlock Bath

6. A Prospect on the River Wie, in Monsal-Dale

7. A Prospect of the Chee Tor &c on the River Wie

8. A Prospect of the rocks & that vast cavern at Castleton call’d Peak-hole

Dunnington Mill - DERSB 2009.30.5

We have four engravings from this run plus a couple of others after Thomas Smith including this one of Dunnington Cliff, that we also bought in 2009. This was published in 1745 in ‘A set of four views in Derbyshire’.


Lovers Leap

 With Valentines Day nearly upon us, I thought I’d share this post from my colleague Jess.  Moral of the story? Wear voluminous skirts ladies!

 Dean Langton plummeted to his death near Lover’s Leap, Dovedale.  Would he have survived if he was a cross dresser?

Dean Langton plummeted to his death near Lover’s Leap, Dovedale. Would he have survived if he was a cross-dresser?

Welcome to Dovedale

We’ve just set up our own YouTube channel, so thought I’d share the Dovedale video that we had commissioned for the Enlightenment! project.  It’s not quite the peaceful idyll that you might have been expecting….

Elias Hall – Part two

Elias Hall strata map

Last week John Henry, chair of The History of Geology Group came to look at some of the maps we have in our collection. The highlight of his visit was seeing the horizontal section showing the geological strata which we bought back in 2012. The map was produced by Elias Hall and published in two sections by William Phillips in 1824 and 1834. John kindly pointed us towards an article on Elias Hall that was published by the Mercian Geologist Journal in 2011.

Elias Hall strata map

The article written by Hugh S. Torrens and Trevor D. Ford gives a lot of detail about the life and pioneering works of Elias Hall. Included are discussions on the geological models which Hall created, first carved from wood and later cast in plaster. The article contains a description by John Farey of Hall showing a model to the Geological Society. Unfortunately the models didn’t meet with the best reaction being criticised for their ‘injudicious use of rather too glaring colours’ and that they called to the mind ‘a tray of Guts and Garbage in a Fishmonger’s or Poulterer’s Shop’. I am not sure how similar the colours on the models are to our strata map, but ironically we’ve chosen the colours from the map as our palette for the Collections in the Landscape project.

Collections in the Landscape logo

Hall came under further criticism being described as ‘a queer-looking old man, with white hair and lame, and has no notion of lecturing, and he likewise speaks very broad High Peak’. What’s wrong with speaking in broad High Peak, I hear you exclaim?

Sadly the article confirmed that, as far as anyone knows, none of Hall’s models have survived. Go check your attics people!

You can read the full article here.

Hot off the press – Enlightenment! catalogue


To celebrate the end of the Enlightenment! project we have produced a full colour catalogue. The catalogue contains eleven articles, two specially commissioned poems plus photos and information on the 100+ objects that we have bought. 

Enlightenment! Catalogue

It’s £9.99 and available from Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, Derbyshire Record Office, Strutt’s North Mill and Derby Museum and Art Gallery.  Or you can get it via mail order from Buxton Museum, ring 01629 533540 or email for further details.

As well as owning a delightful book your purchase will help support the three museums, with all proceeds going back into their acquisition budgets.

Perfect to read on those cold winter nights

Is there an appetite for further Enlightenment?

Guest post by Ros Westwood

I have just returned from the Museums Association conference where I was lucky enough to be asked to share some of the lessons we have learned during the years of the Enlightenment! programme. I shared the platform with Isabel Hughes of the Museum of English Rural Life, and there was a great contrast between their 20th century collections and ours. Have a look at their blog here.

Also on the platform was Fiona Talbot, head of museums, libraries and archives at the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). She announced another tranche of Collecting Cultures support . This is the money that allowed Enlightenment! to happen. This is really good news – it shows that HLF recognises how important this work is, and how with a modest amount of money some extraordinary work can be done on museums’ collections.

The new programme has a top award of £500,000 – I suggest that is far more than we should need (and we will need to have a match fund of money and volunteer time). HLF has also broadened the eligibility, and so we can include the Record Office and libraries. Whatever we do, we’ll need to put Derbyshire as a centre for innovation and technological development into the heart of the mix.

The question is – do you, our followers, want us to pursue this? We won’t be able to do Enlightenment! the same way again, but if we can be sure of the commitment, we can think of how we can make the project grow and still meet the HLF requirement. Please let us know, either through the blog or by e-mailing me directly

Walker Art Gallery

Walker Art Gallery

The conference this year was in Liverpool, so I took the opportunity to call into the Walker Art Gallery. Liverpool has a good collection of paintings by my Enlightenment! hero Joseph Wright of Derby. His picture Three Persons viewing the Gladiator by Candlelight c1764 -5 was just amazing. It is hung at just the right height, and you feel you are looking with the three men, standing in the dark outside the glow of the lamp.  A very intimate experience – and a forerunner of the much larger ‘Orrery’.  I think the two pictures are on a par in my response to them.

Fleetwood Hesketh Mrs Frances Hesketh,-c.1769 











And the portraits of Hesketh Fleetwood and his wife Mrs Frances Hesketh held my attention too – there was obviously a rapport between the two men which does not seem to have been reciprocated by the lady! Or am I wrong?

 There were other Wrights to admire amongst lots more pictures and decorative art – some fabulous things – some absolute horrors, but that is what makes museums such amazing places.

Poole’s Cavern- A Wonder of the Peak

Many early tourists to Derbyshire would have known about Poole’s Cavern.  It was one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Peak’ and featured in Hobbes’ and Cotton’s work as well as being described by Celia Fiennes and Daniel Defoe. An engraving of the cavern interior was published in 1700 and it featured twenty years later on Moll’s 1720 map of Derbyshire.   

Poole's Cavern

Poole’s Cavern

 The cavern opened as a show cave in 1853 and the entrance was enlarged to make passage easier.  Prior to this the adventurous had to crawl on their hands and knees into the dark accompanied by local guides.The Beinecke Library possesses a commonplace book which contains four copied letters from an unknown man who visited Derbyshire in 1770.  In his first letter he describes his visit to Poole’s Cavern.

Commonplace book in the Beinecke Library

‘The hole at which you enter into at the cavern is but very small & promises but little, however after advancing a few and creeping as close to the ground as you possibly can, you come to a chasm where you are shown Poole’s saddle and his Turtle, both of them good incustations’.

He describes the geological features including Poole’s woolsack, the lion, the lady’s toilet and the Fitch of Bacon.  Most people would have turned back at the Queen of Scott’s pillar ‘so called by the unfortunate Mary when she visited this place’ but our unknown gentleman adventurer ‘with the spirit of curiosity, dared venture to the end’.

Alan showing me centuries old grafitti by the 'Queen of Scott’s pillar'

‘On however we went, the place was certainly very steep and craggy, and so slippery, that had it not been for fast grasps we should have never have been able to have got ourselves to the top.  Here we stopped sometime in violent admiration a candle judiciously placed, without our knowledge, at the very extremity peeped like a star in a fine cloudy night, while another as properly set as the bottom whence he had ascended, had as singular and as aweful effect.’

Our unknown adventurer went on to visit the other subterraneous Wonders of the Peak;  Eldon Hole and Peak Cavern.  He was similarly as daring in these caves and he nearly came a cropper down Eldon Hole. His last letter describes his escapade down Eldon Hole and finishes with these impassioned lines;

‘…. And here my friend I will take my leave, the pain in my limbs are still excruciating but a little time will set all to rights again: all I have to say is, that I never wish even the greatest enemy I have in the world to be so unpardonly led by curiosity as to tempt destruction, where in despondent of the dangers of the place, the falling of a single stone might bury him in eternity for ever’.

 In the twentieth century hundreds of archaeological artefacts were uncovered from Poole’s Cavern including Roman jewellery, Samian ware pottery and animal and human bones.  A selection of these artefacts are on display in the Poole’s Cavern visitors centre and in the Wonders of the Peak Gallery at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.


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