‘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

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.

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 ros.westwood@derbyshire.gov.uk.

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.

Enlightenment and Discovery; The Ceramic Legacy

The Pot Session on Saturday night

The Pot Session on Saturday night

Last month I attended the Northern Ceramic Society’s (NCS) Summer School at Chester University. NCS is the largest ceramic society in the UK. It has nearly 1000 members whose interests range from studio pottery to 18th century butter boats, medieval majolica and kiln technology.

This year the Summer School theme was right up my street, ‘Enlightenment and Discovery; The Ceramic Legacy’. It was a varied lecture programme that explored the way the Enlightenment movement and its legacy shaped ceramics, from key figures such as Josiah Wedgwood through to the influence the Portland Vase had on ceramic design. The legacy of the Enlightenment was discussed in terms of Ruskin’s preoccupation with artistic taste, the working conditions at the Stoke Potteries and the spiritual enlightenment that influenced the work of the early 20th century studio potters.

Pots and wine - a happy conbination

Pots and wine – a happy combination

It is hard to sum up a 4 day conference succinctly, but some interesting Derbyshire related things cropped up. Dr Oliver Kent in his lecture on the changes to kiln and firing technology 1650 – 1775, discussed the illustrated records of the Swedish traveller Reinhold Angerstein. Angerstein undertook a detailed survey of English Industries, mainly focusing on lead and iron manufacturing. He was himself involved in the Swedish iron industry and was in the UK basically as a spy; examining the quality of the iron, what it was being used for, how it was being produced etc.

 
Angerstein also gives an insight into other industries including ceramics. Oliver’s lecture included Angerstein’s 1754 illustration of the saltglaze kiln at Crich. The kiln had quite a sophisticated fire box that Oliver believed would have reached a high temperature. I know nothing about the pottery at Crich, so this was very interesting and something I plan to look into further.  Angerstein recorded the kilns at Derby porcelain including the muffle kiln which was used for Derby figures and he states that at the time of his visit, they were debating installing equipment for throwing bowls and plates. It would have been great if Angerstein had visited the area 25 years later, as I would have been interested to hear what he thought of Richard Arkwight’s Mills – that is, if he had been allowed in!

 
On the Friday we went on a visit to the Spode Works Visitors Centre. This followed a fascinating morning lecture on Spode by Pam Wooliscroft, a company which I previously knew very little about.

 NSC Summer School 2013
NSC Summer School 2013

Anyway back to the Derbyshire links – Wedgwood sourced his barite from Matlock and, along with Thomas Bentley and all good eighteenth century gentleman, he owned a copy of Whitehurst’s Formation of the Earth.  The Portland Vase not only influenced Matthew Boulton’s Blue John ormolu vases and Derby porcelain but it was also copied at the little known Whittington Moor Pottery. I also learnt that Joseph Wright was originally called upon to paint the Wedgwood family portrait, which would have been pretty amazing, although I have to admit that George Stubbs did a decent job.
Medley (9)

I had a really good time at the Summer School and met a lot of interesting people. Since being back at work I have had communication with some of the members including being sent an article and images of a porcelain plate depicting Richard Arkwight’s Willersley Castle – Thank you!  Kathy Niblett’s lecture on the pioneer studio potters has reinvigorated me to tackle the studio pottery that we have at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, and I am planning a small exhibition at Alfreton Library containing the work of Bernard Leach, Bernard Rooke and Belper born Mary Rogers.

I would like to thank the Northern Ceramic School and the anonymous donor who supported the 2013 Dr Geoffrey Godden Bursary, of which I was the recipient.

A Derbyshire salon hang?

William Marlow oil painting of Matlock Bath

William Marlow oil painting of Matlock Bath

Over the last five years Buxton Museum has bought over 30 artworks as part of the Enlightenment! project. These range from oil paintings by Royal Academy artists to watercolours by unknown amateurs. What the pictures all have in common, is that they show either Derbyshire views or Derbyshire people and were created between 1743 and about 1880.

 
All these artworks have been on display in the Museum, and many of them have toured to Derby Museum and Art Gallery and Strutt’s North Mill. We don’t have a permanent art gallery at the Museum. Instead we incorporate art into the Wonders of the Peak Gallery, especially in the Georgian Room, and into our temporary exhibition programme. As part of Collections in the Landscape we are looking at redeveloping the Wonders of the Peak Gallery and have a commitment to put 10% more objects on display.

Salon hangs were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries.
This is an image of the 1839 Derby Exhibition at the Mechanics Institute in Derby.

I am very keen to get more art on display and one way of doing this in a small space is by implementing a salon hang – basically floor to ceiling art. Although I like salon hangs, I do find that they don’t always work and that pictures can sometimes blend too much into the background. Traditionally the ‘best’ paintings were hung ‘on the line’ i.e at eye level. While those further down the hierarchy were ‘skied’, meaning that you can’t get a decent look at them! The benefits of the salon hang, is that you are able to get more art on show and they are displayed in an appropriate period style.

Salon hang at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Salon hang at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

I think Buxton Museum’s Derbyshire views would work well in this scenario. It would give the wall a strong theme and comparisons could be made easily between the different artists’ interpretations of the views. Oils could be up there semi-permanently while works on paper could be on a rolling programme, limiting their exposure to the light. We could also look at drawers, possibly in a Georgian Gentleman’s style cabinet in which to display prints and watercolours, which would allow public access while limiting light damage.

Anna using the iExplore app at the Clarke Institute

Anna using the iExplore app at the Clarke Institute

 
It can be tricky to get the interpretation right on a salon hang, as it doesn’t lend itself to the traditional museum label. While visiting museums over the last 6 months I have been keeping my eyes peeled for ideas. I enjoyed the hang at the Clarke Institute in Massachusetts, USA. Here they’ve hung over 80 paintings in a small room and the bulk of the interpretation is accessed via tablets, which are loaned to visitors. It creates an interesting exhibition and I enjoyed the ‘hodgepodgeness’ of depictions of American Indians displayed alongside a Renaissance Madonna and British coastal scenes.

Using the iExplore app

The tablet displayed a programme called uExplore which gave further information on the paintings and sometimes also relevant audio and video content. There was another interactive app called uCurate which allows visitors to digitally curate their own exhibition – you choose the paintings, wall colours, design layout etc.

A visitor using the uCurate app at the Clarke Institute

A visitor using the uCurate app at the Clarke Institute

Both apps are available to use from the comfort of your own home – http://www.clarkart.edu/exhibitions/remix/content/exhibition.cfm We’d be interested to know what you think?

 

Whitehurst wall clock, 1850

Whitehurst Derby wall clock - in bits!We have just had our Whitehurst clock back from conservation and it is now up on the wall in the Boyd Dawkins Study.  This clock has always been a bit of a mystery to us and has spent most of its recent past in bits in a box in the store.  It was donated to the museum in the 1960s alongside its wooden case.

We took the clock to restorer Michael Czajkowski  who took one look at it and told us that the clock was never intended to be cased.  It is a free hanging utilitarian clock made by Whitehurst III in about 1850.   These clocks are often called ‘hoop and spur’ clocks and were produced as reliable cheap clocks against the backdrop of rising competition from France and America.  Ours is an 8 day version but 30 hour versions were also made – I’m glad we have the 8 day version as winding the 30 hour one wouldn’t be very practical….

Michael, Ros & the Whitehurst clock

Michael, Ros & the Whitehurst clock

Although produced as a cheap clock it still would have been a valuable possession and Michael suggests the case was probably made by the original owner, to protect the swinging pendulum from children and/or cats. The case which is in the country style was made from pine wood but stained to resemble a more expensive hardwood.

We’ve decided to hang the clock as it was designed but the story of the case adds an interesting insight into the original owner’s life and concerns.

Ros hanging the clock in the Boyd Dawkins Study

Ros hanging the clock in the Boyd Dawkins Study