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.

Thorpe Cloud

Thorpe Cloud

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has recently bought this watercolour of Thorpe Cloud by William Day. We know that Day toured Derbyshire with his friend and fellow artist John Webber in 1789 and they visited Thorpe Cloud –  Eton College owns a Webber watercolour of the subject.  However what is unusual about Day’s Thorpe Cloud, is that it is much smaller than the other watercolours that he produced on the tour and it is not numbered.  We are assuming that it dates from 1789, possibly being drawn in a different sketchbook or having been subsequently cropped, but further research is needed.   Either way, it is a nice addition to Buxton Museum’s collection and of a subject which is currently only represented in print form.

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 – 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

Blue John milk pail, 1803

The news that a ‘lost’ vein of Blue John has been found at Treak Cliff Cavern reminded me that I needed to share some images of our latest purchase.

 Blue John milk pail, 1803

We have recently bought this Blue John milk pail Hallmarked Silverfrom a dealer. It’s an unusual piece and we don’t have anything like it in the collection at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. What makes it particularly rare is the hallmarked silver which dates it to 1803 and to the Sheffield Cutler Thomas Rodgers. We still need to do further research on this object, so watch this space. 

I should put in a disclaimer that although it’s in the style of a milk pail, it is only a couple of inches high – a full sized milk pail would have probably used up our entire acquisition budget from HLF!

The Award winning Enlightenment! project

Derbyshire Heritage Awards 2013
This year the Enlightenment! project has picked up two awards. In May we won the Leadership Award at the East Midlands Heritage Awards, and earlier this month we won the Judge’s Special Award at the Derbyshire Heritage Awards at Barrow Hill Roundhouse.

Joy Hales said on behalf of the Derbyshire Heritage Awards Judges:

“This year we felt there was one outstanding project that could have fitted into all the award categories but its scope and realisation placed it beyond them all and has accomplished something of national significance. A partnership project between Buxton, Derby and Belper – Derbyshire should feel proud to have people with this scale of ambition to enhance the county’s collections through strategic acquisition in what we all know are difficult times. They had the vision to develop partnerships both within and outside the sector that will leave something of lasting significance. It is a real honour to present this to the Enlightenment team as a glowing testimony to an outstanding project”.

Stephanie Hitchcock (Strutt's North Mill), Martha Lawrence and Ros Westwood (both Buxton Museum) with their awards for the Enlightenment! project

Stephanie Hitchcock (Strutt’s North Mill), Martha Lawrence and Ros Westwood (both Buxton Museum) with their awards for the Enlightenment! project

Mourning ring for James Brindley

The Enlightenment! Project and my post officially finished at the end of June.  However I have been lucky enough to be re-employed at Buxton Museum on their new HLF funded project ‘Collections in the Landscape’.  You will hear more about this project shortly, but in the meantime I will keep posting on here about 18th and 19th century Derbyshire and add more of our purchases.  We have now got everything photographed, in total over 120 objects! Here is another….

 James Brindley mourning ring

This ring was made in memory of James Brindley (1716 – 1772), the Tunstead born canal pioneer. Earlier in the project we bought a sketch of Brindley, and further information on him can be found here.

Choirs at Castleton…Déjà-vu

I had some déjà-vu moments reading the letters and travel journals at the Beinecke Library.  A lot of the early tourists to the area visited the same places and they used very similar phrases and words to describe their experiences.  These three excerpts describe Peak Cavern and illustrate the point:

Commonplace book  
‘From this place [Roger Rains House] you continue to the Chancel where calmly proceeding on your way, you are suddenly aroused by a choir of [?] chanting in a niche above you, and elevated about 77 feet…… here then we stopped, the airs were slow and solemn, which were sung, everything tuned the mind to meditation, nature appeared in awful majesty before us, in short, we could  fancy ourselves transported to some other World’. (Letter written by unknown author, to an unknown recipient and copied into a common place book, possibly written in the summer of 1770)

Unknown diary 1807

 ‘From this you continue to the channel, where calmly proceeding you are suddenly arrows’d by a choir of voices, chanting in a niche or gallery 60 foot elevated, sounds which the vaulted roof re’erted sweetly to the ear, near this orchestra of nature, in a recess 80 feet above the spot, where such a sublime scene almost [revels?] you, are placed a number of lights, the purpose of such an illumination adds grandeur to the effect of the whole, the vaulted roof appears bent and broken, and the spar in many parts glistening with the reflection from the lights add to the magnificent beauty of the channel…..we return’d with slow and solemn pace till we arriv’d at the Channel, where our senses were again charr’d by a fine and melodious air, it was the 104 psalm, never shall I forget the sensation and glow of devotion my heart felt at this moment’. (Excerpt from an unknown Peckham women’s travel journey, 1807)
Mary Kerr's diary 1808
 ‘When you have reached about half way, you are surprised by singing and on looking up you discover an open part of the Cavern 60 feet above you, where stand 3 or 4 of the very old women whom you see at your entrance with candles in each hand and others stuck about the place, singing God save the King, the 104th psalm, or anything else they like, the novelty of the scenes is rather reviving’ (Mary Kerr, ‘Notes on visits to various Country Houses’ 1808)


There are differences, for example we have the choir at 77 feet, 80 feet and 60 feet respectively, but on the whole they are very similar.  While Mary Kerr is very matter of fact in her account, the other two tourists are far more emotional in their description.  They both mention the awe-inspiring power of nature and their spiritual response to the scene.   It would be interesting to compare these descriptions with published accounts of the cave and see if there is much overlap in the language and sentiment used .  Could it be that the tourists were – maybe even subconsciously – reiterating from texts they had read about the cave? This might explain the similarities in their choice of words and phrases, or it might just be a coincidence….   How similar would three visitors’ descriptions and emotional experiences of the cave be today?