John Nixon sketch of Martha Norton

As part of the Enlightenment! project we have been doing some research into our existing collections at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

A couple of months ago we had a specialist come and take a look at our 18th and 19th century watercolours.  He took one look at a painting we have of Martha Norton and immediately identified her as the work of John Nixon (1760 -1818).  This was a really useful piece of information as we can now take her out of the ‘unknown artist’ category.

We took the picture out of the frame and sure enough we found a signature on the back.  The Museum bought this picture in 1985 and prior to that, we now know that it was sold at Christies in the 1970s and was once the property of the Governor and Directors of the French Hospital of La Providence.

Martha Norton was the well keeper at St Anne’s well in Buxton.  After the 1772 Buxton Enclosure Act the well became public property and had to be kept in a good state of repair.  Every Easter a well woman was appointed to take care of the well and assist people who were taking the water.  There was no salary and the well women had to rely on tips as an income.  According to Mike Langham in his book ‘Buxton: A People’s History’, Martha was elected to the position 15 times between 1775 and 1820.

St Anne’s Well, 1796

We were really excited to find out our sketch was by John Nixon.  Alongside visiting Buxton we know that he visited Dovedale as we were outbid on a Nixon sketch of picnickers in Dovedale last year.

At the time of this auction we did some research to try and establish when Nixon visited Derbyshire and where he went.  I contacted a few museums who had work by Nixon to see whether they had any Derbyshire scenes (thank you Victoria Art Gallery, Bath and Ulster Museum). They didn’t have anything but Lucy Salt at Derby Museums found a reference in an old Christie’s auction catalogue which included a Nixon entitled ‘Entrance to Cromford’.

The sketch of Dovedale contained the inscription, ‘3 Miss Johnsons of Loughborough . J.N…. Japer[?] Atkinson at Dinner in a cave in Dove Dale, Derbyshire’.  We tried to figure out who these people were but had no luck.   I wonder where the sketch has has ended up?

About John Nixon

There doesn’t appear to be a huge amount of information about Nixon. He was a wealthy Irish merchant and an amateur artist who was best known for his comical sketches.  He seems to have visited many fashionable places (no surprise he came to Buxton then!) and drew the people he encountered.  He was a friend of Thomas Rowlandson and they visited Bath together in 1792.

He also drew satirical sketches of his time in Paris and exhibited 39 paintings between 1781 and 1815 as an honorary exhibitor at the Royal Academy.  (A lot of this info is lifted from Nixon’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).

Ashford Black Marble jewellery – Selim Bright & Co

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has bought an Ashford Black Marble jewelry set, consisting of a brooch and earrings set in gold and in their original box.  The work is of the highest quality but what made it stand out for us was the box which bears the words ‘S. Bright & Co, Buxton, Goldsmiths and watchmakers’.

Buxton was one of the main centres for the Derbyshire Black Marble industry and the museum has a fantastic collection of Ashford Black Marble.  Much of it is on permanent display in our Wonders of the Peak gallery.  Most of the work is unsigned and is difficult to attribute it to specific workshops so we are delighted to have the original Bright box.

Selim Bright appears in the business directories in 1822 as ‘Bright and Sons, the Square’. By 1835 the business had moved to the Crescent. They were associated with jewellers and cutlers in Sheffield (St James Street) and are described as such rather than marble workers.  By 1857 they are listed in White’s Derbyshire Directory as Bright & Co, still in the Crescent.  Bright exhibited an Ashford Black Marble table and numerous vases at the 1851 Great Exhibition, where he was awarded an honourable mention for his work.  A decade later he exhibited at the 1862 London International Exhibition.

The jeweller’s box is marked S.Bright and Co. Buxton, so the garniture dates from the height of the marble trade, around 1850 – 1865.

Selim Bright had a shop under the arches in the Crescent. It is a pity we can’t make out an A Board outside his door.

The Bingham Trust kindly gave us a grant to assist with this purchase and we are very grateful for their support.  In 2005 they also helped us purchase the Tomlinson Collection of Ashford Black Marble, which is now a highlight of our collection.

We have bought other Ashford Black Marble pieces during the project including a pen rest with a Mawe’s Museum retailers sticker and an intriguing socle decorated with a silhouette.  We were spectacularly outbid on an Ann Raynor etching of Matlcok Tor in 2010.

Spot The Difference

Buxton Museum’s recent purchase of the John Webber and William Day watercolours of Castleton has got us thinking.  These two watercolours were drawn on the same day in 1789 and both show the same view but from slightly different angles.  We have been playing spot the difference with them and this inspired us to put then up alongside other pictures showing similar views from different angles.

 These pictures are on display on our newly repainted landing at Buxton Museum, and include 5 pictures that we have bought as part of the Enlightenment! project.

 These images should give you a flavour – please excuse the poor photography!


John Webber’s 1789 Castleton watercolour on the left and William Day’s watercolour on the right.

John Bluck’s 1805 print of Matlock Bath on the left, and William Marlow’s 1780 oil of the same view.

A lithograph of Buxton Crescent on the left and William Cowen’s 1850 watercolour on the right.

Godfrey Sykes’ 1850 oil of Buxton Market Place on the left and an unknown artist’s oil on the right.

Buxton Crescent Souvenir Patch Box



Buxton Museum and Art Gallery bought this enamelled patch box in January 2012.  It dates from the late 19th century and has a transfer print of the Crescent in Buxton.

Patch boxes were used to store ‘patches’ which were decorative beauty spots used to cover blemishes, scars, moles etc.  They ranged from purely functional paper or mole skin patches to highly decorative silk and satin ones which were cut into elaborate shapes such as hearts, stars and diamonds.

Buxton Crescent was a popular subject for artists and printmakers and features on a range of souvenirs from the period. 


Buxton Crescent, oil on Canvas, artist unknown, c. 1825

Buxton Crescent attributed to W. Cowen, c. 1850