Pursuing the Archaeology of the Peak District

25/01/201916:4125/01/2019 16:47Leave a Comment

The archaeology collections at the Potteries Museum cover many parts of Staffordshire, including parts of the county that fall within the boundaries of the Peak District National Park.

I’m currently involved in a project, working closely with Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, to track down where archaeological collections from the Peak District have ended up. The aim is to pull data together and create rich online resources for people to explore Peak District archaeology. Objects have ended up in many places. The excavations of Victorian antiquarians spread material far and wide across the country. The Peak District crosses four counties so material still ends up in one of several different receiving museums.

At the Potteries Museum, the majority of our Peak District collections relate to areas around the Manifold Valley – particularly the archaeology of the limestone caves that are widespread along the lengths of the Hamps and Manifold Rivers. You can see some of items on display in our archaeology galleries, including finds from the magnificent Thor’s Cave.

Pieces of worked antler from Thor’s Cave, Manifold Valley. Thought to be Iron Age cheek pieces for horse harnesses (see illustration)
Objects from Thor’s Cave, Manifold Vallery: 26. Iron Age bone comb 27. Whetstone 28.Perforated bone

Of course, not all of our Peak District cave finds are ancient, but they do continue the comb theme…

Objects from Wetton Mill Rock Shelter: 16. Iron Horseshow, 13th-16th century 17.Ox molar 18.Plastic comb 19. Rabbit skull

There are many more wonderful finds from the Manifold Valley, and not just here at the Potteries Museum. Depending who excavated, and when, finds from the region can also be found in Buxton Museum and Art Gallery and even as far away as Manchester Museum who have collections relating to Ossom’s Eerie.

Today there is an established process for ensuring the results of archaeological excavations are carefully recorded and deposited in a logical place and we try keep archives from the same site together. Victorian archaeologists usually had very different methods. Caves were frequently excavated with dynamite (none in the Manifold Valley luckily!) and specimens were sent all over the country for colleagues to examine. Frequently objects made their way into private collections rather than public museums.

Of course, many of these private collections eventually ended up in the public realm. The collections of ‘Barrow Knigjht’ Thomas Bateman (1821-1861) who excavated more than 100 Peak District barrows is at Museums Sheffield. Similarly many specimens of subfossil bone can be found at The Manchester Museum through the activities of Sir William Boyd Dawkins (1837-1929) at sites such as Victory Quarry, Doveholes and Windy Knoll, near Castleton.

Thomas Bateman, the ‘Barrow Knight’, excavated more than 100 barrows across Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Yorkshire. His collection is now with Museums Sheffield, Image (c) Museums Sheffield; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation. Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA.

Many of the bordering cities around the Peak District hold fragments of its archaeology. Alongside Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester and Derby there are also collections at Derby and Bolton. However, some objects have traveled much further from the Peak District. From its origins in the 18th century, archaeology was long the hobby of elites, many of them landed gentry. It wasn’t surprising then to see some objects had made their way into National Trust properties around the country.

The village of Warslow, Staffordshire was once owned by the Harpur-Crewe family of Calke Abbey. Some of the objects found on the estates made it down the family’s main residence, including a box of animal bones and teeth found in a nearby cave. Where was this cave? You guessed it! The Manifold Valley.

Calke Abbey, South Derbyshire, owned by National Trust. Image by xlibber Creative Commons CC BY-SA.

Other travellers include a Bronze Axe from Eyam, Derbyshire, now at Wallington, Northumbria. I still haven’t worked out the connection, but the Blacketts of Wallington were mine owners and may had a link with the lead-mining industry in Derbyshire.

My journey through the data is far from over – there are objects too in Oxford, London, and even Scotland. I can’t wait to update the blog in the future and share where else the trail is leading, and what fun things we can do with the data.

The project is managed by Buxton Museum and Art Gallery and funded through The British Museum’s National Programmes Scheme.

Written by Joe Perry (Curator, Local History)

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