Has Buxton finally grown into a cosmopolitan socially inclusive town, nestled in the shade of “out there” Manchester with its rainbow district and tolerant attitudes?
Doubtless influenced by the presence of those attending Buxton & Leek College or the town’s University of Derby campus, so many diverse communities are “out here right now and enjoying a picnic together.”
Historically and quintessentially a very white English town, Buxton threw open its arms for the picnic crowd, welcoming them whatever the flavour of their favourite amuse-bouche or taste in clothes, friends or lifestyle.
Cake is a very important part of any Pride party, this was no exception and the favourite sentence I heard was: “I just love the pink dungarees!” Picnickers were asked to write on labels why today was important to them and add them to a tree.
Every so often, it does us good to take a look at ourselves, to see that we are all kinds of people who love our town. Chatting amongst ourselves, like we did at the picnic, we realise that on the surface we are all very similar and that the differences make us more interesting. The fact that this event was initiated by the local LGBT community seemed less important than the coming together of interesting people.
Is Buxton growing into an inclusive town? Yes, events like this show that it is moving in the right direction. Should someone correlate the contents of the labels fixed to the Tree of Knowledge, then it will get there.
Buxton residents and visitors describe in words and pictures the story of Buxton’s healing waters. This was a Present from the Past production, a group effort lovingly produced by the local U3A Oral History Group, Buxton Museum, and the Buxton Crescent and Thermal Spa Heritage Trust (apologies if I’ve missed anyone out). It was evidently the result of the work of many people doing the research, interviewing the people, gaining access to sites currently (and long since) concealed or under construction, and assembling it all into an audio-visual production. This was achieved by far too many people to mention individually here although the leading role of Viv Doyle in the production should be acknowledged.
It is an interesting angle from which to look at Buxton’s history, presented here with suitable pictures and watery sounds, starting with priestesses in a grove, followed in due course by druids, Romans, and so on. In spite of Henry VIII’s Commissioners removing the votary walking sticks etc and sealing off the wells, the waters continued to be used for the relief of pain. Notable patients included of course Mary Queen of Scots at the Old Hall, leading a list that later included, for instance, WS Gilbert, Bertrand Russell, Douglas Fairbanks Junior, and Mary Pickford – all sorts.
We were shown interesting sequences of film basically following the flow of the local water to the springs, the baths and their uses, and to the bottling plant and the commercial success of Buxton Water (for instance Barack Obama with his bottle clearly showing the logo). The history of the spa from the building of the Crescent, through for instance Thomas Cook’s travel business, to the current renaissance of the Crescent building (are we nearly there?) was recounted with extracts from newspapers, memoirs, letters, and a scattering of cartoons.
The core of the project is the oral history, the reminiscences of the many people discovered and the interviews providing direct contact with times well before the lifetime and experience of the researchers. The oral approach notably allows the uncovering of the experiences of ordinary people who will never publish their memoirs, but who have stories to tell of ordinary lives and their telling details, back into the not-totally-distant past. In Buxton, how did the grand hotels provide for their grand guests? What about the less grand visitors? What were the experiences of the water treatment patients – hot peat baths: how was that done? What was it like to cope with life’s medical problems when seeing a doctor might cost nearly half a working man’s weekly wage?
The mid-section of the evening’s presentation was an oral history ‘interview’, when Anne Rogerson, the project’s prime mover, as interviewee, spoke of the value of the oral approach, and urged us all to write down/pass on some memories of our own lives, for the interest of our children & grandchildren. We might even, perhaps, convince a grandchild that there was life before mobile phones, never mind the internet.
There were interesting and entertaining things to learn about Buxton’s healing waters. There a further chances at the Pump Room, how appropriate, on 17th & 20th July, well worth the time of Buxtonians or visitors.
‘We’re not superstitious’ said the publicity, and no jinx hit these relaxed performances. The Pump Room made a pleasant afternoon venue for a sequence of musicians to perform, entry free, and the atmosphere casual and friendly. People came in (partly to avoid this summer’s novelty of drizzle?), to see and admire the building, and many stayed to listen. The extensive renovation works to the Pump Room have meant long closure, so it is interesting to see it emerge. It will close again after the Festival period, and is expected to re-open, repurposed, as a Visitor Experience centre, in 2019.
The programme’s outline of possibilities for the afternoon mentioned comedy, theatre, dance, but none of those happened. What we got, very acceptably, was a sequence of approximately half-hour sets performed by musicians singing to their own guitar accompaniment, songs in various styles very generally country and western, with occasional rock overtones. (Your reviewer is no kind of expert in this field, so may be corrected in this!)
The players were largely the friends and contacts of Peter Buxton, a Buxton local, who left but returned gladly to Buxton. All sang to their own guitar accompaniment as solo or duo. Peter performs as a singer-songwriter, and also plays jazz with Herding Catz. He played several sessions with his friend Mark Allen, over from Nashville Tennessee (‘fantastic, larger than life’), music on which they have worked together for some years, and some written specially for the Fringe, with Peter occasionally adding harmonica.
Joe Ash is well known around Matlock for his folk style and also his covers of others’ songs, and performed convincingly.
Nigel Parsons, also, had a solo set, again playing covers as well as his own pieces, engagingly introduced and musically performed.
The changing audience was interested, taking notice in spite of the casual atmosphere. Many walked around inspecting the features of the room before leaving, but a good number sat to listen longer. The fact that feet and fingers were often gently keeping time with the singers, and lips moved to the lyrics, suggests that there were many who knew very well what they were listening to, and liked what they heard. It felt like a quietly good Fringe event, unexpected and welcoming .
An evening spent tasting fine whiskies while learning about the distilling process and flavours. What could be better?
Jamie insisted he was no expert but this was over modesty and he proved to be very knowledgeable and able to answer all questions directed to him.
The sell-out event held in the gallery at Monks Bar was full with a range of ages and a number of ladies present. The current trend towards flavoured Gins doesn’t seem to have affected the interest in the great classic Scotch whiskies.
Jamie started us off with a medium peaty whisky and debunked the idea that only Islay whiskies were peaty. We moved through Scotland with five other samples – each one with a particular characteristic.
Some of the other gems we learned were: the effect of long necked still versus shorter ‘onion’ shapes, what the definition ‘single malt’ actually means (not what I thought), the ‘reflux’ effect in a still, what is ‘monkey shoulder’, and the difference of aging in European red oak barrels or American white oak. All of this while taking a guided tasting.
This session was just a one-off but many of us prompted him to repeat this and maybe have three or four evenings next time round.
This was my first beer tasting event. No, seriously, it was. Despite many years of drinking the stuff I’d never been to an ‘official’ tasting, led by someone who knew about the beer, and it proved to be a great way to be introduced to a brewery and its beers.
We were led in this worthy endeavour by Chris, who as well as knowing his beer, gave us some of the history of the Brooklyn Brewery. A relative newcomer to the brewing world, Brooklyn Brewery has grown to be one of America’s most widely known independent breweries, producing a range of craft beers. It was our chance to get to know some of them.
Chris ably led us through the ‘tastescape’ of some of Brooklyn’s finest, giving us some background to how the beers were made, ingredients and importantly for us gauging its nose. Now we knew we had three different ways to appreciate the subtleties of aroma particular to each. All bar one of the beers we tried are available here in the U.K. and the one that isn’t was a ‘ghost bottle’, which Chris told us is one which comes from the chief brewer’s personal collection, so a rare treat indeed!
You can imagine that proceedings got a little more jovial as we moved through the bottles, especially given the strength of some of the contents! There were snacks to accompany each beer acting as a palate cleanser, including some rather delicious chocolate. No surprise then that we all had a great time!
This is the first of a series of joint events held by Monk Bar and Brooklyn Brewery, and tonight’s whisky tasting is already sold out. Not so their FAIR SPIRITS CHARITY COMEDY & COCKTAIL NIGHT on the 19th July, when you can support charity by drinking! The night of comedy, with slots from comedians performing throughout the festival, and cocktails will see all proceeds going to FAIR's Fair Trade charity. Go on, it’s for a good cause!
Ian Parker Heath
Always nice to meet an expert. Someone who can give you the low-down on things you’d like to know more about, but not in a salesman’s patter. So, what have is a series of talks from a selection of experts in archaeology, arts and more. Today’s expert, and kicking off the series was Jane Ford. Jane is currently doing her PhD at the University of Sheffield, which meant that this was cutting edge research.
Jane’s PhD project is looking at Hyenas and Neanderthal interaction in Britain between 60-35 thousand years ago. One of the reasons Jane is looking at this subject is that will give us detailed information on the inter-species competition for resources i.e. food and the impact that our Neanderthal ancestors made on their environment.
However, the subject of Jane’s talk today was something of a diversion and akin to a little light-relief - Sabre-tooth Tygers in Derbyshire. Surprised eh? Well it became clear that there are a number of sites in the county where evidence of these ‘big cats’ have been found, one being surprisingly close too – Victory Quarry in Dove Holes!
Jane gave us a fascinating glimpse into the story of how and where these creatures lived, and our recent searches to find out more. As is often the case there were some wrong turns along the way, but the most surprising thing was that a recent example found in the North Sea – used to be what archaeologists call Doggerland – have been dated to around 35,000 years old. It was thought that the Sabre-tooth’s had died out around 300,000 years ago. So where were they hiding?
A really interesting talk which generated some good questions for Jane to field, which she did ably. If this is the tone for the series, I’ll be back! There are 7 more talks, ranging from medieval grave covers to Marie Stopes in Antarctica – now you can’t get much more varied than that!
Ian Parker Heath
Mary Queen of Scots, played by Sarah Gordon, glides in, regally dressed in magnificent robes befitting a Queen, deigning to allow us to be in her presence! She recounts her memories of the 1570s when she was under the care of the Earl of Shrewsbury and was allowed to visit Buxton to take the waters in an attempt to improve her health and her rheumatism. Permission was granted by the Queen, Elizabeth, to visit and she stayed for five weeks at Shrewsbury’s New Hall, built on the site of the Auld Hall, which is now named the Old Hall Hotel.
She takes us on a wonderful journey describing her many visits to Buxton. She uses the hotel as the ultimate prop and we are taken inside to view the pictures and paintings. She reveals how it looked originally with four square rooms and four storeys – you can still identify these rooms from both inside and out.
This is not just a tour or spoken word performance but an intimate audience with Mary Queen of Scots, including her observations, memories and, at times, the anguish of how her life has changed. She reflects on her relationship with Queen Elizabeth and her companion Bess, Countess of Shrewsbury and the agony that she endures in not seeing her son James. Letters that have been written are read out, adding to the authenticity of the performance and demonstrating her emotional cost of the political situation she is suffering.
Back inside we view her famous couplet, Farewell to Buxton, etched with a diamond ring on one of the bedroom window panes: ‘Buxton, whose warm waters have made thy name famous, perchance I shall visit thee no more-Farewell’
The power of this performance lies in the emotion that we share with Mary and the fact that we know her fate…
I have been in the Old Hall Hotel many times, but this performance made me see it in a different light. Indeed, I went back in to view the pictures and artefacts, particularly the glass etching. Sarah Gordon skillfully brought it to life with her excellent portrayal of Mary Queen of Scots. Anyone, with any interest in the history of Buxton should participate in this performance – be ready, of course, to stand up – you are in the presence of royalty!
Members of the audience also thought it was excellent and stayed on to chat to Queen Mary, enthralled by her story and empathising with her situation. Original script by Netta Christie.
And we’re off and running! The launch party is something of a tradition for Fringe regulars, and many of them were there again last night, but so were lots of new faces – both performers and audience. An evening of fun was promised and so it came to pass.
The launch party is a taster session for what’s coming up in this year’s Fringe and I have to say it looks like we won’t be disappointed. We had a chance to mingle with stars of the Fringe such as the award-winning spinster librarian Ms Samantha Mann who ably, if a little acerbically and much to the audience’s delight, compered for us. Among the highlights for the audience were Mike Raffone’s ‘boot camp’ which had more than a trace of audience participation and plenty of laughter! Mandy Toothill gave us a snippet of her Twin Peaks show, which even allowing for a Wigan accent, is one I’ll be going to see on the strength of this, and would recommend it.
Fringe returners The Glummer Twins gave us more of their wordsmith wizardry and humour, featuring such topics as GRUMMPIES and alopecia. Lovely! Off-off-off Broadway’s Polis Loizou led us into the spectral realms of 19th century Cyprus with an excerpt from his show ‘Curse of Saints’ which promises to be popular if audience reaction is anything to go by. The ghostly theme continued with Jill Neves and Leslie Oldfield of LJN Company introducing us to the short play ‘The Last Tram’ which you can catch at the Lee Wood Hotel next week.
Of course there was more – we were ably entertained by Yaz and Tom the brains behind Underground Venues who have become a much appreciated fixture since they first tiptoed into the Fringe all those years ago. Great raffle, a brief history of the Fringe (number 39 this year) and a quiz of 10 tricky questions in which everyone did well! Thanks chaps!
You can check the Fringe diary to find out more of the acts mentioned here, and whatever you do, buy tickets – right Yaz?
Ian Parker Heath