Sunday, 10 April 2016

boxes of delights

House of Wonders, 
boxes of delights

Between 1926 and 1978, the Douglas House of Wonders in Castleton offered visitors a wonderful collection of curiosities from a motor that could fit into a thimble to the Lords’ Prayer written on a thread thin enough to pass through the eye of a needle. There were minerals, native spears, and a selection of locks and keys that were featured in the BBC’s A History of the World in 100 Objects. Randolph Douglas was also an accomplished escapologist who worked with Houdini but we’re not going to ask you to go down that path on this workshop!

an Insect Cabinet
Inspired by the original Douglas House of Wonders, we invited visitors to the Castleton Visitor Centre on Wednesday 6th April to make their own Cabinets of Curiosity. Part of Buxton Museum’s Collections in the Landscape project, with events like these we aim to inform people about the links between the Museum Collection and the places in the Peaks where that collection comes from

Next event in this series: Up your street on June 2nd: looking at old panoramic photos of Buxton streets and making our own streets (or other places) as pop-up landscapes: more details here  and on this blog soon

Victorian and Edwardian Cabinets of Curiosity were personal museums with collections that ranged from local fossils and shells to exotic trade beads and even shrunken heads from distant travels. In size, these Cabinets could be free standing glass display units or small glass-fronted cupboards mounted on a wall. In effect anything could become a “Cabinet” if it offered a space that could hold a selection of items. While at one level being simply collections of odd bits and pieces, Cabinets are also reflections of an individual’s interests and travels, offering glimpses into the interests and fascinations of Victorian society and the personal lives of their owners.

Starting with flat-pack cardboard boxes, we cut windows, added pictures (old copies of wildlife magazines mostly), chose compartments and generally got carried away. Some people pursued themes: there were a couple of seasonal Spring boxes, an insect cabinet an owl box and someone wanted one for his collection of teeth*.

Searching for Pizza, Pirates sailed the Seven Seas braving storms, giant waves and even the legendary Kraken. From Tortuga to the wild Malagasy shores, their pizza search carried the pirates to far, strange lands and in the end there was no pizza. Shipwrecked on Candy Island, they stayed there until their teeth fell out and they were rescued by some children on a school trip in a Boat-bus
 …and all that evolved during the making of a Pirate Cabinet

Find out more:
About Randolf Douglas and the Douglas Collection:
“Randini, the man who helped Houdini” by Ann Beedham, Youbooks, 2009
ISBN 9781905278299

About Cabinets of Curiosity: "Cabinet of Curiosities: collecting and understanding the wonders of the natural world" by Gordon Grice , Workman 2015 ISBN 978-0-7611-6927-7

* We did not enquire too deeply about just whose teeth these originally were

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