Portrait of a Young Lady


This is a drawing of a skull. It took me about 5 hours and I drew it with a 6B graphite stick. Graphite is the stuff you get in pencils – a stick of it is usually pure graphite with no clay additives and no wooden casing. Using a graphite stick enables you to make a wider variety of marks and to get blacker blacks. I get mine from Jackson’s Art Supplies and they are made by Koh-I-Noor. They cost about £2 each but are a pleasure to use.

The skull belongs to a person found at the Iron Age hill-fort of Fin Cop near Ashford-in-the-Water. An estimated 400 people were massacred there more than 2000 years ago.

As I sat in Buxton Museum drawing I wondered about a question that a few of us at the museum have been grappling with. Was this person male or female?

The fantastic work done by the archaeologists – Clive Waddington and his team from Archaeological Research Services and a team of volunteers led by Ann Hall – could not be certain about this person’s gender. They know by looking at the person’s bones that they were probably about 15 years old when they died. And from what I understand, it is signs on the bones of an adult skeleton that enable their gender to be established. The age of this person means that those signs are not all present so their gender could be male or female.

As far as I know there is nothing about a skull that indicates gender – certainly not to my non-scientific eyes sat there in the museum drawing. But as the portrait progressed I did convince myself that I was drawing a young lady. Maybe this is because I have teenage daughters of my own, maybe it is because I have an over-active imagination! I think the real reason is that I know the shocking truth about the Fin Cop massacre. Everywhere the archaeologists dug along the wall of the fort they found skeletons. All the skeletons for which they could assign a gender were female. But also among the adults were teenagers, children, toddlers, newborns and unborns. What happened at Fin Cop was an act of genocide. The Fin Cop story is about women and girls.

With that in mind how could I not be drawing the portrait of a young lady? A beautiful, confident, talented young lady, her life cut short.

So by the time the portrait was finished I had another question. How could somebody have inflicted such violence on her? And why, more than 2000 years later are women and girls still subjected to such violence the world over? We have many lessons to learn from the past and museums can teach them to us.

A replica of the skull will go on show at Buxton Museum when it reopens to the public in May 2017 after major refurbishment.


Fin Cop Hillfort Derbyshire, Scene of an Iron Age Massacre

Our artists residency at Buxton museum has led us to some beautiful places out in the Derbyshire landscape but Fin Cop hill fort in Mensal Dale, Derbyshire, holds a special place in our hearts.

On a very misty morning last Friday we, together with ceramicist Caroline Chouler-Tissier and storyteller Gordon Maclellan were lucky enough to be able to walk along the ramparts with the Project Manager of the recent hill fort excavations and local historian, Ann Hall.


We will all be making a piece of art work inspired by the hill fort which will be shown in the new museum galleries later this year.

On the hike to the top of the hill, which was beautiful yet challenging, we gained an insight into the historical importance of the site as a whole as Ann pointed out other possible barrow sites on the way up. We took the following picture on a previous visit which shows the hill’s imposing size with its incredibly steep drop.


As the mists lifted on the way up and the sun peeped out, waking up the thrushes and the larks, the views were spectacular.


The view from the top of the hill was even better.


The peace and tranquility of this place offers no clue to the atrocity that occurred thousands of years ago. Recent excavations of the hill fort have revealed the bodies of women, children and babies, some still in their mother’s womb. No belongings were found with them. Some may even have been alive when the wall was pushed on top of the them. The men are believed to have been enslaved by the captors of the hill fort or killed in battle elsewhere. From the evidence already uncovered, it has been estimated that there may be up to 400 bodies lying beneath our feet here.


Being able to walk in the footsteps of these people was very special and a huge privilege.


This is a beautiful place tinged with sadness. It is difficult not to be moved by such a place.

With many thanks to Ann Hall for taking the time to show us this beautiful place.