What's In A Name? Chesterfield Museum Goes Global

By Richard Moss | 18 September 2003
A view of the Crooked Spire church in Chesterfield, Derbyshire (St Mary's

Photo: Chesterfield's crooked spire, the Church of St Mary's and All Saints, is for many people the most potent image of the town. Image courtesy: Chesterfield Museum.

I've been waiting for a moment like this to present itself - the chance to write about my hometown museum, to wax lyrical about the town's beautifully twisted spire - its rich industrial heritage, its cheap beer. But the new exhibition at Chesterfield Museum finds me slightly wrong-footed.

You see, the museum that nestles in the shadow of the famous spire has recently gone all 'Dave Gorman’ with a wonderfully mischievous exhibition called 'What's in a name?'

For those of you who don’t know, Dave Gorman is the comedian with the lambchop sideburns who fashioned a hit comedy show, a TV series and a best selling book out of travelling the globe in search of other ‘Dave Gormans’.

Chesterfield's take on this deceptively simple premise is an exploration of the people, places and things that share the name 'Chesterfield', the results are on display at the museum until November 7.

Shows a packet of Chesterfield cigarettes

Photo: probably not the favourite fag of the locals, Chesterfield cigarettes are nonetheless another famous object to carry the name.

As everybody knows, Chesterfield is a name synonymous with footballing excellence, a famous literary Lord, sofas, and American cigarettes, but you may not know it's also the progenitor of countless other things and places that share the same moniker.

Displaying a penchant for understatement that Gorman himself would be proud of, the museum's assistant curator, Maria Barnes, explained how the idea came about.

“We were having a meeting about forthcoming exhibitions and we thought, ‘we can’t be the only Chesterfield in the world,’ so we just put it into the web and came up with lots of other Chesterfields, from there we decided to mount an exhibition.”

This simple but effective strategy immediately yielded a bumper crop of Chesterfields - from New Zealand to Canada, leaving museum staff to busily email different communities across the globe to get photographs, films and exhibits.

Their efforts have so far put them in touch with 17 Chesterfields in the US, and one each in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. Locations range from a coral island inhabited by rare sea birds to an ultra-modern American city.

Shows a view of Chesterfield in Staffordshire

Photo: Chesterfield in Staffordshire - one of four places found in the UK. © Chesterfield Museum.

“Some of the Chesterfields we found are quite tiny,” explained Maria, “and they were quite surprised to hear from us, but mostly we have had a good response with different places sending us photographs and other material for the exhibition.”

They also discovered four other Chesterfields in the UK, but it's in America where they proliferate and one section of the exhibition is solely devoted to the US Chesterfields.

There's a Chesterfield, Virginia which boasts the second oldest English settlement in North America and a Chesterfield, Missouri the 'sister city' of Chesterfield in Derbyshire.

There is even a Chesterfield ghost town, no sly remarks here please, in Idaho where a frontier town was built and then deserted by Mormon settlers.

Shows a view of Chesterfield, Missouri

Photo: a far cry from the Peak District; the endless sprawl of Chesterfield Missouri. Picture courtesy of Chesterfield Museum.

It is hoped that interest will continue to grow in the project and the museum is currently negotiating to acquire traditional artwork from Chesterfield Inlet, in Nunavut, Canada. This is the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the eastern Arctic, and is currently home to around 400 Inuit people.

The exhibition also features a slide show and a video of a traditional sawmill in operation in Chesterfield Massachusetts.

“It’s amazing really because this whole project couldn’t have been done without the Internet,” added Maria. “It’s a simple concept but all the local people who have visited the exhibition and those we’ve emailed have loved it.”

Shows a view of Chesterfield Inlet - an Artic community in the region of

Photo: one of the far flung communities touched by the project was Chesterfield Inlet - a small arctic community of Inuit Indians. Picture courtesy, Chesterfield Museum.

Chesterfield - the global phenomenon, is it an idea that could catch on?

The museum says it has sent information about the historic Derbyshire town spinning out into cyberspace to many of the other Chesterfields.

Chesterfield Massachusetts have already responded by staging their own exhibition about the North Derbyshire town and plans are afoot for a similar display in Chesterfield, South Carolina.

All that remains is to launch the TV series, a book and perhaps a stage show. But then again, when all is said and done, for me there is only one Chesterfield - the beautiful town in Derbyshire with the wonky church spire.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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