Wall's revealing and sometimes amusing interview with Peter Hague,
the creator of the Life in a Lens museum in Matlock
So why did you decide to create a museum and why in Matlock Bath?
Im beginning to that wonder why myself now, on both counts.
Originally, I decided I wanted to put my graphic design, art direction
and academic experience to good use and to be honest I underestimated
just how difficult the public are when it comes to trying
You smile when you say that. What do you mean?
We do get thousands of visitors, but I am always disappointed at
the amount of people who dither at the doorway, then make an excuse
to do something else. We keep an excuses book for a
laugh which is quite interesting.
sort of comments do you hear?
Mostly they debate the entrance fee, small as it is, then shuffling
off up the road. Kids often want to come in but their pleas are
often met with silence. Many parents have no interest; they come
to Matlock Bath to play and bring the kids along as a play
passport. One of the best comments weve heard is a women
saying to someone how much she wanted to come in and then the bloke
saying Well, lets just go up here a bit first and dry
suppose you benefit when it rains, dont you?
Not at all. When it rains here the street empties like Dodge City
when theres a gun fight on. The last thing people think is
Ooo, its raining, lets go to that museum. Rain is a
killer and so is bright sunshine. Basically, as John Cleese once
said The English are the best people in the world at finding
reasons not to do something. I always say
that 'people' are the best people in the world at leaving it up
to someone else – this was particularly true when the museum
had it's own entrance, before 'The Victorian Teashop' existed.
you must do better now you have added the teashop?
Well, the teashop does well when it rains, but just because people
are sheltering it doesnt mean they suddenly get an overwhelming
urge to be curious.
So you suffer from apathy, then?
Well not personally! You dont spent seven years of your life
and a huge amount of money creating a museum because you suffer
from apathy its the public that do that...and the establishment.
do you mean by the establishment?
Weve been really shocked at the poor level of interested from
colleges, schools and clubs its pitiful you
might as well be running a leper colony. We contacted hundreds of
places and advised them of what we offer but it often feels like
throwing stones into a bottomless pit. Even the local Camera Club
took years to come long. It felt like we were being snubbed, but
thats partly to do with the fact that locals are snobbish
about Matlock Bath.
They wont come down here in case they get mugged by a slot
machine or their neighbour see them cross them off the coffee morning
list. They dont realise that Matlock Bath could be fabulous
if there were more support for people like us and the things we
offer. Having said that, the teashop has taken off really well.
teashop is very well presented. Just like the museum.
Yeah. Oddly enough its been a bit of a culture shock to some.
One or two have even suggested it's too good for Matlock Bath. How
ridiculous. Its worrying just how many people business
people too have simply failed to understand the market here.
They look at the place through blinkers.
sound a little miffed.
Not really. I just dont like being snubbed by the people you
did it for – that's all. As I said, the snob attitude is very
strong here among locals. Matlock Bath will not change until they
can be a bit fairground at times though, cant it?
Only on the surface, which is dominated by a very small number of
egos, but theres a lot more going for Matlock Bath than that!
Theres a great atmosphere here some days not the busy
ones with the seaside crowd I mean the quiet
days when you can feel a sense of history. It is really quite charming.
can be a bit overwhelming though, dont you think?
I suppose everything has a tendency to get a bit cheap and nasty
in Britain these days, but here its more like panic. Most
new traders start pampering to the tacky side when they realise
the pot of gold is not so plentiful, but that just strengthens the
Catch 22 effect.
it work though, theres a lot to be said for muck and
Considering theyve now sacked all the miners, I think thats
an antiquated psuedophilosophical viewpoint. I know what you mean
though football is the new mining now and the working
man has to dig deep into his own pockets instead. It always makes
me wonder why they want to pay players thousands of pounds a week
it just makes ordinary men look like fools.
dont suppose you get many football players in your museum.
must work here in Matlock Bath though, Theres a fair bit of
There has been a recent explosion. I see it as a supernova that
will burn itself out.... it has a central necleus that might well
implode. In reality it generally doesnt work here, except
on a few odd days of the year. One of the problems with Matlock
Bath is that it is very difficult the run a solid business the whole
year round. So everybody progressively clings onto those so-called
special days, but of course any profit from them is thinly spread
through the year and it can be very bleak. You could say that the
tide is going out on Matlock Baths seaside aspect and probably
many camera clubs attended your museum?
Yeah, quite a few now, but nothing to write home about... or even
open a museum of photography for about, for that matter.
Youre laughing again!
You have to...but those who have visited were highly impressed on
the whole and Im sure word will get around eventually. It
just takes so much time to establish something like this today.
Thats our catch 22: many people rave about it
once theyve been in, but getting them in is the catch
its a very lazy and confused country with lots of minor
distractions such as mobile phones and worrying around the clock.
We have had many genuine comments though along the lines of it being
actually better than the National museum at Bradford. I just hope
they go out and tell the world.
museum in Bradford?
Yes, really. They love the way its been presented here. I always
hesitate to relate those remarks but they really do happen
theyve even written that in the visitors book from time
is very special, I must say.
Thank you. I put a lot of work into this. It is dedicated to my
dead brother, you may have noticed.
He would be proud.
Thanks. As for the schools and clubs etc, we now take the view that
its their loss.
you think theres a market for Victorian history and old
Huge! Weve proved it! I believe there is a real possibility
of running a reasonably consistent business here. In fact, I would
say our presentation, set as it is in the past, has more of the
future about it than the 60s 70s and 80s approach
still currently laboured in Matlock Bath. Lets face it, the world
has changed every bodys got computer games at home
now and god knows their fridges are stuffed with chocolate and sweets
from the supermarket you can probably get candy-floss at
Tescos now, why come here for that.
Matlock Bath can be very quiet.
Thats because whole swathes of the place are aimed only at
the seasider market and it just isnt always there.
However the venues are permanent so the place just looks silly and
partly shut down for a lot of the year. Its dragging the whole
ambience of the place in the wrong direction who wants to
visit a ghost town! Pretty soon theyll be about thirty of
what theyd call good days its getting
pretty serious. Its not always the months youd expect
either I swear I saw some tumble-weed rolling down the road
last June and July.
future is bleak then?
No. Absolutely not. The future just happens eventually it
will drag everyone who wants to go with it in the right direction,
the rest with fall by the wayside. History is full of lessons like
that. I would say watch this space, theres a whole new future
for Matlock Bath just round the corner. It has still got everything
going for it in terms of position and historical building etc. It
can still be a great place. It needs to become a flagship of whats
best about tourism in Derbyshire.
can almost hear the local cynics in their cottages and the Council
Chambers laughing up their sleeves at that one.
So can I, but the change will come if they want it and if they help
it along. I think the Council should definitely take a more serious
look at the place. It needs outside money bringing in and a certain
amount of control.
do you mean by control?
I think the' Conservation Area' designation is being allowed to
lapse here. The future will not thank them for it. One of the worst
aspects of Matlock Bath so far as running a regular business is
the promenade mentality. It's just so easy to walk up
and down here and think you had a day out. The structure needs breaking
up...the north and south Parades are a bit like a motorway with
a hard shoulder where people walk. It can be very cold, impersonal
and uncomfortable here.
the future was more dross?
In the short term it will be, given the general decline of Britain.
I worry that the world has changed at lot recently theres
more violence, drugs, even guns in the country now. More than ever
before by a mile – I think Matlock Bath has to choose
its future market very wisely indeed.
you think the firework nights and the illuminations help?
In part. The illuminations work because they are on for sometime
and people can come down a walk around and enjoy them for much of
the Autumn. It probably helps visitor numbers, but they are looking
a bit tired now and need updating.
about the firework displays?
The fireworks are fabulous from a spectators point of view. I always
enjoy them myself. However, they do surprisingly little for many
of the businesses here. Basically, its great it you own a
chip shop or one of the amusements but great
for a short time. Matlock Bath burns itself our with the fireworks.
The village gets really busy on the particular night for a few hours
and some people take quite a lot of money, but the firework nights
create a serious lull in the days before and afterwards and therefore
also generate loss. Even on the day of the fireworks it can be very
quite here up until 5.00 or 6.00pm and immediately afterwards the
people exit on mass. This creates a pointless excess that can not
really be made full use of and visitors dont get to see the
best of Matlock Bath. On the whole the fireworks do not make good
business sense they burn out in a short time along with the
visitor reservoir from roundabout. Imagine if Matlock Bath were
a one gallon bucket and you poured seven gallons into it at once
most of the water would be wasted. You could say that they
are a damp squib so far as rebuilding serious business here goes.
The illuminations work much better, they attract a more long term
prospect and I hope they stay and continue to improve. Having said
that. If you want to try to run a stable day-time business they
arent much use either.
notice theres lots of food outlets here. Some say there are
too many. What do you think?
For most the year there are far too many. Its partly that
which makes Matlock Bath a ghost town. There are too many fish shops
for quite days so they are basically close for half the year.
sound like it gets to you.
Trying to run a business in Matlock Bath probably gets to most people.
Ask them, if they are honest 90% of the traders wonder why they
are here and most are just cannon fodder anyway.
to you mean?
I mean they are just decoration so a lot of people can shuffle up
and down the pavement and have something to stare at now and again
the promenade mentality I mentioned earlier.
you find the traders association helpful?
say that with a smile.
You have to find humour doing something like this. The thing is
traders come and go here so its difficult getting a united front
going. Attempts have been made to form traders associations etc,
but there are two camps at least, so its difficult to get
a general purpose direction going.
hear Matlock Bath is a bit of a meeting venue for bikers?
Indeed. But the Bikers are only here on mass about twenty-five times
a year, unfortunately, it does tend to be on what would be excellent
business days when the place would benefit from real tourism.
arent many biker-orientated businesses here I notice. Do you
get many in your museum?
Businesses aimed directly at Bikers come are go, because I said,
Bikers are not as common-place here as folk-lore suggests. Its
just those intense Sundays when the bikes are parked from end to
end that give the impression that Matlock Bath is always a Biker
place. For more than 300 days of the year you will barely see a
bike on the street try doing biker orientated business with
that statistic Although, strangely, quite a few have... and
do you get many bikers in the museum?
I can honestly say that in the three years or so weve been
open we have had a grand total of around forty bikers in the museum
all loved it though and one guy even donated something to
us. They come from all walks of life, just like the rest of this
pigeon-holed population and we have always encouraged them to come
in. We even look after their helmets at reception, but generally
speaking they come here to meet and talk bikes. The teashop gets
quite a few in and regulars too.
must be some people who come to look at the bikes who become customers
for traders though, surely?
I suppose some of them do, but the bikes are a massive distraction
when they are lined up along the pavement and you just cant
compete with them they turn everybodys head from grandma
to grandee and we mostly all lose out. Its not very often,
but as I said, it does tend to be key days of the year... we started
to close the museum when it got ridiculous, before we had the teashop.
It was just not worth staying open on some of those days
we tried it for a long time – still happens now, actually.
you were asked to sum up in a few words, how would you describe
your experience so far.
It is actually very difficult to sum this up in a few words, but
in terms of getting visitors in off the street blood from
a stone springs to mind. However, thats more a problem
for them than us. It is amazing how often people come in and tell
us they are glad they did really, that happens so often.
In fact, its easy for us to understand because the amount of will-we-wont-we
that goes on at the doorway is phenomenal. When they walk away though
I often feel sorry for them rather us because its them thats
the most annoying visitor youve ever had?
Visitors are rarely annoying, its non-visitors I hate. There
are the thousands of what we call blind photographers
who pass by the door every year without noticing... of course, its
partly our fault for having a small entrance for so long
ridiculous when you consider its virtually a four story building,
but unfortunately the cafe part was leased out to someone else for
a long time and we couldnt use it.
bet you were glad when it finally came back into your full ownership?
Yeah. The whole building gave a sigh of relief. It had been neglected
and run down for a very long time under various tenants (and landlords).
It badly needed a full renovation.
So, what about these blind photographers then?
Oh yeah. They are bad, but the very worst non-visitors
are the photographers who see it but dont bother to come in...
or at least the guys with the gadget bags and a camera round their
necks who see it and dont bother. They read the signage and
walk away... some even took photos of the mannequin that used to
stand in the entrance... they can be such arseholes its
like theres a museum of photography on every street. We always
feel very sorry for them, missing it etc, but also hate them for
not supporting what we have done here. There are so very few museums
of photography in the whole world.
God knows? 38?
I ask you some stupid questions now?
Theyve all been stupid.
you went on Room 101, what would you put in?
Old men in baseball caps, for sure.
Because they make old men look older... and cheap. I should qualify
that by saying old British men. Leave it to the Americans and Formula
else would you put in?
Young men in baseball caps and dodgy sports-wear.
People who buy fish and chips in the rain and then eat them with
salt, vinegar and rain.
People who eat fish and chips in their cars outside our teashop.
Get a life, get some dignity, get some respect for yourself and
others, get help, get an air-freshener.
would you say to them given the chance?
"Do you want tea with that?".
What final thing would you put into Room 101?
The woman who came in to the museum and asked if it was all just
photographs? No explained the receptionist. Its all sorts
of things. Its cameras, Victoriana, packaging, lantern slides,
postcards, mannequins in Victorian costumes, carte de-visits, all
the rooms are themed, theres a seaside room a history room...theres
computer slide shows...lots of things. The woman replied:
Oh, if its all just photographs Ill not bother.
single record would you choose to take with you on a desert island?
Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside.
the future for Life in a Lens?
Now we have incorporated the whole of the ground floor we will do
a bit of a relaunch. which should help continue to increase the
visitor numbers weve have had so far. It will also give us
a bigger profile on the street and considering we own the building
and have spent so much money and time in renovating it, we deserve
a bigger footprint so to speak. Its been difficult
trying to interest a typically reluctant to do anything
British Public with the reletively small doorway we were working
with before. Particularly with the new chip shop people next door
being extremely unhelpful with the their signage and general presentation.
Having said that, the success of our teashop has tended to smother
the museum a little itself and the people who come in for a cup
of tea etc., are usually not interested in anything else.
dont you use the main entrance again too?
Its partly to do with the expense of having more staff to
run it. It would just not be viable at the moment and besides, we
do like to run our business on a very personal level. I have to
say though that the museum itself could well be closed in a year
or two if things dont really improve.
Yes, weve run it too long at our own expense. The teashop
is extremely successful and if that does not translate into greater
visitor numbers for the museum I will definitely close it down
museums take a lot of work and we dont get funding.
would you like to be remembered here?
I grew up on a council estate and left school when I was fifteen.
I went to art college and university and became a successful graphic
designer and conceptual thinker in the world of adverting and marketing.
I have now created a museum and a great little teashop, both of
which are aimed at people from my background who are looking for
that little bit more out of life, so I would like to be remembered
as some sort of working-class hero.
What is your best quality? – and stop laughing!
I dont take myself too seriously.
you have a motto?
Well, I have often found Jean-Paul Sartres phrase Hell
is other people to be quite accurate, so if I need a motto
I use that, or the line from the Steve McQueen film Im
still here you bastards. At the moment, though, for the betterment
of Matlock Bath and all its business people and residents I like
to paraphrase president John F. Kennedy and say: Don't ask
what Matlock Bath can do for you. Ask what you can do for Matlock
interview was conducted in 2005. See Peter's Matlock Bath Report,
published in August 2006 at: