6 historic places to visit in Buxton

PUBLISHED: 00:00 20 December 2019

The Devonshire Royal Hospital, also known as the Devonshire Dome (c) CaronB/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Devonshire Royal Hospital, also known as the Devonshire Dome (c) CaronB/Getty Images/iStockphoto


Mike Smith invites you to trace the history of the famous Derbyshire spa town.

St Ann's Well

It was the Romans who discovered the health-giving properties of the waters that flow from the limestone hills to the south of Buxton. After a long underground journey, a geothermal spring emerges in the town at St Ann's Well, which stands adjacent to the Pump Room, recently restored and converted into a Visitor Centre hosting tourist information and various evening events.

When you visit the well be sure to take some empty bottles that you can fill with spring water. According to publicity produced in Victorian times, the water has the power to wash away gout, rheumatism, neuralgia, skin disorders and heart diseases!

The Old Hall

Whilst some of the claims about the water may seem far-fetched, the scores of people who fill up their vessels regularly at the well will testify to its beneficial effects. Mary Queen of Scots was another believer in the water's restorative properties.

When the queen was in the custodianship of the Earl of Shrewsbury, she made a number of visits to Buxton to 'take the waters' as a cure for her rheumatism. During her visits, she stayed at the Old Hall Hotel, which claims to be 'Britain's Oldest Hotel' and is a perfect venue for holidays in the Peak District, dining out, meetings and special celebrations.

The Crescent

In the late 18th century, the 5th Duke of Devonshire tried to convert Buxton into a 'Northern Bath' by commissioning a fashionable crescent, described by Nikolaus Pevsner as 'more elegant than Bath's Royal Crescent'. However, after the Crescent's closure in 1992, the building became 'the most at risk Grade I-listed building in England'.

This long-neglected masterpiece is finally being restored and converted into a 79-bed hotel, supplemented by boutique shops, a restaurant and indoor and outdoor pools. The final stages of the transformation herald what promises to be the start, in 2020, of an exciting new era in the history of Buxton.

The Devonshire Dome

The 5th Duke also commissioned his architect, John Carr, to design a huge stables block. When the railways replaced horse-drawn transport, the 6th Duke decided to convert the stables into a hospital by covering the exercise yard of half an acre with a dome that is larger than that of St Peter's in Rome.

Since the hospital's closure in 2006, the building has become the Buxton Campus of the University of Derby and is a venue for events, weddings and banquets and offers fine dining and spa treatments to members of the public, who can wander in at any time to gaze up at the interior of that fabulous dome.

The Pavilion Gardens

Another spectacular dome covers the Octagon Concert Hall, added in 1876 to the Pavilion Gardens, constructed in 1871 as a long range of buildings inspired by London's Crystal Palace. It now contains: The Pavilion Arts Centre, which houses a cinema; a retail market hall; a showcase for High Peak artists; a soft play area; an ice cream parlour; a 
self-service 'Pavilion Kitchen'; 
a café that is due to be converted into a 'high-end' tea room; 
and a conservatory filled with exotic plants.

London's Crystal Palace may be long gone, but Buxton's pavilion is a wonderful Victorian survival that has been adapted to modern visitor needs.

Buxton Opera House

The long range of the Pavilion Gardens terminates in a delightful Edwardian Opera House, designed by Frank Matcham, an architect who designed over 90 theatres. The Buxton Opera House may not be the largest building he designed but it is one of the most beautiful.

Its auditorium is covered by a stunning golden ceiling that is a restrained riot of decoration. It hosts plays and many other events and is the focal point of the annual Buxton Festival. When you are waiting in your seat for a performance to begin, take time to stare at that glorious ceiling. You will be mesmerised.

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