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Buxton - the latest developments at ‘England’s leading spa town’

PUBLISHED: 00:00 21 June 2016

The Devonshire Dome and the Crescent

The Devonshire Dome and the Crescent

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Derbyshire Life reports on the latest developments at ‘England’s leading spa town’

The Opera House – the focus of the FestivalThe Opera House – the focus of the Festival

According to publicity produced in Buxton’s Victorian heyday as a spa, the town’s thermal spring water has the power to wash away many troubling medical conditions, including gout, rheumatism, neuralgia, skin disorders and even heart disease. Not surprisingly, the dispensing room in the Natural Baths was often jammed to capacity with people queuing for helpings of the miraculous liquid.

A new Pump Room, where the waters could be sampled in rather more spacious and relaxing surroundings, was the last great gift to Buxton by the seventh Duke of Devonshire. Grandly adorned with marble cladding and ornate plasterwork, the new facility was not completed until after the seventh Duke’s death. It was opened by the eighth Duke in 1894.

Given the steady stream of people who fill their bottles with a free supply of spa water at St Ann’s Well, faith in the healing power of the Buxton spring remains high to this day. However, the water has not been dispensed from the Pump Room since the mid-1970s. Between 1981 and 1995, the building housed a unique Micrarium, where a bank of microscopes enabled visitors to enjoy close-up views of micro-organisms, plant life and geological specimens. Then, from the late 1990s until 2009, the Pump Room hosted summer exhibitions of work by members of High Peak Artists.

Subsequent neglect hastened the deterioration of the building’s fabric, but a recent 22-week renovation has seen a return of the Pump Room to its former glory. Cllr Tony Kemp, High Peak Borough Council’s deputy leader and executive councillor for regeneration, told me: ‘I see this restoration project as an important milestone in the renaissance of the town’s iconic spa buildings. As well as being used for its original purpose, the Pump Room will act as a temporary information point where visitors and residents can discover the details of the upcoming conversion of the Crescent, the most iconic of all the spa buildings, into a five-star, 79-bed hotel and thermal spa.’

The marquee on the forecourt of the Pavilion GardensThe marquee on the forecourt of the Pavilion Gardens

The installation of a large temporary marquee on the forecourt of the Pavilion Gardens complex is an indication that yet another iconic Buxton building is currently closed for renovation. This is the Octagon Concert Hall, added to the Pavilion in the 1870s and designed by Robert Rippon Duke.

The architect gained so much confidence from the successful construction of the hall’s octagonal roof that he felt able to design an even more spectacular dome when he covered the huge exercise yard of the spa’s eighteenth-century stables in order to convert the building into a hospital (now the Devonshire Dome of the Buxton campus of Derby University). However, he panicked so much when he heard about the catastrophic collapse of the Tay Bridge, which was based on a similar iron-girder construction, that he ordered an immediate check on the condition of every rivet in the dome.

Explaining why the Octagon is currently closed for renovation, Tony Kemp said: ‘The roof is supported on a huge metal ring-beam, which underwent a rather poorly executed renovation in the 1950s. Recent technological advances have allowed us to conduct an invasive condition survey, which identified the urgent need for the significant repair work that is now being carried out.’

Strengthening work has also taken place recently in the Conservatory of the Pavilion Gardens, a cast-iron and plate-glass building, constructed in 1871 in a style closely based on the design of the Crystal Palace, built 20 years earlier for the Great Exhibition. Following the restoration of this popular Buxton attraction a new planting regime is being introduced, involving the selection of species that will tolerate lower temperatures, thereby reducing energy costs.

The New Premier InnThe New Premier Inn

Summing up the raft of renovations taking place at the Conservatory, the Octagon and the Pump Room, along with the impending conversion of the Crescent, Tony Kemp said, ‘The renaissance of all these iconic buildings is going to cement Buxton’s place as England’s leading spa town.’

Another renaissance is also underway at the Tuesday and Saturday stall markets in Higher Buxton, with 60 traders signing up to a revitalised market that was launched on 30th April. The traders will be accommodated in new candy-coloured stalls and there are plans to include a rotating cycle of themed markets on Saturdays. Higher Buxton is also the location of a new 60-bed Premier Inn, which is expected to bring in an extra 20,000 visitors per year to Buxton.

Three conversions of heritage buildings that took place before the present spate of renovations in Lower Buxton have already brought major benefits to the town. The transformation of the Paxton Suite in the Pavilion Gardens into the Pavilion Arts Centre includes a new theatre to complement the Opera House; the conversion of the former Devonshire Hospital into a campus for Derby University and Buxton College has injected new vitality in the town; and the transformation of the Buxton Baths into the Cavendish Arcade has provided a quality retail space in a setting of architectural splendour.

The longest standing retail unit in the Cavendish Arcade is Atticus Boo, accurately described by its founder Linda Maguire as ‘England’s smallest department store and an emporium of gorgeousness, with an ever-changing range of unusual gifts to appeal to anyone, from new-born children to great grandparents.’ Some of the pictures on sale in the shop are the work of one of Linda’s assistants, Beccy Clitheroe, who creates clever images of Buxton landmarks that contain hidden historical clues.

One of Beccy’s popular images depicts the Edwardian Opera House, which has been the focus of the Buxton Festival for the last 37 years. It could be argued that the restoration of the Opera House and the launching of the festival in 1979 were the first real signs that the renaissance of Buxton had begun.

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