Buxton: An Architectural Super Power

Volunteer archivist Ian Gregory reveals why a town the size of Buxton has such palatial buildings:

Visitors arriving in Buxton for the first time are sometimes surprised by its architectural heritage.  The Crescent, Opera House, Cavendish Arcade and The Dome are not what some people expect in a town this size. The patronage of the Dukes of Devonshire explains some of it, but there are other factors to consider.

The Industrial Revolution began in the northern Midlands; Sir Richard Arkwright built his pioneering cotton mills here in Derbyshire, while Josiah Wedgewood developed mass production of pottery not far away in Staffordshire.

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Interior of the Dome in Buxton, formerly The Devonshire Royal Hospital, now part of Derby University

Buxton’s heyday came in the 19th Century, when the process they began snowballed and made Britain a superpower.  When the railways arrived in 1863, visitors came from far and wide, some to take the waters, others to enjoy a holiday. Buxton grew because it was close to an economic powerhouse. It wouldn’t do to over-idealise the past; children were employed in mines and factories while all the women and some of the men were denied the vote. Nevertheless their world was changing and many towns, including Buxton, expanded rapidly.

As the twentieth century grew older, another economic shift occurred. British manufacturing declined and regions that once had thrived suffered recessions.  Economic power shifted to London and the South-East.

As I catalogue images at Buxton museum, I’m reminded of that time when the North and the Midlands drove Britain’s economy.  If dramatic transfer of power have occurred before then they could again. Some would argue that one is happening now, in the wider world, as China becomes the second largest economy on Earth.

Will there be others, not only shifts between nations but within them?  Have some already started in a small way, to be recognised when they have snowballed and we have hindsight?

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