Derbyshire Museums Manager Ros Westwood stumbles upon a find to accompany the re-opening of The Crescent in Buxton.
During lockdown I had the opportunity to have a search through the stores and found these two copper plates – and after I had managed to decipher the mirror writing on them, was excited to share the information.
Let’s start with a bit of printing history, since nowadays it is all rather easy – the computer just does it for you!
But back in 1800, printing had become an exquisite art. The materials had moved forward from wood, and now the letters were carved exquisitely carved into lustrous copper. This was highly skilled. Nowadays you will watch people start with a piece of tracing paper to design their work, turn the tracing over and use the upside down image to copy their letters.
But I wonder – if you were good at this, I think maybe people could do this freehand with a range of tool to hand, such as letter stamps. There were businesses that specialised in making the plates – we have some banking plates made at Shoe Lane in London. And many artists made their living making plates.
Having made the plate, the printer would place this on a press. Having applied a gloopy ink, and rolled the ink really smooth and evenly, then printing can begin.
So what are the plates we found? Alas, they don’t photograph easily!
The first is a plate made to advertise the hotel in 1800, with an engraving of the building. Today the website or a glossy publication and colour photograph would provide this to visitors. It tells us that:
Buxton Crescent in 1800
St Anne’s Hotel, Buxton, Derbyshire
Is close to the Well and has a covered accommodation with the Baths
St Anne’s Hotel situated in the Crescent was very new at this time, and keen to attract visitors to use its facilities. There was a second hotel; an en suite of lodging houses within the complex. Of course, at this time (as now) this was one of the best hotels in town. People had been coming to Buxton for many years before and staying at places like the Hall (now the Old Hall), the Shakespeare (long gone), The Grove and the Eagle and Child and no doubt many boarding houses, some comfortable and others, less so.
The other plate is even more interesting.
It is written in a range of fonts and point sizes but reading it reveals the tariff for staying at St Anne’s Hotel for about 1800:
St Anne’s Hotel, Crescent, Buxton
Terms for the Season
Sitting Rooms 21s to 25s6d for Week
Lodging Rooms 14s to 28s
Fires in Sitting or Lodging Rooms 1s Per Day
Wax Candles 2s per pair Composite 3s6d per Week
Table d’Hote 7s per day. Board in Private 7s6d to 8s6d
Hot Meat at Breakfast to Table d’Hote 6d extra
Servants Lodging rooms 7s per week, Servants Board 4s per day
Waiter’s, Chambermaid’s and Boot’s fees charged in the Bill
From the 1st of Nov to the 1st of May there is a considerable
reduction in the charges
So let’s unpick this and find out about staying there?
A guest could hire a sitting room and bedrooms. One pound in 1800 would nowadays be worth about £85, and with 20 shillings to the pound, a sitting room might have cost about £100 a week and a lodging room about £85. I’m not sure how this worked, but I guess if you wanted privacy, you would ask for both, although it may not have been en suite as we would expect. So about £185 a week – now that doesn’t sound a lot, but let’s remember that a labourer earned only £12 a year.
Now, if you wanted to be warm, that cost more, an extra shilling each day. Someone had to bring the coals and make the fire and clean up behind a sooty, smoky fire. Diaries of visitors of the time suggest to be comfortable even in August in Buxton, you really needed to ask for a fire to be lit.
And no electric light then, either. Best candles made of wax (maybe beeswax) smelled nicer and gave a better light but were twice as expensive as the fire. A pair would possibly last for an evening, giving only two small pools of light. So you’d need to get another pair for the next night, or instead, save a bit and have less expensive composite candles – possibly smellier and made from fish oil or worse, from animal fat..
The hotel had a restaurant and you could order meals from the set menu, the table d’hote. There was a system in Buxton of rotating between the hotels to dine, so not every hotel kitchen was necessarily open every day. And this way you would meet other people staying in the town.
But being the newest hotel in town, maybe St Anne’s tried to encourage their guests to use their facilities the whole time. Likely there were two meals offered: breakfast a bit later than we would have it, about 10 o’ clock, possibly, and then dinner, ‘unfashionably early’ at 6 o’ clock in the evening. It cost more to have the meals brought to your room. And if you wanted meat at breakfast, that was also extra!
It is unlikely that you would travel without your servants who would look after you, your luggage, your clothes and your horses and carriage, so somewhere at the top of the building, they would find their rooms, with communal meals somewhere in the depths of the hotel, out of sight of the guests. It would all have been much less grand, and possible a fair amount of left overs on their dining table. And you, as the guest, would pay for this.
Since you may have spent a lot of time with your servants – some may have been more like friends or companions – they might tell you if their accommodation wasn’t acceptable, so the hotel had to look out for these guests too – otherwise they could lose valuable customers. The servants would notice things like food being repeated heated up, bad sanitation, mice and dirt…
There was a staff at the hotel, so waiters at table, chambermaids to clean the rooms and someone to clean boots and do some of the heavier work, and their service was added to your bill.
So, staying at St Anne’s at Buxton in the season between May and October was not cheap – likely there were more affordable places to stay. I worked out that if you had the best room in the house, daily meals, lighting, fires, full board for one person and one servant it would cost about £8 2s – so about £350 for a week… – even so, remember that labourer earning only £12!
Add to that the costs of baths and attending the ballroom, trips out and paying to consult the doctor. And please remember that although the water was free to drink, Martha Norton the well woman of Buxton and her companions who dished out the water, received no salary and survived on the generosity of the guests to the well.