Derbyshire Museums Manager Ros Westwood contributes to the anniversary of a well-known and celebrated part of Buxton. There is currently a display in Buxton Museum and Art Gallery’s foyer to accompany the commemoration. Plan your visit here.

Engraving. Collection of BMAG

In 1870, the 7th Duke of Devonshire gifted 15 acres of the Old Hall Hotel’s gardens to Buxton, to create the Pavilion Gardens. The gardens were landscaped with well-maintained walks and fountains.

But there was one condition. For years the Duke had paid for the band which entertained the people promenading there. He required the people of Buxton raised the funds to build a ‘Winter Gardens’ where, under cover and throughout the year, people could enjoy a regular programme of musical entertainment, paid for by ticket sales. He reasoned that if the musical entertainment was good, people would return and enjoy the gardens and pavilions as well.

The Buxton Improvement Company commissioned Edward Milner to build a ‘Crystal Palace’. The structure, developed from the model by Joseph Paxton for the Great Exhibition in 1851 in London, were quickly erected. Soon a parade of pavilions stretched more than 120 metres alongside the River Wye.

Postcard. Collection of BMAG

On 10th August 1871, the 7th Duke of Devonshire spent the afternoon in Buxton, viewing the buildings and formally declaring them open.  The event was ticket only, as was the ball that evening and firework display. The lunch goes down in Buxton’s history as being particularly bad! Unsurprisingly, there were many grumbles from people who Buxton who couldn’t afford to buy tickets; their previously free access park was now excluding them

The Gardens were open from 8am until 9pm, and on Sundays from 11.45am to sunset. Ten minutes before closing, a bugle was sounded.

The admission ticket cost fourpence. Children who had to be accompanied by an adult, were admitted at half price. Children were not allowed ‘to play or run or make any noises or disturbances…’. Buxton residents could buy a family ticket at 30 shillings for the year. Each family member, and the children’s nurse, had their own ticket. For an additional amount, the resident’s ticket could include admission for ‘assistants, apprentices or domestic servants.’ Dogs had to have their own tickets, be on a lead and out of the gardens by 6pm.

Postcard. Collection of BMAG

Bath chairmen could bring their vehicles in under licence, so that people who were unable to walk could be pulled around the park in a covered rickshaw. Smoking was forbidden. You were not allowed to bring big bundles into the gardens, and definitely, not allowed to have a picnic.

Meanwhile the band played: for two hours each the morning and evening, with a third recital sometimes in the afternoons. The first bandmaster of the house orchestra was Julian Adams. The instrumentalists were British and Europeans, playing popular music of the time.

Photograph. Collection of BMAG

When the weather was bad, the covered pavilions provided places for visitors to wander about and watch the world go by. Daily newspapers were available in the Reading Room, open to people over 14 years old. Outside in the winter people could go curling and skating. In the summer there was roller-skating and croquet, and after 1874 a new game, lawn tennis with the first tennis tournament in 1880. 

The venture was so profitable and successful that five years later the Octagon, designed by Robert Rippon Duke, was opened on the west end of the building.