The building that Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is housed in has a varied past, beginning its existence as a spa hotel in the 1800s before becoming a museum in the 1920s. It also had a brief lesser-known role as a war hospital. Derbyshire Museums Manager Ros Westwood sheds light on this dim chapter of Peak Building’s history:
We are often asked about the role of this building in the First World War.
The museum was built in about 1875 as a hydropathic hotel, offering cold water treatments. By 1915 the Peak Hotel was (again) up for sale. The Canadian Red Cross Society secured a lease to establish the Canadian Red Cross Convalescent Hospital, No 2, Buxton
The Canadian Red Cross Hospital, Buxton opened in May 1916, under the command of Lt. Col. H.D. Johnson C.A.M.C. He would soon be relieved by Major F. Guest (later Lt. Col.) and in 1917, by Major F. Burnett DSO, who was also promoted. There were 11 officers on the staff, 35 nursing sisters and 101 other ranks. The nursing sisters had accommodation at Northwood, now part of the University of Derby campus, which became an annexe hospital in October 1917.
Amongst the doctors was Frederick G Banting, who would return to Canada after the war to continue research into diabetes and the use of insulin in its treatment, for which he was awarded the Nobel prize.
The hospital had 275 beds in rooms with central heating, its own electricity system and was on the town’s mains water. About 100 patients a month were treated, using the latest apparatus. This included swimming baths, warm mineral and vapour baths. Three quarters of the patients received therapeutic baths daily or on alternate days.
There was massage, mechanical vibration, high frequency apparatus, radiant heat, and cataphoresis electric cautery. Before the introduction of antibiotics this procedure was used to close wounds and stop infection. Research suggests it might not have been as effective as anticipated.
Of course, having easy access to drinking water from Buxton’s famous St Anne’s Well may also have been beneficial.
As a ‘special’ hospital, patients were admitted with a range of conditions many made worse from having been in the war zone on the Western Front. They were suffering with rheumatic fever, myalgia (which affects the muscles), neurasthenia (exhaustion of the nervous system), neuritis, osteitis (inflammation of bone), insomnia, arthritis, nephritis (kidney inflammation), functional diseases of the heart, neuralgia, certain kinds of gout and especially, shell shock.
Eventually in March 1919 the hospital was absorbed into the larger Granville Canadian Special Hospital, Buxton, which functioned in both the Buxton Spa and Empire Hotels. The hospitals were all closed during that year. By then almost 3,300 people had received treatment in this building.
I am grateful to a researcher by an MA student at the University of Ottawa with access to the archives in Canada who has turned up this fascinating information.