A Brief History of Buxton Market Place

Standing on the windswept space in Higher Buxton, you probably don’t need to be told that it’s the highest market place in England. If it is a Tuesday or a Saturday, you may find a few plucky traders braving the elements. Any other day, you will discover an absence of anything resembling a market but the place is still the beating heart of Higher Buxton; fringed with characterful pubs, colourful cafes and independent shops. Just off the market place, at the top of the summit of Terrace Road, you can find a rather excellent museum and art gallery (if we do say so ourselves). Tourists tend to gravitate towards the more well-known landmarks of Lower Buxton at the bottom end and there’s nothing wrong with this strategy; just don’t miss out on the more hip part of town.

So how has this vibrant spot developed? Let’s take a look …


This oil painting by Robert Brunt depicts an early 19th century Buxton market place that is barely recognisable today. There is a patch of bare earth where a dozen people and a hurried hound go about their business. A lone lady appears to be selling something from a barrel on wheels. Nobody seems troubled by what appears to be a giant rocket. In the background, sparse groups of buildings huddle together in the shadow of barren hills. The only familiar feature is the market cross.

DERSB 1922

A slightly later interpretation in 1849 by Godfrey Sykes adopts an almost identical point of view. The artistic approach is more realistic and the sky is brooding, pregnant with the promise of inclement weather; a feature of Buxton we are more acquainted with. Back then, most of the land was owned by the Duke of Devonshire and Buxton was a fairly remote spa town, reached only by foot, horse or coach. The rider in the painting looks more richly-attired than the other characters in the scene and somehow more erect; a local dignitary whose well-heeled shoes are spared the dirt of the road.


It’s 1875 and this corner of the market place has begun to evolve into what it is today. The Eagle public house still stands although it was known originally as The Eagle and Child. One of the businesses to its right, Hargreaves, has also survived, albeit in a different part of town. There seems to be a few gentlemen in dark suits knocking about, likely the owners of the establishments, keen to get themselves in the photo; a novelty at the time. Most striking, however, is the rather magnificent gas lamp on the left periphery. Not far to the right would have stood the market hall, which burnt down ten years later. You can read about lost Buxton buildings here.


Fast forward a few decades to 1937 and the town hall has replaced the ill-fated indoor market, resplendently proclaiming the ascension of King George IV. The traders must now contend with a stall outside, at the mercy of the clouds, where they have been ever since. Mr Baddley’s photograph was taken on a fine day and the scene looks like some wonderfully chaotic haberdashery. The area is now a car park, perhaps a little mundane in comparison but we can forgive the town planners of previous centuries for failing to foresee the volume of traffic.


J.R. Board took this photo at the other end of the market place in 1925. This shot is notable for the sheer amount of people who have gathered to see the annual dressing of the well. It looks like the whole of Buxton has turned up. Well dressing still takes place every July and gets a lot of attention but not quite on this scale. Nearly one hundred years later, perhaps such traditions have to compete with other activities. At one time, the purpose of the custom was to give thanks to the Duke of Devonshire for the free supply of water but it now has more religious significance. There is evidence to suggest the Roman Empire also revered the water of Buxton and the Celtic people who lived here before their arrival.


Here’s a fun image from the Derbyshire Police collection to finish off the tour. The photograph is focussed on the motorcycle but it also captures the fun fair and the crowds lining the road, waiting for the carnival procession, sometime in the mid-1980s. You may recognise some of the rides in the background. You may even recognise yourself!

Please note that all of the images in this post are protected by copyright. If you wish to use any of them, please email buxton.museum@derbyshire.gov.uk to ask for permission.

To see more local photographs and artwork, why not visit Buxton Museum and Art Gallery in person? You can plan your visit here.


A View from Buxton’s Past: The Bedford

Archivist Ian Gregory has stumbled upon another local image from the museum collection that raises questions:

Buildings don’t have to be spectacular in appearance to have a story to tell.  One of many photos that I’ve catalogued shows a building on St Johns Road, Buxton. It is known as The Bedford and has seen many residents and changes of use in its history.

DERSB 58411

Like the Museum that I’m writing in, The Bedford was built in late Victorian times as a hotel for visitors to Buxton Spa. I know little about its builders but they must have felt confident about their future to erect such a large hotel.  What would they have made of subsequent developments? The hotel didn’t survive. By World War II, The Bedford served as a convalescent home for railway workers.

In 1964, The Bedford became a residential home for people with cerebral palsy. It was run by Scope, which was then known as The Spastics Society.  In those early days, there was a workroom where clients made small metal objects and sewed or knitted textiles. Was this purely therapeutic or were the occupants paid for doing it? Details are hard to come by. Perhaps someone reading this could tell us. Later on, the practice was stopped, though who made that decision and why I do not know. Did the residents get any say in it?  Given the attitudes of those times, perhaps not. Studies of the disabled in history are in their infancy so there are gaps in our knowledge.

In 2008, the care home at The Bedford was closed down. Social policy now favours integration of disabled people into mainstream society, not confinement in institutions. To the best of my knowledge, the building has lain empty ever since. It has been described as ‘neglected’ and ‘creepy’. As I view images of The Bedford in better times, I wonder what would those who first built it – and also those who once made homes there – think if they could see it now?

You can see more bygone views of Buxton on Picture the Past or by visiting us; plan your visit here.

Canadian Red Cross Special Hospital Buxton 1915 – 1919

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.

Peak Buildings

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.

Canadian hospital 02

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.

Canadian hospital 01

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.

The Fin Cop Burial by Gordon Maclellan

Those of you who have visited Buxton Museum and Art Gallery lately and/or read the blog will know about the recently-excavated site called Fin Cop. Collaborative artist Gordon Maclellan aka The Creeping Toad has had time to explore and contemplate the mysterious place and write this thought-provoking response.

He also provides some handy links if you want to know more about Fin Cop.

Thanks Gordon!








The Chrome Hill Project

Chrome Hill is steeped in history- layers of it.

There are a series of sharp edged limestone ridges on the north side of the upper Dove Valley where, 340 million years ago coral reefs formed the edges of tropical lagoons.

Look east as you travel out of Buxton on the A53 towards Staffordshire. The leaning, sharpened peaks of Parkhouse and Chrome Hill are out of place amongst the softer landscape. And at only 425m you look down on them, a mini Switzerland sunken amongst rolling hills.

Typical of limestone landscapes these hills are riddled with a network of cave systems formed by  swallets and resurgence waters which in later and colder times became places of hibernation, shelter and burial. There are notable caves; Dowel Cave was a burial place 6,000 years ago, the skulls and skeletons of ten people were found here but charcoal fragments reveal its use as far back as 11,000 years. Nearby Fox Hole cave on the pyramid shaped High Wheeldon had human bone, pottery, an axe and sharpened antler points that date the occupation of the cave at 15,000 years ago and excavations at Hitter Hill uncovered two cists  and four rock cut graves. The finds are in Buxton Museum. Then there is the potholers’ favourite, the huge but hidden Owl Hole and the mysteriously deep and lesser known Etches cave, named after the family who farm the land.

The view from Hitter Hill is stunning and can easily be accessed from a footpath running behind The Quiet Woman pub at Earl Sterndale. It is this same view that features in Buxton Museum’s Wonder of the Peak gallery. From here the ridge of Parkhouse looms tall and imposing and the ‘spine’ of Chrome Hill clearly articulated giving rise to its local name ‘The Dragons Back’. Sharp sunlight adds vividity to this view when both crags cast their dense shadows into the valley accentuating the amphitheatre they create around Glutton and Dowel Dale.

Take a walk here and you will sense this area is indeed unique giving the impression that you are simultaneously in expansive space and yet closed in on all sides.

It is here in the valley of Dowel Dale that two artists, Tony Wild and Brian Holdcroft decided to plot their materials and their ideas to take their work on a journey for twelve months.

Both artists originally hail from the Potteries. Tony having worked in the arts ever since studying at Burslem School of Art in the late 1950’s, and Brian developing his art form in more or less isolation from other artists until meeting Tony over twenty years ago. Over the years their work has diverged and returned to the landscape many times.


T and B at Chrome Hill
Brian Holdcroft and Tony Wild at the barn at Chrome Hill.

This exhibition is a culmination of work they created throughout the year from spring 2018 to spring 2019.

Most months are inclement here in the Peaks, they needed shelter. And so they hired a barn from farmer Mr Etches to store their materials, keep a stove and when needed take refuge.

Throughout the twelve months they drew, explored, walked and photographed. Their work shows the industry of their origins both in its output and how it now appears in series and variations.

Tony’s work falls into set of images. Chrome Hill and groups of trees appear as a repeated motif in small heavily textured and expressive paintings, their energy punching out from their size. Butterflies are lost in the textures of limestone and the microscopic world of lichens are honed in and magnified into much larger paintings. And there is colour, lots of it.

Trees at Parkhouse Hill – Tony Wild

He has two folders of work on display. One has sets of ink drawings created on the spot reminiscent of Japanese Sumi-e painting. The other, a series of photo montages cut from striking images of the hills, close-ups of tracks and the limestone’s lichen, again with a repeat motif. There seems to be four or more threads to Tony’s work, each with the potential to go on a journey of their own from this same central point.

Bird and Bark – Tony Wild

Brian’s work evolves into series; growth, erosion and mapping, as he considers the layered histories of the area and the interactions between its geology, materials, animal and human activity. He uses beeswax, pigment, ink and earth in his paintings. All were created outside at Chrome Hill.

Mapping Series: In and Around Chrome Hill – Brian Holdcroft

Also on display are Brian’s lead bowls- lead runs through the veins of the hills here- and note books he buried behind the barn they hired. Later exhumed they become objects in themselves that have withstood compression and change – albeit for a short period- as did the giant brachiopod fossils abundant at Chrome Hill. What do they contain?

buried book
Buried Book- Brian Holdcroft

Many would describe both artists’ work as abstract or expressive. Brian’s more so but the colours are naturalistic- and having experienced this area first hand- particular and precise. The work of both artist is lively and not always recognisable or descriptive, preferring to reveal its imagery and topography slowly as you immerse yourself into it, walk along with it, much as a landscape or a view unravels itself on a journey or by simply observing it quietly, in increments. In essence it’s all here.


The exhibition continues at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery until Saturday 23rd November 2019

More information on the artists can be found here:

Brian Holdcroft: http://www.brianholdcroft.co.uk/

Tony Wild: https://www.artuk.org/discover/artists/wild-tony-b-1941

Gallery – Wild About Colour