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.
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?
While we enjoy the last days – and rays – of summer, it seems like as good a time as any to share some images of the season from the museum collection. There are certainly plenty to choose from, even though you’d be forgiven for thinking that Buxton is better known for its somewhat wintry reputation!
These pictures, reproduced on postcards, demonstrate the variety of activities available to residents and visitors in Buxton during the warmer months of the year.
As well as sporting activities like tennis, bowls, boating and golf, visitors and residents could enjoy strolls in landscaped areas around the town and walks in the countryside.
The more adventurous could explore further afield with trips by horse-drawn carriage and charabanc to scenic destinations including Dovedale, Ashford-in-the-Water, the Cat and Fiddle public house and the Goyt Valley.
While adults enjoyed promenading through Pavilion Gardens, there was also plenty of entertainment for children. We love this postcard of a Punch & Judy show by the Crescent:
Lest we forget that the sun doesn’t always shine in Buxton in the summer, we have two postcards showing a flood in Pavilion Gardens, which (while it may not have been the result of heavy rain?) certainly must have put a dampener on the usual summer pursuits.
Enjoy the rest of the summer – wherever you are and whatever you’re doing! Remember Buxton Museum and Art Gallery closes for redevelopment on 5 September so you only have until the weekend to pay us a visit.
This week Buxton celebrates the well dressing festival, which began in 1840 to thank the Duke of Devonshire for piping a supply of fresh water to a well on the Market Place. Apart from a break between 1912 and 1925, the event has been held annually.
Since Thursday volunteers have been busy creating the dressings inside St John’s Church and this morning the results will have been installed at the three wells around the town ready to be blessed this afternoon.
The blessing of the wells starts with a service at St Anne’s Church on Bath Road followed by a procession that marches to each of the three wells in turn for a short blessing at each one. Afterwards the new well dressing Queen is crowned in a ceremony at St John’s Church. Next Saturday she will lead the annual carnival procession through the town.
The three wells are St Ann’s Well on the Crescent, the Children’s Well (or Taylor Well) on Spring Gardens and Higher Buxton Well on the Market Place. The displays remain up until the following Monday (11th July this year) for visitors and residents to enjoy.
Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has a large collection of photographs and postcards that record the history of well dressing in the town, including wonderful well dressings, former festival queens, prize-winning parade floats and spectacular street scenes. Thanks to the people who collected them and the generosity of our donors and supporters, we’ll be able to keep and look after these snapshots of Buxton tradition for future generations to enjoy.
More information about Buxton well dressing and associated events can be found on the official festival website here.
Visitors to Buxton Museum and Art Gallery are often curious about the history of the building. The Art Nouveau stained glass in the museum foyer is a hint of its past and frequently provokes the question “what was this place?”
Built in 1880, the building was originally the Peak Hydropathic Hotel. The town’s reputation as a fashionable spa had been established since at least the 1790s, when the Duke of Devonshire had built the Crescent and Assembly Rooms. The Peak Hydropathic was never a profitable venture and it went up for sale several times in the first decades of the 20th century. This recently acquired document relates to the auction of the building in 1915. It is currently on display with a similar plan for an auction in 1909, along with some photographs and items from that era.
As the commemorations of the centenary of the First World War continue, a new exhibition in the museum foyer presents a variety of photographs taken in Buxton between about 1900 and 1914. The images depict people going about their everyday lives – work, school and leisure activities. It is interesting to note the differences of 100 years ago, such as the regular use of horse-drawn vehicles and the quiet roads that lent themselves to walking.
The architecture of the town is remarkably familiar – the Crescent, the Thermals Baths, the Cottage Hospital, the Turner Memorial, amongst others, are still visible today, although often now used for a new purpose. Like many who have already seen these images, you will find the comparisons fascinating. If you can’t make it to Buxton, all the photographs in this exhibition can be seen (and copies bought) on the Picture the Past website.