Buxton town centre
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
Buxton, a spa town in Derbyshire, is the highest market town in England, some 1,000 feet (300 m) above sea level.[nb 1] It is close to the county boundaries of Cheshire to the west and Staffordshire to the south, on the edge of the Peak District National Park. The municipal borough merged in 1974 with places that included Glossop to form the local government district and borough of High Peak. The town population was 22,115 at the 2011 Census. Sights include Poole's Cavern, a limestone cavern, St Ann's Well, fed by a geothermal spring bottled by Buxton Mineral Water Company, and Georgian buildings round John Carr's restored Buxton Crescent, including Buxton Baths. Also notable is the Frank Matcham-designed Buxton Opera House for music and theatre events. The Devonshire Campus of the University of Derby occupies historic premises. The town is twinned with Oignies, France, and Bad Nauheim, Germany.
The origins of the town's name are unclear. It may derive from the Old English for Buck Stone or for Rocking Stone. The town grew in importance in the late 18th century, when it was developed by the Dukes of Devonshire, with a resurgence a century later as Victorians were drawn to the reputed healing properties of its waters.
Stone Age beginnings
The first inhabitants of Buxton made their home at Lismore Fields some 6,000 years ago. The Stone Age settlement, a Scheduled Monument, was rediscovered in 1984, with remains of a Mesolithic timber roundhouse and Neolithic longhouses.
The name Buckestones was first recorded in the 12th century as part of the Peverel family's estate. From 1153 the town was within the Duchy of Lancaster's Crown estate, close to the Royal Forest of the Peak on the Fairfield side of the River Wye. Monastic farms were set up in Fairfield in the 13th century, and in the 14th, its royal ownership was reflected in the name of Kyngesbucstones.
By 1460, Buxton's spring had been pronounced a holy one dedicated to St Anne, who was canonised in 1382. A chapel had appeared there by 1498.
Spa town boom
The spring waters are piped to St Ann's Well, a shrine since medieval times at the foot of The Slopes, opposite the Crescent and near the town centre. The well was declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Peak by the philosopher Thomas Hobbes in his 1636 book De Mirabilibus Pecci: Being The Wonders of the Peak in Darby-shire.
The Dukes of Devonshire became involved with Buxton in 1780, when the 5th Duke used profits from his copper mines to develop it as a spa in the style of Bath. Their ancestor Bess of Hardwick had brought one of her four husbands, the Earl of Shrewsbury, to "take the waters" at Buxton shortly after he became the gaoler of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1569, and they took Mary there in 1573. She called Buxton "La Fontagne de Bogsby", and stayed at the site of the Old Hall Hotel. The area features in the poetry of W. H. Auden and the novels of Jane Austen and Emily Brontë.
The popularity of Buxton was boosted by a recommendation by Erasmus Darwin of the waters there and Matlock, addressed to Josiah Wedgwood I. The Wedgwood family often visited Buxton and recommended the area to their friends. Two of Charles Darwin's half-cousins, Edward Levett Darwin and Reginald Darwin, settled there. The arrival of the railway in 1863 stimulated growth: the population of 1,800 in 1861 exceeded 6,000 by 1881.
Buxton held a base for British and Canadian troops in the First World War. Granville Military Hospital was set up at the Buxton Hydropathic Hotel, with the Palace Hotel as an annexe. The author Vera Brittain trained as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse at the Devonshire Hospital in 1915. The Royal Engineers based in Buxton used the Pavilion Gardens' lakes for training exercises to build pontoon bridges.
RAF Harpur Hill became an underground bomb-storage facility in World War II and the largest munitions dump in the country. It was also the base for the Peak District section of the RAF Mountain Rescue Service.
After a decline of Buxton as a spa resort in the earlier 20th century, it had a resurgence in the 1950s and 1970s. The Playhouse Theatre kept a repertory company and pop concerts were held at the Octagon (including The Beatles in 1963). The Opera House re-opened in 1979 with the launch of Buxton Festival, and the town gained fame as a base for exploring the Peak District.
The popularity of Buxton's thermal waters, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, led to several buildings being commissioned to provide hospitality to visitors.
The Old Hall Hotel is one of the oldest buildings in Buxton. It was owned by George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, who with his wife, Bess of Hardwick, acted as the "gaolers" of Mary, Queen of Scots. She came to Buxton several times to take the waters, the last time in 1584. The present building dates from 1670 and has a five-bay front with a Tuscan doorway.
The Grade I listed Crescent was built in 1780–1784 for William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, as part of his effort to turn Buxton into a fashionable spa town. Modelled on Bath's Royal Crescent, it was designed by architect John Carr, along with the neighbouring irregular octagon and colonnade of the Great Stables.
The Great Stables were completed in 1789, but in 1859 largely converted to a charity hospital for the "sick poor" by the 7th Duke of Devonshire's architect Henry Currey, who also worked on St Thomas' Hospital in London. It became known as the Devonshire Royal Hospital in 1934. Later phases of conversion after 1881 were by local architect Robert Rippon Duke. These included his design for The Devonshire Dome, which was the world's largest unsupported dome, with a diameter of 144 feet (44 m) – larger than the Pantheon at 141 feet (43 m), St Peter's Basilica at 138 feet (42 m) in Rome, and St Paul's Cathedral at 112 feet (34 m). The record was surpassed only by space frame domes such as the Georgia Dome (840 feet (260 m)). The building and its surrounding Victorian villas are now part of the University of Derby.
Currey also designed the Grade-II-listed Buxton Baths, comprising the Natural Mineral Baths to the west of The Crescent, and Buxton Thermal Baths to the east, which opened in 1854 on the site of the original Roman baths, together with the 1884 Pump Room opposite. The Thermal Baths, closed in 1963 and at risk of demolition, were restored and converted into a shopping arcade by conservation architects Derek Latham and Company. Architectural artist Brian Clarke was commissioned to contribute to the refurbishment; his scheme, designed in 1984 and completed in 1987, was for a landmark modern artwork, a barrel-vaulted modern stained glass ceiling to enclose the former baths — at the time the largest stained glass window in the British Isles — creating an atrial space for what became the Cavendish Arcade. Visitors could "take the waters" at The Pump Room until 1981. Between 1981 and 1995 the building housed the unique Micrarium Exhibition. The building was refurbished as part of the National Lottery-funded Buxton Crescent and Thermal Spa re-development. Beside it, added in 1940, is St Ann's Well. In October 2020 Ensana reopened the Crescent as a 5-star spa hotel, after a 17-year refurbishment.
Nearby stands the elegant, imposing monument to Samuel Turner (1805–1878), treasurer of the Devonshire Hospital and Buxton Bath Charity, built in 1879 and accidentally lost for the latter part of the 20th century during construction work, before being found and restored in 1994.
When the railways arrived in Buxton in 1863, Buxton railway station had been designed by Joseph Paxton, previously gardener and architect to William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire. Paxton also contributed the layout of the Park Road circular estate. He is perhaps most famous for his design of the Crystal Palace in London. Buxton Town Hall, designed by William Pollard, was completed in 1889.
Buxton Opera House was designed by Frank Matcham in 1903, on the highest opera-house site in the country. Matcham was a prolific theatre architect, responsible for several London theatres, including the London Palladium, the London Coliseum and the Hackney Empire. Opposite is an original Penfold octagonal post box. The opera house is attached to the Pavilion Gardens, Octagonal Hall (built in 1875) and the smaller Pavilion Arts Centre (previously called The Hippodrome and the Playhouse Theatre). Buxton Pavilion Gardens, designed by Edward Milner, contain 93,000 m² of gardens and ponds and were opened in 1871. These form a Grade II* listed public park of Special Historic Interest. Milner's design was a development of Joseph Paxton's landscape for the Serpentine Walks in the 1830s.
The town is overlooked by two landmarks. Atop Grin Low hill, 1,441 feet (439 m) above sea level, is Grinlow Tower (locally also called "Solomon's Temple"), a two-storey granite, crooked, crenelated folly built in 1834 by Solomon Mycock to provide work for local unemployed, and restored in 1996 after lengthy closure. In the other direction, on Corbar Hill, 1,433 feet (437 m) above sea level, is the tall wooden Corbar Cross. Originally given to the Roman Catholic Church by the Duke of Devonshire in 1950 to mark Holy Year, it was replaced in the 1980s. In 2010, during a visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK, it was cut down as a protest against a long history of child abuse at the Catholic St Williams School in Market Weighton, Yorkshire. The Buxton ecumenical group Churches Together brought together several benefactors to replace the cross with a smaller one in May 2011.
Many prominent old buildings have been demolished. Lost buildings of Buxton include grand spa hotels, the Midland Railway station, the Picture House cinema and Cavendish Girls Grammar School.
Cultural events include the annual Buxton Festival, among other festivals and performances held in the Buxton Opera House, with shows running at other venues alongside this. Buxton Museum & Art Gallery offers year-round exhibitions.
The Buxton Festival, founded in 1979, is an opera and arts festival held in July at the Opera House and other venues. It includes literary events in the mornings, concerts and recitals in the afternoon, and operas, many rarely performed, in the evenings. The quality of the opera programme has improved in recent years, after decades when, according to critic Rupert Christiansen, the festival featured "work of such mediocre quality that I just longed for someone to put it out of its misery." Running alongside is the Buxton Festival Fringe, known as a warm-up for the Edinburgh Fringe. The Buxton Fringe features drama, music, dance, comedy, poetry, art exhibitions and films in venues around the town. In 2018, 181 entrants signed up and comedy and theatre categories were at their largest.
The week-long Four Four Time music festival presents every February a variety of rock, pop, folk, blues, jazz and world music. The International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, a three-week theatre event from the end of July through most of August, was held in Buxton from 1994 to 2013; it moved to Harrogate in 2014.
The Opera House has a year-long programme of drama, concerts, comedy and other events. In September 2010, after a £2.5 million reconstruction, the Paxton Suite in the Pavilion Gardens reopened as the Pavilion Arts Centre. Located behind the Opera House, it includes a 369-seat auditorium. The stage area can convert into a separate 93-seat studio theatre.
Buxton Museum & Art Gallery has a collection of local artefacts, geological and archaeological samples (including the William Boyd Dawkins collection) and 19th- and 20th-century paintings, including works by Brangwyn, Chagall, Chahine and their contemporaries. There are also regular exhibitions by local and regional artists and various other events. The Pavilion Gardens hosts regular arts, crafts, antiques and jewellery fairs.
Buxton's Well Dressing Festival takes place in the week up to the second Saturday in July. The festival in its current form has been running since 1840 to celebrate the provision of fresh water to the high point of the town's marketplace. As well as the dressing of the wells, the festival involves a carnival procession and a funfair on the marketplace. Well dressing is an ancient custom unique to the Peak District and Derbyshire and thought to date back to Roman and Celtic times, when communities would dress wells to give thanks for supplies of fresh water.
Buxton's economy includes tourism, retail, quarrying, scientific research, light industry and mineral water bottling. The University of Derby is a significant employer. The town is surrounded by the Peak District National Park and offers a range of cultural events; tourism is a major industry, with more than a million visitors to Buxton each year. Buxton is the main centre for overnight accommodation within the Peak District, with more than 64 per cent of the park's visitor bed space.
The Buxton Mineral Water Company, owned by Nestlé, extracts and bottles mineral waters in Buxton. A local newspaper, the Buxton Advertiser, is published weekly. Potters of Buxton is the oldest department store in the town, founded in 1860.
The Buxton lime industry has shaped the town's development and landscape since its 17th-century beginnings. Buxton Lime Firms (BLF) was formed by 13 quarry owners in 1891. BLF became part of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in 1926 and Buxton was the headquarters for I.C.I. Lime Division until the 1970s. Several limestone quarries lie close, including the "Tunstead Superquarry", the largest producer of high-purity industrial limestone in Europe, employing 400. The quarrying sector also provides jobs in limestone processing and distribution. Other industrial employers include the Health & Safety Laboratory, which engages in health and safety research and incident investigations and maintains over 350 staff locally.
The town hosts a University of Derby campus at the site of the former Devonshire Royal Hospital, as well as the Buxton & Leek College formed by the August 2012 merger of the university with Leek College.
Secondary schools include Buxton Community School, at the former College Road site of Buxton College, and St. Thomas More Catholic School. Others include Buxton Junior School, St Anne's Catholic Primary, Harpur Hill Primary School, Buxton Infant School, John Duncan School, Fairfield Infant & Nursery , Burbage Primary, Dove Holes CE Primary, Fairfield Endowed Junior, Peak Dale Primary, Leek College, Old Sams Farm Independent School, Hollinsclough CE Primary, Flash CE Primary, Earl Sterndale CE Primary, Peak Forest CE Primary and Combs Infant School.
Sport and civic organisations
In the land above the town are two small speedway stadiums. Buxton Raceway (formerly High Edge Raceway), off the A53 Buxton to Leek road, is a motor sports circuit established in 1974, hosting banger and stock car racing, as well as drifting events. It was home to the speedway team Buxton High Edge Hitmen in the mid-1990s before the team moved to a custom-built track to the north of the original one. The original track at High Edge Raceway was among the longest and trickiest in the UK. The new track is more conventional, with regular improvements being made. Buxton have been competitors in the Conference League. Buxton Raceway was due to hold a flood-lit 2019 BriSCA F2 World Final.
Buxton's football club, Buxton F.C., plays at the Silverlands, and Buxton Cricket Club at the Park Road ground. Other team clubs are Buxton Rugby Union and Buxton Hockey Club. In addition there are four Hope Valley League football clubs: Buxton Town, Peak Dale and Buxton Christians play at the Fairfield Centre and Blazing Rag at the Kents Bank Recreation Ground.
Buxton has two 18-hole golf courses. On the western edge of the town is Cavendish Golf Club, ranked among the top 100 in England. It was designed by the renowned course architect Alister MacKenzie and dates from 1925. In the eastern suburb of Fairfield is Buxton & High Peak Golf Club. Founded in 1887 on the site of the old Buxton Racecourse, it is the oldest in Derbyshire.
The hillside around Solomon's Temple is a popular local bouldering venue with many small outcrops giving problems mainly in the lower grades. These are described in the 2003 guidebook High over Buxton: A Boulderer's Guide. Hoffman Quarry at Harpur Hill, sitting prominently above Buxton, is a local venue for sport climbing.
Youth groups include the Kaleidoscope Youth Theatre at the Pavilion Arts Centre, Buxton Squadron Air Cadets, Derbyshire Army Cadet Force and the Sea Cadet Corps, in addition to units from the Scouts & Guide Association.
Buxton is home to three Masonic Lodges and one Royal Arch Chapter, which meets at the Masonic Hall in George Street. Phoenix Lodge of Saint Ann No. 1235 was consecrated in 1865; Buxton Lodge No. 1688 was consecrated in 1877 and High Peak Lodge No. 1952 was consecrated in 1881. The Royal Arch Chapter is attached to Phoenix Lodge of Saint Ann, and bears the same name and number, it being consecrated in 1872.
Buxton railway station, served by Northern, has frequent trains to Stockport and the city of Manchester. The journey from Buxton to Manchester Piccadilly takes just under an hour. Buxton had three railway stations, two under the LNWR (Buxton and Higher Buxton; the latter was next to Clifton Road and closed in 1951) plus the Buxton railway station (Midland Railway) next to the LNWR terminus. The Midland Railway station, closed on 6 March 1967, became the site for the Spring Gardens shopping centre. The trackbed of the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway has in part been used as a walk and cycleway called the Monsal Trail. Peak Rail, a heritage railway group, has restored the section from Rowsley to Matlock and intends to reopen it to Buxton.
The town's buses include services into the Peak District National Park. Other routes run to the nearby towns of Whaley Bridge, Chapel en le Frith, New Mills, Glossop and Ashbourne. The High Peak "Transpeak" service offers an hourly link southwards to Taddington, Bakewell, Matlock, Belper and Derby. There is also a High Peak bus direct to Manchester Airport. Other services link Buxton with Macclesfield, Leek, Stoke-on-Trent, Sheffield, Chesterfield and Meadowhall.
There are also taxi services in the town.
Geography and geology
Although outside the National Park boundary, Buxton is in the western part of the Peak District, between the Lower Carboniferous limestone of the White Peak to the east and the Upper Carboniferous shale, sandstone and gritstone of the Dark Peak to the west. The early settlement (of which only the parish church of St Anne, built in 1625, remains) was largely made of limestone, while the present buildings of locally quarried sandstone, mostly date from the late 18th century.
At the south edge of the town, the River Wye has carved an extensive limestone cavern, known as Poole's Cavern. More than 330 yards (300 metres) of its chambers are open to the public. It contains Derbyshire's largest stalactite and some unique "poached egg" stalagmites. Its name recalls a local highwayman.
At about 1,000 feet (300 m) above sea level, Buxton is the highest market town in England.[nb 1] Because of this relatively high elevation, Buxton tends to be cooler and wetter than surrounding towns, with a daytime temperature typically about 2° C lower than Manchester. A Met Office weather station has collected climate data for the town since 1867, with digitised data from 1959 available online. In June 1975, the town was hit by a freak snowstorm that stopped play during a cricket match.
|Climate data for Buxton, elevation: 299 m (981 ft), 1981–2010 normals, extremes 1959–present|
|Record high °C (°F)||13.0
|Average high °C (°F)||5.2
|Daily mean °C (°F)||2.9
|Average low °C (°F)||0.5
|Record low °C (°F)||−14.4
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||136.5
|Average precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm)||17.0||13.6||15.5||12.6||11.9||12.6||12.7||13.5||12.7||16.2||16.3||16.4||171.0|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||41.2||63.1||93.8||140.2||180.2||166.4||178.5||167.6||123.8||91.4||51.0||37.7||1,334.8|
|Source 1: Met Office|
|Source 2: KNMI|
In the 2011 census, Buxton was 98.3% white, 0.6% Asian, 0.2% black, and 0.8% mixed/multiple.
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