Buxton: from small spa town to tourism hot spot
Buxton has been famous for its health-giving waters ever since the Romans made the most of its thermal springs in the bath-houses they created in what is now the centre of the town. Indeed, Buxton and Bath are the only two towns in Britain with the Roman prefix ‘Aquae’ in their names to denote the importance of their waters: Aquae Arnemetiae (Buxton) and Aquae Sulis (Bath).
In Medieval times, the same springs became the focus of religious pilgrimages, and England’s longest continually-run hotel, The Old Hall, was built close by. Its most famous ‘guest’ was Mary Queen of Scots, who spent time there as a prisoner before her execution by Elizabeth I.
Famous buildings and the arrival of the railway
The town’s isolation stifled early hopes of it becoming a fashionable spa, although the Fifth Duke of Devonshire successfully developed new accommodation in the John Carr-designed Crescent in the form of two lodging houses and two hotels in 1780. Also, new baths were created, the largest and most lavish stabling block in Europe (today’s University of Derby Campus in Buxton), a fashionable church and upgraded accommodation in the earlier coaching inns.
The arrival of the railway in 1863 finally overcame Buxton’s remoteness and placed it within easy reach of visitors from the surrounding industrial conurbations. In fact, two railways arrived simultaneously – one from Manchester, which survives to this day, and the other from London, which closed north of Matlock in 1968.
These new markets allowed Buxton to flourish as a complete 19th century inland resort and centre for hydrotherapy. By the 1870s, John Carr’s Great Stables had been converted by local architect, Robert Rippon Duke, into the Devonshire Royal Hospital (then the UK’s largest centre for hydrotherapy), several new hydropathic hotels had been built in the town together with two completely refurbished bath complexes and a new park and winter gardens complex, the Pavilion Gardens, designed by Milner and Rippon Duke.
The final attraction from this period was a Frank Matcham-designed Opera House which opened in 1903 and is now run by a charitable trust which aims to make the performing arts a major part of the town’s economy.
Buxton’s main industry for many years has been quarrying, and Europe’s largest high purity industrial limestone quarry, Tunstead, is just outside the town.
Many visitors flock to the area because of its setting in the beautiful Peak District, and tourism continues to grow in importance, with an expected boost when the Crescent re-opens in 2018 as the Peak District’s first five-star hotel and spa thanks to a multi-million restoration.