Our day out: Buxton

Another sunny day and no work that needs urgently doing for either of us, so we get in the car and set off to our mystery destination.

Here's a clue to where it is.

Here’s a clue to where it is.

Oh, given it away with the title of the piece already.

Yes, we've come to genteel, elegant, Georgian spa-town Buxton.

Yes, we’ve come to genteel, elegant, Georgian spa-town, Buxton.

And I for one haven't been here since 1973.

And I for one haven’t been here since 1973.

In 1972 and ’73 I’d passed through here on my way to the Buxton Pop Festival. Hitching to a farm in the hills nearby. I can’t now imagine why I came back for the second year. Though they took place in the summer time, both ‘festivals’ were on cold and rainy days out in open moorland. And with none of the all-weather and thermal gear I know about today, believing a greatcoat and loon pants would do for anywhere then. I’ve found this archive about the ’73 event, a chilling reminder that my memories are not lying.

Anyway, today we’re going for comfort and I hope you’ve noticed the splendid new hat in the top photo?

It's a 'Tilley Hat' bought from Stewart, here at his splendid shop.

It’s a ‘Tilley Hat’ bought from Stewart, here at his Buxton shop.

Telling Stewart about my 1973 experiences, he reassures me that Buxton’s not changed much since then. I’m hoping fervently that it has, but admit that my experience of Buxton back then was a fairly lop-sided one. We’ve now been in town half an hour and not been threatened by a single drunken hells angel, or seen any Edgar Broughton tribute buskers howling ‘Out Demons Out!’

The place seems peaceful though quietly busy.

The place seems peaceful though quietly busy.

Pleasant streets, covered arcades.

Pleasant streets, covered arcades.

We get some lunch from Presto, a local buttie shop, and go up the Slopes to eat it.

We get some lunch from Presto, a local buttie shop, and go up The Slopes to eat it.

Under the cooling shade up here, it occurs to both of us that it would be a good idea for all towns to have a little hill in their middle like this one. As we eat happily, gazing at Buxton getting on with its business below us.

Down the Slopes, the Buxton Thermal Baths.

Down The Slopes, the Buxton Thermal Baths (now shops)

Buxton Crescent.

Buxton Crescent.

This has lots of funding and site signs on the front, and is apparently due to be reopened as a spa and hotel by 2016.

But it's very quiet today.

But it’s very quiet today.

Beautiful though, and we’ll be back for a closer look later on. And at that dome poking up behind it.

People are getting on this little electric bus for a look around.

People are getting on this little electric bus for a look around.

We don’t though. We prefer walking and the serendipity of random discoveries.

Up here at the top of The Slopes is the town's war memorial.

Up here at the top of The Slopes is the town’s war memorial.

We stand and read the names of the fallen as we always do.

We stand and read the names of the fallen as we always do.

Round the corner is the

Round the corner is the Old Hall Hotel.

Properly old it is too.Buxton15She wasn’t on her holidays, mind. But did spend several summers of her imprisonment here in Buxton.

The Opera House.

The Opera House.

This is the only building I remember from passing through in rainy 1973.

Wishing the bands were on in here instead of out on the moor.

Wishing the bands were on in here instead of out on the moor.

Though it doesn't really look like the environment for Uriah Heep and Steppenwolf.

Though it doesn’t really look like the environment for Uriah Heep and Steppenwolf.

Into the municipal splendour of the Pavilion Gardens.

Into the municipal splendour of the Pavilion Gardens.

The River Wye, on its way to the Derwent.

The River Wye, on its way to the Derwent.

Municipal planting.

Municipal planting.

Not much changed.

Not much changed.

In fact, walking round the outer streets of the town as we like to do, it’s a thoroughly pleasant place.

Much of it tree-lined.

Much of it tree-lined.

And well settled terraces.

And well settled terraces.

Obviously, out along these streets Sarah’s looking for monkey puzzle trees for her national data base. But we don’t find any and Sarah reckons that might be because Buxton is so high up in the hills and too cold in winter for the trees. (Later in the day we’ll start to find some monkeys as we descend through Macclesfield, supporting Sarah’s theory.)

Turning a corner at the end of Bath Road we find Buxton’s oldest building.

From 1625, the Church of St Anne.

From 1625, the Church of St Anne.

A plain, almost puritan place, reflecting its times.

A plain, almost puritan place, reflecting its times.

Round the corner, Scrivener's. Five floors of books.

Round the corner, Scrivener’s. Five floors of books.

At least Scrivener's is open. Whereas the record shop over the road?

At least Scrivener’s is open. Whereas the record shop over the road?

Securely closed on the day. And it hasn’t got a website so’s I can tell you any better.

But the window display looks like it's still the 1980s.

But the window display looks like it’s still the 1980s.

Anyway…

Back to the Georgian heart of the town.

Back to the Georgian heart of the town.

At the foot of The Slopes is the spring where Buxton water flows from a mile underground.

At the foot of The Slopes is the spring where Buxton water flows from a mile underground.

Locals are filling bottles from it, as well as visitors lining up to taste it.

Locals are filling bottles from it, as well as visitors lining up to taste it.

Expecting it to taste all minerally Sarah finds it’s absolutely fine. And of course for a long time it was considered to have many health giving properties.

So in Georgian days a mighty spa was built for the worried, rich well to come and 'take the waters'

So in Georgian days a mighty spa was built for the worried, rich, well to come and ‘take the waters’

And there are pictures round the site of how it used to be.

And there are pictures round the site of how it used to be.

And the disrepair it fell into.

And the disrepair it fell into.

This gorgeous Grade One listed building.

This gorgeous Grade I listed building.

The centre of town in days gone by.

The centre of town in days gone by.

And well into the 20th century...

And well into the 20th century…

People were still coming here.

People were still coming here.

Including someone who looks very like Morrissey. Surely not?

Including someone who looks very like Morrissey. Surely not?

Well maybe if it’s ever finished it will be a spa again. Sarah has often been to the Spa in Bath in recent years and really loves it. Not because she believes in healing waters in any physical sense, but for the peace of floating in silent contemplation. A different kind of healing.

Meanwhile there's this dome to be investigated, as promised earlier.

Meanwhile there’s this dome to be investigated, as promised earlier.

The Grade II listed Devonshire Dome.

The Grade II listed Devonshire Dome.

Until the beginning of this century this operated as one of the last NHS Hydrotherapy Hospitals in Britain. These days it’s passed to the University of Derby and Buxton and Leek College. There’s also a spa and beauty business operating in part of it and its big space gets used for weddings and events.

As we go in it’s very quiet now term-time’s over.

And it's a magnificent space.

And it’s a magnificent space.

While I’m wandering around it amazed and cursing, you’ll see why in a minute, Sarah reads out some information about it and what it used to be:

“At 145 feet the Devonshire Dome is the largest unsupported dome in Europe; bigger than The Pantheon in Rome (141ft), St Peter’s in Rome (138ft), The Duomo in Florence (137f.) and St Paul’s in London (112ft). It was built in the 18th century to house the 5th Duke of Devonshire’s horses and servants.”

Yes, it’s a stable block. And could house up to 110 horses and their attendant grooms. Before I start fulminating against the aristocracy and their ways I’m immediately reminded of ‘Blue Peter’ on BBC Childrens TV. Remembering Valerie Singleton visiting a place very much like this in Vienna back in the 1960s.

The Lippizaner horses, Vienna.

The Lippizaner horses, Vienna.

Funny the things your memory holds sometimes.

Anyway, this particular horse cathedral turns out to be the product of none other than the Cavendish family, the Dukes of Devonshire. Last encountered  in one of their lesser country piles up near Grange the other week. Well it turns out this whole town used to be part of their nearby main Chatsworth estate, and we’re here in their stable block.

You can tell because it's got their names all over it.

You can tell because it’s got their names all over it.

The Devonshires, at the top of the aristocratic greed-heap since the 16th century.

The Devonshires, at the top of the aristocratic greed-heap since the 16th century.

Sarah sets up a desk and interviews me. Someone might as well make use of all this space.

Sarah sets up a desk and interviews me. Someone might as well make use of all this space.

“I’ve applied to be the new Echo” I mutter, from several feet away.

She can hear me perfectly.

In fact we can hear each other perfectly each standing at opposite sides of the dome.

In fact we can hear each other perfectly, standing at opposite sides of the dome.

And what are we saying across this mighty space I hear you wondering? Well, gazing around in wonder and complete mystification we are chorusing, from side to side:

"what a complete waste of space!"

“What a complete waste of space!”

There are some staff around but no one tries to take issue with us. Maybe this sort of thing is always happening?

Returning to our car, we leave.

Returning to our car, we reluctantly leave Buxton.

And in a golden evening, at the top of the moor on the Macclesfield Road, we arrive at the Cat & Fiddle

And in a golden evening, at the top of the moor on the Macclesfield Road, we arrive at the Cat and Fiddle.

1,690ft above sea level.

1,690ft above sea level.

Not sure what the boats are about. For surreal photographs?

Not sure what the boats are about. For surreal photographs?

We drink our lemonades peacefully.

We drink our lemonades peacefully.

Well, if you call ‘peace’ me muttering about the natural woodlands and their human inhabitants all across Britain being ‘cleared’ in the middle-ages by, yes, the usual suspects to make way for their sheep farming. (For much much more on this see  George Monbiot’s book ‘Feral’ where he also talks about the flooding being caused these days by all the water draining off these hills, and the ridiculous politics that forbids their reforestation with trees to drink up the excess.)

Anyway, at least the water the hills are holding is being measured.

Anyway, at least the water the hills are holding is being measured.

That's what Sarah's found.

That’s what Sarah’s found.

The Cat And Fiddle Rainfall Station.

The Cat And Fiddle Rainfall Station.

See?

See?

Then we drive home at the end of a lovely day.

Then we drive home at the end of a lovely day.

Out and about in the history and the possible futures of England.

See also Sarah’s parallel post on Monkey Puzzle Meanderings.

 

11 thoughts on “Our day out: Buxton

  1. Cathy.

    What a great day out that was. I felt I was there too. My sister in California will particularly like this.
    Re the Buxton Festival. You’ve inspired me to dig out all my old vinyl of SAHB, Canned Heat, Groundhogs etc. An evening of musical memories beckons!

    Reply
  2. robertday154

    The Opera House at Buxton is notable for having been designed by James Matchem, the Victorian theatre architect responsible for many of the fine entertainment buildings in Blackpool.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Hi Robert, I suppose the northern spa towns were a sort of earlier version of Blackpool, Morecambe and Scarborough – but from a time when the workers were never given anything so grand as holidays.

      Reply
  3. Helen Devries

    Lovely place to visit from your photographs and description….I note that Cavendish’s horses take precedence of his servants in the explanatory leaflet…from Nobs’ houses to Nobs’ horses…

    Reply
  4. lindsay53

    Lovely post, Ronnie. What a beautiful place! Such a shame about the gorgeous dome. Is it used for concerts or events at all? Would make a lovely dance hall or concert hall or FREE events place!

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      I got the impression the dome is used for weddings and corporate events, as a money earner for the University. But not as a public space. It had that wasted academic feel about it.

      Reply
      1. Charlotte Dallinsom

        There is a cafe in the Dome to fill that space Monday to Friday but the cafe might be run by Buxton and Leek College as part of their courses so it might not be open when they break up for half term and other holidays as the cafe is not open on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s used for events too.

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