|The History of Buxton|
The earliest known settlement of the Buxton area dates to the Middle Stone Age, or late Mesolithic around 5300 BC. Neolithic (New Stone Age) farmers settled here (3500 - 1800 BC) and left numerous monuments in the form of barrows and the famous henges at Arbor Low and Bull Ring. They were followed by dwellers of the Beaker and Bronze Ages, whose stone circles and burial cairns are still visible around Stanton Moor and elsewhere. Evidence of Iron Age settlement can be seen in the hill forts at Castle Naze and Mam Tor.
'What Did The Romans Ever Do For Us?'
The Romans arrived sometime around AD 70 and finding a warm spring, founded the settlement of 'Aquae Arnemetiae' (The Waters of the Goddess of The Grove). The water was important enough for the Romans to use the name 'Aquae' on only two towns in Britain, the other being Bath (Aquae Sulis).
The name of Buxton came into being at the time when the area was a Royal Forest and the King's Deer came to drink from the warm springs. One suggestion for the name's origin is from 'Buck' and 'Stan' (stones), though another suggests Bug-Stan (rocking stones).
By the 16th Century, Buxton was a place of pilgrimage as people came to take the waters for their supposed healing powers. One famous visitor to make the journey was Mary, Queen of Scots, who visited the town on several occasions whilst a prisoner under the custodianship of the Shrewsbury's.
Development of The Spa
Buxton continued to develop as a spa throughout the 17th Century, and in the 18th and 19th Centuries the Dukes of Devonshire contributed much of the town that still attracts people today. The 5th Duke of Devonshire financed the building of the Crescent (1784 - 1788) and other buildings followed, such as the Great Stables which were built to house the Duke’s and visitors' horses.
The Victorian times brought the railways and rapid growth as the town's population trebled. New Baths, Pump Rooms, Hotels and Churches were built. The Pavilion Gardens were developed from land donated by the 7th Duke of Devonshire. The Great Stables were converted to a hospital in 1859 (The Devonshire Royal Hospital), and in 1881, a huge slate dome was added. The town became a fashionable spa.
By the dawn of the 20th Century, electricity had arrived in Buxton, and telephones were providing a service for local hotels and businesses. In 1901, a new theatre was commissioned. The renowned theatre architect Frank Matcham designed the magnificent Buxton Opera House, which opened in 1903.
Modern Buxton has seen a decline in the importance of the spa, which had its heyday in Edwardian times. This is being replaced by tourism and related activities. The University of Derby has purchased the Devonshire Royal Hospital building, bringing a University into the heart of the town.
Cultural Capital of the Peak District
Since 1979, when the Opera House re-opened, Buxton has been an important centre for opera, with a world famous Opera Festival in July followed by a Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in August.
It was once calculated that Buxton had more bands per head of population than New Orleans. Whether or not this is true today, the town still boasts a huge stock of local talent. Brass bands (including one of the oldest brass bands in the country), folk, rock, country, jazz, blues, samba and classical performers ensure that all tastes are catered for. A regular programme of gigs, concerts and informal sessions provide a feast of entertainment throughout every week of the year.
Annual events include the Buxton Festival & Fringe (the largest festival fringe in England),
With the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, and a number of privately-owned commercial galleries, there are plenty of regularly changing exhibitions of paintings, photography, ceramics and more. Most local galleries also have impressive permanent collections.
There are several established theatre companies in Buxton, both professional and amateur, with a programme of well known and locally written plays. There are also regular visits from respected national companies, who perform at the Opera House.
Over the years, Buxton has benefited from the designs of some great architects. John Carr of York, Robert Rippon Duke and Frank Matcham have all contributed to the outstanding buildings throughout the town.
John Carr was brought in to design The Crescent, modeled on the Royal Bath Crescent and financed by the 5th Duke of Devonshire, and also designed the Great Stables. The Stables had space for 110 horses, plus accommodation for the grooms and stable boys, and a large central exercise court. This building later became the Devonshire Royal Hospital.
The 19th Century brought further great development to the town. The 7th Duke of Devonshire donated nine acres of land which became the Pavilion Gardens (landscaped by Edward Milner). Robert Rippon Duke designed the Concert Hall (now called The Octagon) for this complex. In 1859, the Great Stables had been converted to the Devonshire Royal Hospital and in 1881 Robert Rippon Duke designed one of the architectural masterpieces of the town - a huge slate dome to cover the central courtyard. The dome weighs 560 tons and spans 145 feet. At the time it was the largest unsupported dome in the world, and to this day is still the largest of its kind in the country.
In 1901 the Gardens Company commissioned a new theatre and the renowned theatrical architect Frank Matcham was brought in to design it. Matcham's other projects include the London Palladium and the London Coliseum Theatre and he used his expertise to design the Buxton Opera House. The Opera House opened in 1903 and was refurbished in 1979 when it hosted the first Buxton Festival.
From Roman times to the present day, Buxton's natural spa water has been an important asset of the town. The first Roman settlers bathed here, and the water is now a major part of the local economy - with Buxton Mineral Water being sold all over the World. The Roman Legions arrived in AD 70. Finding a warm spring, they built a fort and the settlement of 'Aquae Arnametiae' was born. The Roman name means 'The Waters of The Goddess of The Grove', and made the town only one of two in Roman Britain to carry the name 'Aqua' - the other being Bath (‘Aqua Sulis’).
The water itself endures a long journey. It falls as rain onto the surrounding Peak District hills where it soaks into the ground and through a fissured limestone aquifer. This is at an angle, and takes the water deep under the town. Above the limestone aquifer is a layer of impermeable volcanic rock, which keeps the water within the limestone, and protects it from surface contamination. Further down, a geological fault in the rock allows the water upwards to the spring outlet, where it emerges at a constant 27.5°C. It has been estimated that this process takes at least 5000 years from rainfall to spa water.
In mediaeval times a small religious establishment grew up around the spa and Buxton became a place of pilgrimage, as people came to take the waters for their supposed healing power. The dissolution of the monasteries saw these lands and the spa pass into the hands of the Cavendish family, later to become the Dukes of Devonshire. The Tudor period saw the spa flourish, attracting many famous visitors including William Cecil, Lord Burghley and the Earls of Essex, Sussex and Leicester. Probably the most famous to make the journey was Mary, Queen of Scots. Whilst a prisoner at Chatsworth, she came to Buxton on several occasions in the hope that the water would cure her painful rheumatism. While in Buxton, she stayed at The Old Hall Hotel, where she scratched a farewell message to the town into a window with a diamond ring.
In the late 18th century the Dukes of Devonshire became extremely rich through their lead and copper mining ventures and the 5th Duke decided to expand the spa and build a set of public buildings to match those at fashionable Bath. He built the Crescent and Assembly Rooms as a hotel and meeting place for the benefit wealthy spa visitors, plus a fine set of stables on the hillside above. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the spa had its heyday, fuelled by the coming of the railways. These brought ever-increasing numbers of visitors to take the waters and Buxton became a fashionable place to live. The period after the First World War saw a gradually decline in the importance of the spa and the Thermal Baths closed in the 1960s.
For over 100 years Buxton's spa water has been bottled and sold and the bottling and distribution of the water is now a worldwide business carried out by the Buxton Mineral Water Company, a division of Nestle. However Buxton spa water is also freely available from the St. Anne's Well opposite the Crescent.