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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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Buxton - Capital of the High Peak

Posted Thursday, May 24, 2007

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Tom Bates' - Guide to Buxton

The Derbyshire Peak District market town of Buxton has a number of claims to fame; as well as being the Capital of the High Peak, it is also at over 1000ft above sea-level the highest town of its size in England, and has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries, venerated by those who have come for the reputedly magical curative powers of its Spa waters.

Buxton History

Our Neolithic ancestors had already populated the surrounding hills, leaving the marks of their passing at ancient gathering places like the Bull Ring, and at nearby Arbor Low over three thousand years before the Romans arrived in 70 AD and founded the settlement which they called Aqua Arnemeteia, meaning, “The Waters of the Goddess of the Grove”.

The River Wye...the most delightful of Derbyshire rivers.'

These sacred waters of the Goddess include the wonderful River Wye, the most delightful of Derbyshire rivers which rises at Axe Edge, and filters down through Featherbed Moss on it’s way to collect the Burbage Brook, before running culverted beneath the streets of modern Buxton and cavorting in gurgling leaps and cascades down through Ashwood Dale.

Buxton is built on a series of small hills and the grassy slopes in the middle of town lend themselves to relaxation, providing an excellent vantage point from which to view the town, with Serpentine Walks and shaded seating areas along the banks of the Wye through Ashwood Park, to the east of Spring Gardens.

The Romans built baths here above the thermal waters of what later became St. Anne’s Well, famously visited by medieval pilgrims seeking a cure for their ills, and popularised further in Tudor times by Mary Queen of Scots who took its healing waters as a cure for her rheumatism whilst being held captive at Chatsworth by the Earl of Shrewsbury during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st.

The town’s growth and prosperity were assured from the eighteenth century by the addition of its remarkable wealth of architecture, courtesy of the Fifth Duke of Devonshire who engaged John Carr to build the magnificent Georgian Crescent, rivalling and imitating the famous Crescent at Bath in Somerset.

Carr of York was also responsible for the Devonshire Hospital which was originally designed & constructed as a Riding School for the Duke of Devonshire at the end of the 18th century. It became a hospital in 1859, and it’s huge dome, which is the largest unsupported slate dome in the world was added in 1881, the area beneath was used for the exercise of patients in rehabilitation. In recent years the building has become home to the University of Derby.

Buxton was confirmed as a centre of excellence and culture, becoming a retreat and country holiday resort for the gentry during the Victorian era with the advent of public travel and communication. Once again the Duke of Devonshire had a major hand in development and many large hotels were built to cater for the influx of visitors when the railways came to town, and the Pavilion Gardens were laid out and opened in 1871. The twenty three acres of the Pavilion Gardens includes ornamental lakes, putting greens, children’s play areas with a paddling pool and miniature railway, whilst the whole is dotted with colourful arbours and flower beds, with shaded walks beneath mature trees, and the gardens are a sheer delight in the summer.

Buxton is a renowned centre of culture and boasts wonderful conference centre facilities, and a complex of buildings in the form of a miniature Crystal Palace, including the Concert Hall of 1876 which incorporates a restaurant, conservatory, cafeteria and lounge bar.

The famous Buxton Opera House designed by Frank Matcham has recently been restored to it’s original Victorian splendour, and hosts a full season of operas and musical events throughout the year, including a very popular annual Gilbert & Sullivan event, and even a Country Music Festival.

Another very noteable annual event is the Buxton Festival, the largest `Fringe’ Festival in England, which takes place in July each year and coincides with the town’s Well Dressing Festival, with a Carnival Procession through the town on the second Saturday in the month.

Other noteable buildings include the Old Hall Hotel, reputedly the oldest hotel in the world, one of whose original guests was Mary Queen of Scots!

Buxton Spring Water is exported throughout the world and known for it’s clarity and purity; hardly surprising when considering it has had five thousand years of filtering through the porous limestone of the surrounding hills before bubbling to the surface from a mile underground at the Natural Baths near the Crescent in the centre of town. The warm mineral water is freely available to the public by St. Anne’s Well near the Tourist Information centre, and is used to fill the public Swimming Pool, opened in 1972. Other sporting facilities in the town include two very popular, if windswept, 18 hole golf courses, and Buxton has both football and rugby teams in regional leagues, and hockey, cycling, tennis, bowling and fishing are all catered for.

Buxton is an excellent centre for shopping, with its market in the upper quarter, and the splendid Cavendish Arcade, a shopping emporium par excellence and makes an ideal centre or base for visiting the nearby attractions of Chatsworth House, Haddon Hall, and the market towns of Bakewell, Matlock and Ashbourne, all within half an hours drive.

Buxton also has an excellent Museum & Art Gallery at Peak Buildings on Terrace Road which houses Roman artefacts and specimens of the famous Blue John, mined nearby. There is also a Micrarium, housed in the Pump Room beside St. Anne’s Well, and so many other things to see and do in Buxton that it is impossible to list them all!

Perhaps the real grandeur of Buxton is its natural setting, nestling in a hollow in the hills on the eastern slopes of the Southern Pennines, with magnificent views to the north and west to the exhilerating heights of Axe Edge, the source of the effervescent Wye, and beyond to Bleaklow, and the highest of them all, Kinder Scout; whilst to the gentler south and east, the land falls away following the course of the river to eventually join the Derwent at Rowsley, halfway between Chatsworth House and Haddon Hall in the heart of the lovely Derbyshire Dales.

The highest town in England may well be a cold, wet and windy place in the worst of the winter months, but it is never inhospitable for it offers warmth, comfort, and splendid hospitality from its heart; in the summer months it blossoms to become a paradise for visitors and residents alike and with so much to offer, will remain a venerated place of pilgrimage and a tonic for those fortunate enough to experience its many attractions for centuries to come!

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