THE CRESCENT, BUXTON
Background to its development
"I never saw anything so magnificent as the Crescent, though it must half ruin us, my spirit makes me delight in the Dukes' doing it"- Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
For most people who live beyond Derbyshire, Buxton is perhaps best known today for its bottled woter. This is fitting, as the town's development since its Roman origins has always been associated with its source of natural mineral water.
The Romans established Aquae Arnemetiae here circa AD 70 and it was only one of two Romano-British towns to be prefixed 'Aquae', named after the pre-Roman deity of its thermal spring (the other town was Aquae Sulis - today's city of Bath). The Romans stayed here for about 400 years after which the town fell into relative obscurity.
By the middle ages, a small market town had developed and was centred on the market place (or today's Higher Buxton). The area occupying the lower part of today's town was open marshland apart from Buxton Hall (today's Old Hall Hotel) ond the adjoining St Ann's Well which was a place of pilgrimage for many who sought the water's curative powers.
In the meantime, the Peak District had become well known as an area well worth visiting to explore the many aspects of its natural beauty. Buxton, of course, was well positioned as a place for visitors to the Peak District and, by the early 18th century, the town's attraction was well established. Demand for accommodation was met by new development (various coaching inns were built and other lodging establishments). In 17O9 Sir Thomas Delves of Donnington re-built St Ann's Well ond the following year the Second Duke of Devonshire commissioned John Barker of Rowsley to construct baths adjacent to the Old Hall which were completed in 1712. These were further enlarged and refurbished in 1750.
In 1775 John Carr, the celebrated architect of York, visited Buxton seeking relief from his crippling rheumatism and, two years later, the Fifth Duke of Devonshire commissioned him to upgrade the baths.
The building of the Crescent
As the town's fame grew, the Fifth Duke of Devonshire (top right) increased his land holding here. The Duke, ever mindful of the development of other spa locations including Bath, Harrogate and Scarborough, looked to John Carr (pictured bottom right with his plans for The Crescent) to realise his development ambitions for Buxton.
Carr wos not only an esteemed architect but was the director of the Assembly Rooms at York. It was, perhaps, no coincidence that his Whig political views matched those of the Duke's.
The Duke's plan was to develop quality accommodation in the form of a crescent to rival that at Bath. Whilst the original site chosen proved to be unobtainable,the building was begun in 1780 on a site defined by a bend in the River Wye laid out as ornamental gardens.
The site required the culverting of the river, the stifling of at least one of the springs and possibly the destruction of at least part of the Roman baths. Considerable infill on one side was needed and piling into wet ground on the other, as well as the destruction of the
gardens. The landscaping of St Ann's Cliff (now The Slopes) in front of the Crescent in 1792 provided some compensation for the loss of the old gardens.
Architecturally inspired by John Wood's Royal Crescent in Bath and constructed between 1780 ond 1789, Carr's Crescent incorporated two hotels (the St Ann's ond the Crescent), lodging houses, public rooms for assembly, card playing, dining and dancing and an arcade of shops. Thus Buxton's Crescent was conceived ond completed as one development and contained many more functions than Wood's predominately residential development. It is evident, therefore, that from its conception the centrepiece of Buxton's spa has always been the Crescent.
The St Ann's and The Crescent were some of the earliest examples of hotels as a building type in the United Kingdom. A hotel was a continental concept being introduced at the time, as a consequence of increased foreign travel for pleasure. Unlike the coaching inns
that it replaced, a hotel hod a greater range of public rooms - reception rooms, smoking lounges, billiards rooms, etc.
Later developments and decline
Within thirty years of its completion, most of the lodging houses had been absorbed into the two hotels. The Crescent Hotel continued until 1935 when it became a clinic annexed to the Devonshire Royal Hospital (converted in the 1880s from the Great Stables - Carr's
other major contribution to Buxton (also completed in 1789). In the 197Os, the former hotel wos aquired by the Derbyshire County Council for use os offices and the town's library until it wos vacated in 1991.
The St Ann's Hotel continued in use as a private hotel until 1989. At the time of its closure, High Peak Borough Council became very concerned about the future of the building given that it was already known to require extensive repairs. The problem was exacerbated by gales in 1990 causing considerable damage to the roof.