in the High Peak of Derbyshire, sits in a bowl at about one thousand
feet above sea level surrounded by mountains and is itself a mountain
spa. The natural mineral water of Buxton emerges from a group of springs
at a constant temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit and is, thus, a
thermal water. There are also cold springs and a supply of chalybeate
(iron bearing) water.
Whilst the history of this inland resort can be traced as far back as the Mesolithic (middle Stone age) period of early man, one of the most significant periods in the development of the town was the 70 years from 1840 to 1910 - the Victorian/Edwardian age of industry and innovation. This period of phenomenal growth should he set in the context of its earlier history to give some feel for the growth of settlement, village and town and to see how and why Buxton should have become such an important Victorian spa.
The evidence of Mesolithic man suggests a settlement dating to about 5000 BC and archaeological finds in the Peak District around the settlement show habitation through the Neolithic Bronze and Iron Ages to the time of the Romans. Buxton in Roman times was known as Aquae Arnemetia, which translates as the waters of the Goddess, of the Grove and the term aqua' is used by the Romans for one other town only, that of Bath which was called Aquae Sulis. From the historical evidence we can say that Buxton was a civilian settlement of some importance, situated on the intersection of several roads and providing bathing facilities in warm mineral waters. In short, it was a Roman spa. An important find of coins, near the site of the Roman bath, in 1975 indicates that the Romans inhabited Buxton for most of the time they occupied Britain.
Place-names in and around Buxton and Anglo-Saxon finds in burial mound excavations suggest a continuing inhabitation of the area and probable use of the warm mineral waters. Buxton is not mentioned in the Domesday Book though, at the time, it was primarily a cattle p pasturing place and may not have been of sufficient interest, in revenue terms, to King William commissioners. The name Buxton can be dated to about 1100 when Bucstones or Buckestones is first recorded on a foundation charter for land given by William Peveril to found Lenton Abbey in Nottinghamshire. Later medieval records show the existence of a holy well at Buxton and the valuation taken for King, Henry VIII in 1536 showed the well to be worth 40 marks (about £26), a not inconsiderable sum. The well and chapel did not escape the attentions of Thomas Cromwell, the Chief Minister to King Henry, and on his orders it was plundered and closed down by Sir William Bassett of Langley in 1538.
The well was not closed for long, however, and in the Elizabethan
era Buxton enjoyed considerable fame as a spa. Mary Queen of Scots
visited to take the waters on several occasions during the time she
was a prisoner in England. Her custodian, the earl of Shrewsbury,
who was married to Bess of Hardwick, built the hall over the bath
in Buxton to provide accommodation. It is likely that Buxton was a
centre of some intrigue at this time; plots were hatched in support
of the Scottish Queen and there were many notable visitors from the
Elizabethan court including Lord Burghey, the Earl of Sussex, and
the EarI of Leicester, a favourite of Queen Elizabeth. In 1572 Dr
John Jones wrote the first medical book on Buxton waters entitled
The Benefit of the Auncient Bathes of Buckstones. From that
time many others wrote on the curative value of the warm waters and
from these accounts it can be seen how Buxton continued to develop
as a spa through the seventeenth century.
The eighteenth century was to see an upsurge of interest in bathing
and water treatment with both inland and coastal towns becoming fashionable
resorts. Buxton did not rival Bath in these terms, however, until
the 5th Duke of Devonshire decided to provide greatly enhanced facilities
in the shape of the Crescent, which offered hotels, lodging houses
and an assembly room. This magnificent building was designed by the
York architect, John Carr, and built between 1780 and 1784. The Great
Stables, now the Devonshire Royal Hospital, were completed in 1789.
By 1820, with a population of under one thousand, Buxton could still
be described as a village and facilities were still modest. Hall Bank,
built largely in the 1790s, provided lodging houses and the Square,
built 1806, offered more substantial town houses. In addition to the
Hall and those in the Crescent, there were other hotels including
the Grove, the George, the Eagle and the Shakespeare,
together with a number of inns and ordinary lodging houses. The baths
offered good facilities, three gentlemen's, two ladies' and a charity
bath and there were also hot baths, built in about 1818 and, on the
Macclesfield road, a cold plunging or tonic bath.