William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire (1808) by UnknownDerbyshire Record Office
When William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, commissioned a series of building works around 1779 his aim was to turn Buxton into a fashionable Georgian spa town, to rival the likes of Bath. His centrepiece was to be the Crescent. Comprising of two hotels, lodging houses, shops, a town house for himself, an assembly room where balls and concerts could be held and, most notably, thermal baths where patrons could ‘take’ Buxton’s famous healing waters.
Engraving of The Crescent, Buxton (1804) by BirrellDerbyshire Record Office
Architect John Carr was commissioned to design the building in the fashionable neo-classical style of the time. Built between 1780 and 1784, the costs would reach over £41,000, over £3,530,000 in today’s money.
View of the Crescent, Buxton (1908) by UnknownDerbyshire Record Office
When French geologist Barthélemy de Saint-Fond (1741–1819) visited in 1784 he received a tour of the building from John Carr and wrote, ‘This superb edifice has more the appearance of a palace than that of a place for bathing.’
Thermal Baths, Buxton (1853) by UnknownDerbyshire Record Office
In the 18th century it was believed that drinking and bathing in mineral water could cure many ailments including gout, arthritis, digestive problems and infertility. Alongside taking the waters, doctors recommended patients followed a ‘regimen’ which involved a healthy diet, change of air, moderate exercise and cheerful company.
View of the Crescent, Buxton (1900) by UnknownDerbyshire Record Office
The Crescent is located at the foot of The Slopes, a Grade-II-listed public park, and opposite St Anne’s drinking well. The spring had been dedicated to St Anne by the 16th century and a later act of parliament ruled that a free supply of the spring water must be provided for the town's residents. The water, ancient rainwater benefitting from a high magnesium content, emerges from the well at 27°C.
Roman coins from the Buxton Hoard (2019) by Buxton Museum and Art GalleryDerbyshire Record Office
Buxton’s thermal waters were known to the Romans. They built baths, then known as Aquae Arnemetiae, meaning the springs at the sacred grove of the Celtic goddess Arnemetia. When the baths in the Crescent were renovated in 1975 builders found 232 Roman coins, 3 bronze bracelets and a wire clasp, suggesting that offerings were made to Arnemetia. These objects are now on display at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.
The Crescent Hotel, Buxton, visitors book (1868) by The Crescent Hotel, BuxtonDerbyshire Record Office
Guests could stay at one of two hotels, St Ann’s Hotel, located in the Western side of the Crescent, or the Crescent Hotel to the East. The Crescent Hotel closed in the early part of the 20th century. Derbyshire County Council purchased the building in the 1970s using it as offices and a public library until 1992 when it finally closed due to structural defects. St Ann’s Hotel, open for nearly 200 years, closed its doors in 1989.
Dining Room, the Crescent Hotel (1900) by UnknownDerbyshire Record Office
The assembly room, the splendid 18th century ballroom, was used as the town’s library from 1973 until 1992 when the Crescent was vacated and left to deteriorate. Here it is being used as the Crescent Hotel's dining room.
The Grade-I listed building, which had been vacant for over 2 decades, underwent essential repair work in the 1990s. In 2003 the ‘Buxton Crescent and Thermal Spa project’ was launched by High Peak Borough Council and Derbyshire County Council, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. In 2020 the Crescent finally opened its doors once again as a 5-star spa hotel.
With special thanks to Buxton Museum and Art Gallery for their help in providing content for this Story.