The idea of warming Buxton’s thermal waters to a higher temperature had been around since a notable physician, Dr Joseph Denman, proposed it in 1801. In 1816, The Devonshire Estate decided to augment the bathing facilities of the town by constructing a complex of Hot Baths. This was the time of the 6th Duke of Devonshire, known for his big spending and enthusiasm for creating and improving buildings. In the first Hot Baths, opened in May 1818, the baths were lined with white marble and Dutch tiles, supplied by Josiah Wedgwood’s company. The baths complex was designed by Charles Sylvester of Derbyshire. The contractors were London-based companies, with the exception of the façade. This was originally built of glass and ironwork created by John Walker of York. The water was fed from the overflow of the contemporary well dedicated to St Anne and possibly supplemented by the recently re-discovered Bingham spring close to the Hot Baths. The water, warmed by boilers and steam apparatus, could be heated to varying temperatures. Some contemporary writers considered the building was unpretentious. They stated that the inside was well equipped, separately for men and women, with dressing rooms, shower baths and vapour baths. Access was direct from the hotel located at that time in the East end of the Crescent. There was also access through a gate opposite The Grove Hotel, in a wall which then surrounded the Crescent. The range of complaints believed to benefit from the hot bath facilities were gout, rheumatism, fever, liver complaints and incipient consumption (TB). Bathing was sometimes augmented by massage and manipulation by specialist workers.
The Devonshire Estate decided to rebuild and enhance the Hot Baths in 1851. The economic fortunes of the country and region were increasing rapidly, and the population seeking health-giving holidays at sea-side and inland resorts multiplied. The Great Exhibition took place in 1851 and the Duke of Devonshire sought to make a link between his new Buxton investment and the structure built to house the exhibition. The architect for the latter was his Estate Manager Joseph Paxton. The rebuilt version of the Hot Baths used glass on a large scale and adopted a “ridge and furrow” style for the roof. Both were Paxton hallmarks. The architect for the Hot Baths project was Henry Currey, the Duke’s Architect and a close professional associate of Joseph Paxton. The new Hot Baths had two major facades, one facing The Slopes ( ) and the other facing the Grove Hotel. The complex contained four private baths for men and four for women, two charity baths for men and two for women and one large, cold swimming bath. There were also recreational facilities such as a reading room and billiard room. The baths were lined with glazed, porcelain bricks and their bottoms with Sicilian marble. The enhanced baths were very profitable for the Devonshire Estate, with the exception of a Turkish Bath, which made a loss and was rapidly closed.
The location of the Hot Baths was seen to have considerable retail potential. As a result, shops sprung up within the complex. By 1864, there were 5 shops in the colonnade facing The Slopes and 6 in the Devonshire Colonnade facing the Grove Hotel. They faced inwards towards the baths.
The late 19th century saw an increase in visitors to Buxton, especially after the two railways arrived in 1863. In parallel, ideas about many new water treatments entered the British spa world from Europe. This led to treatments becoming more specialised and the bathing facilities in the Hot Baths were remodelled progressively to provide more individual treatment baths and to house new equipment. More shops were introduced.
In 1900 the baths underwent a second fundamental remodelling externally and further works also continued inside. The architect was WR Bryden. A new massage room was added on the 1st floor, accessed by stairs and a hydraulic lift. The iron and glass colonnade facing The Slopes was removed and a new, classical stone frontage was implemented, made of tooled ashlar stone from the Duke’s local quarry. The two separate entrances for men and women were closed and a large, central one facing The Slopes was created.
The shops on the Grove Hotel side of the baths were turned to face the exterior of the building rather than inwards towards the baths, as previously.
In 1904, the Devonshire Estate sold The Hot Baths to Buxton Urban District Council. A £55,000 loan was taken out by the Council, repayable over 60 years. In 1909, the colonnade on the Grove Hotel side was altered, using the earlier glass and iron structures in part but augmenting them to extend the colonnade further onto the adjacent pavement. The missing colonnade facing The Slopes was replaced, with a wider section over the new main entrance.
Under changed ownership, the increase in treatments on offer remained unabated and gradually all baths in the complex became individual. The wall tiles were replaced to reflect evolving fashions, and plants and benches were installed in the corridors.
During the 1930s, residential and in-patient facilities were established for “middle income” guests in the East end of the Crescent. The Buxton Clinic company was established to run this facility. The residents used the Hot Baths extensively, adding to its revenues and profitability.
The commercial fortunes of Buxton’s spa facilities began to fall away after the First World War. Vaccines were being developed, which ultimately reduced the demand for spa treatments for the diseases concerned and the discovery of antibiotics tackled many of the infections long presented by spa patients. Spa treatments for health gradually started to become marginalised.
After the Second World War, the National Health Service (NHS) was established and spa treatments found only a limited role within it. Most people wanting spa treatments now had to pay themselves. Patients in The Buxton Clinic were transferred by the NHS for treatment to the hydrotherapy facilities in the Devonshire Royal Hospital in The Dome ( ) and the numbers attending the Hot Baths went down by75% during one week and did not recover. By 1963 the demand for treatments had become so modest that the Hot Baths closed. They remained closed until 1986, with local groups using parts of the facilities only occasionally. They deteriorated badly.
David Latham was appointed Architect for the task of converting the Hot Baths into a new centre, concerned primarily with retail. The contractors were GD Rogers of Chapel-en-le-Frith and the commission cost £598,000. The baths were removed except for two retained for heritage purposes. In the centre of the restored development you will see a 3000 sq ft barrel-vaulted glass atrium designed by Brian Clarke. The glasswork at the time of construction was the largest stained-glass window in Great Britain. An informative sign-board explains the designer’s concept, which relates to the River Wye flowing beneath the building. The creation of the vault added £100,000 to the cost of the redevelopment.
What it is used for now?
The Hot Baths were renamed the “Cavendish Shopping Arcade” and re-opened in 1987. The arcade hosts a diversity of boutique shops, encompassing fashion, gift stationery, art galleries, jewellery, sellers of local and speciality beverages, soap products, children’s soft toys and books. A pizza restaurant and coffee shop/chocolatier are available for rest and refreshment.
A refurbishment in 2002 by David Cole Architects introduced prominent historical interpretation boards. These are concerned with the former Hot Baths, treatments offered and key people associated. Don’t miss the two retained heritage baths. The larger is in the centre of the complex. You will need to enquire of the shop-keepers in which establishment the smaller one is located…
Did you know?
(i) …that new matting for the 1852-3 renovation was made by the residents of New Bailey Prison, Salford? The 6th Duke was known to take an interest in several social causes.
(ii) …that The Buxton Advertiser and List of Visitors (newspaper founded in 1852 by John Cumming Bates) had its office located in the Hot Baths by 1864? He also converted an adjacent room previously used for playing billiards, into a Reading Room. The newspaper still exists