In the late 18th century Buxton followed the fashion of Bath and other centres and was developed as a spa by the great local landowner, the 5th Duke of Devonshire. At the time, he was making vast profits from his copper mines at nearby Ecton in the Manifold valley, and these are reputed to have paid for his building work in Buxton.
The most famous building of the time is The Crescent, consciously modelled on that of Bath. It was built for the Duke between 1780 and 1784 by John Carr, out of locally quarried gritstone, and included a ballroom and an Assembly Room as well as a town house for the Duke and shops along the ground floor. Sadly this magnificent building has now been empty for over 20 years. There are ambitious plans to reopen it as part of a spa complex, and work is currently in progress to complete this - it is due to re-open in 2018 as a 5-start hotel and spa.
Inside the old Thermal Baths
Above it, on the west side, the Duke built a fine circular set of stables, which the 6th Duke gave to charity in 1859 to be converted into the Devonshire Royal Hospital. The architect, Henry Curry, covered the circular exercise area in the centre of the stables with a huge iron-framed dome roofed in slate. Until recently this was the largest unsupported dome in the world.
The hospital closed about 2000 and the building has converted by the University of Derby, as the centrepiece of their Buxton campus.
Buxton Opera House
Next door to The Crescent are the former Thermal Baths (built 1851-3 and currently closed to visitors), and then the Old Hall Hotel - once the town house of Bess of Hardwick and her husband the Earl of Shrewsbury, the jailers of Mary Queen of Scots. This is where she stayed when she visited Buxton, though the building has been much altered since.
Around the corner is Buxton Opera House, built by Frank Matcham in 1903, the period of Buxton's heyday as a spa. It is an exquisite building with beautiful decoration and superb acoustics. Fortunately it was rescued from near ruin in 1980 and restored. It has since formed the centre for an annual festival of opera, music, arts and literature, which takes place from mid July to early August, and there is a year-round programme of other events ranging from Opera to plays to rock tribute bands.