Any modern tourist resort needs a car park. A Victorian resort needed a railway station. In the days of coach-travel, stables were essential.
When the 5th Duke of Devonshire developed the spa at Buxton, he commissioned the architect John Carr of York also to build a commodious stable block on the hill at the back of the Crescent (1780-90).
The Stables (1785-1796) was a huge octagonal building accommodating 110 horses and sixty coaches, with a circular covered gallery around the internal courtyard for exercising. Ostlers and grooms were accommodated above the horses, to take advantage of their body heat.
On top of the capital cost of the Crescent – £38,601 18s 4d – the Stables cost the Duke a further £40,000.
The imminent arrival of the railway in 1863 indicated that the Stables would soon be redundant, and the Seventh Duke allowed two-thirds of the building to be converted by the Buxton Bath Charity “for the use of the sick poor” by the Chatsworth estate-architect Henry Currey in 1859.
Subsequently the courtyard was enclosed in 1881-2 by the superb 156ft-diameter dome – the largest in the world at the time of construction – by the Buxton architect Robert Rippon Duke (1817-1909).
Robert Rippon Duke is one of those minor Victorian architects who never made a national reputation, but stamped his identity on a particular locality. His life is chronicled in an admirable biography by Mike Langham & Colin Wells, The Architect of Victorian Buxton: a biography of Robert Rippon Duke, “the Duke of Buxton” (Derbyshire Library Service 1996).
The hospital was renamed the Devonshire Royal Hospital in 1934, and continued to offer hydropathic treatments until 2000.
After it closed, the University of Derby took over the site, restored and converted the building as reopened it as the Devonshire Campus in 2003.
The dome is open to the public and, because the campus houses the faculties of hospitality and what are described as culinary arts, there’s always a cup of coffee to be had at Bistro 44 – http://www.derby.ac.uk/thedomefinedining/bistro44.asp, and serious food at the Fine Dine Restaurant – http://www.derby.ac.uk/thedomefinedining. Be sure to book.
The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters: the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. To view sample pages click here. Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.