MEMORY LANE: The Buxton hotel that ran out of time

The Empire Hotel in its heyday. Staff assemble outside in the lavish grounds for a photograph, circa 1910.
The Empire Hotel in its heyday. Staff assemble outside in the lavish grounds for a photograph, circa 1910.

It was once one of Buxton’s grandest hotels, but the Empire never had an opportunity to live up to its name and ultimately fell victim to changing times.

Built by railway buffet catering firm Spiers & Pond, the Empire Hotel opened its doors to much acclaim in 1903.

The colossal structure, which stood proudly within extensive manicured grounds off Park Road, was a dominant feature of the Buxton skyline.

Renowned for its luxurious accommodation, it could provide for up to 300 guests.

But despite all its grandeur, and compared to many of its more established counterparts, the Empire had a very short commercial lifespan.

Local architect Trevor Gilman, founder of the Buxton Group which champions the spa town’s heritage, said the building fell victim to the changing social climate.

“I think the Empire Hotel ultimately arrived too late,” he explained. “If it had been built 30 years before it would have had some use.

“The hotel opened around the time of changes in society, and the onset of the First World War brought more freedom for women and started to break down class barriers.”

“Times do change, and rapidly. The opera house, for example, was built in 1903, but by 1910 or 1912 it had already peaked.”

With the outbreak of war, the Empire Hotel was requisitioned by the army and originally became the headquarters for the Sherwood Foresters Notts & Derbys. Later, it was used as a military hospital and discharge centre for Canadian troops.

The hotel was destined never to reopen as a hotel, and subsequently troops were its only occupants again during the Second World War.

Its post-war history was even less illustrious. The vacant hotel soon became a target for squatters, and their eventual eviction in 1949 was even worthy of mention in the House of Commons, the property labelled “potentially hazardous to the health of Buxton residents and the squatters themselves”.

Secretary of State for War Emanuel Shinwell told the Commons: “I am advised that steps are now being taken which, it is hoped, will result in the early removal of all the squatters from this hotel. I am aware that the sanitary conditions in the hotel are very bad.”

Later, as the hotel fell into disrepair, Mr Gilman recalled exploring the semi-derelict building as a teenager with friends and being “frightened by the vastness of it”.

Buxton Advertiser Archive, late 1950s, the giant but derelict Empire Hotel well alight, probably in 1959

Buxton Advertiser Archive, late 1950s, the giant but derelict Empire Hotel well alight, probably in 1959

“Also around that time I was in the local Territorial Army which was based at the drill hall at the Silverlands,” he added. “I remember the grounds of the Empire Hotel were so overgrown we used them for exercises!”

Eventually the Empire was pulled down in 1964; rubble from the demolition was used to fill-in the old railway tracks during the transformation of Harpur Hill’s underground ammunition dump into a mushroom farm.

Today, all that remains of the once impressive building are its gateposts and other stonework.