COLUMN: Buxton Museum reveals secrets of former Peak Hydropathic Hotel

The first floor public room in the Peak Hydropathic Hotel in about 1926 after the hotel had finally closed and before the library was relocated into this space. Photo: Derbyshire County Council: Buxton Museum (Board collection).
The first floor public room in the Peak Hydropathic Hotel in about 1926 after the hotel had finally closed and before the library was relocated into this space. Photo: Derbyshire County Council: Buxton Museum (Board collection).

A month ago I stood in the first floor galleries in Buxton Museum.

Above me, rising into the void was the grey brown construction, representing a Roman temple. A little bird (stuffed) was perched on the window sill.

The Buxton Public Library and Reading Room, 1934 by Robert McLellan Sim (active 1932-1936). Photo: Derbyshire County Council: Buxton Museum.

The Buxton Public Library and Reading Room, 1934 by Robert McLellan Sim (active 1932-1936). Photo: Derbyshire County Council: Buxton Museum.

I remember standing in there once listening to a blackbird outside the museum – it was quite magical.

On this occasion though, the surrounding cases had been emptied and the whole structure was about to come down.

I imagined my predecessors about 27 years ago, so proud as they raised the timbers to construct this edifice, gathering underneath the roof and celebrating how fine it looked.

Since then, probably half a million people have walked through to look at the amazing artefacts on display from the museum collection: fossils from Dove Dale, Blue John from Castleton; scimitar tooth cat teeth from Dove Holes; the rear foot of a cave lion from Hindlow quarry; the remains of a man who walked the pastures above Liffs Low near Biggin; the Roman coin hoard from the baths in Buxton…

Over 850 items have been removed, including everyone’s favourite: the Buxton bear (not a Derbyshire cave bear, but a rather small Canadian Black bear!)

And now the structure is down, and the two spaces that made the Wonders of the Peak have revealed themselves. Back in the mists of time, they were the public library.

Before that though, the front room was the most decorative drawing room for guests to the Peak Hydropathic Hotel.

The huge airy room was double-storeyed, with a vaulted ceiling. Three arched picture windows drew in the north light, providing a view of the Slopes across the Crescent to Corbar Woods.

The walls were covered in the busiest wallpaper providing an impression in the interior of Middle Eastern mosaics (I imagine it all blue and green – can anyone suggest different?), and the double doors were surrounded by a Grecian temple-styled architrave.

You would have felt cosseted coming into this room to sip tea in front of the fire!

Behind it, a passage provided access to the Hydropathic’s own ballroom, now the Green Man Gallery, and the way back to the main staircase and hotel reception.

In the quiet, you can almost hear the swish of bustled skirts and smell the scent of cigars.

Back to the present, and the excitement of creating the new galleries: The Wonders of the Peak – a Journey through Time and Place.

With funding from the Heritage Lottery and Arts Council England, work is progressing well to build two new galleries to display even more objects from the collection and to share their stories with you.

You will travel back in time from now to 330 million years ago, following in the footsteps of millions of people who have walked these hills to enjoy the thermal waters of Buxton.

And then you will enjoy this rediscovered room, a spacious, day lit gallery to explore the special places in which we live.

To find out more, come to Derbyshire County Council’s Buxton Museum and Art Gallery to the Project Space and talk to the team working there.

Follow the project on the blog at www.collectionsinthelandscape.wordpress.com.

We are on Facebook and Twitter too; there are events and activities continuing throughout the next two years, including some special tours of the new spaces in the summer.

The new museum (because that is what it will be) will be open in the spring of 2017.