BUXTON FRINGE: Pavilion Gardens a '˜crown jewel' on the festival stage

In this Year of the English Garden it is fitting that a key location for Festival and Fringe alike is the Pavilion Gardens.

The Pavilion Gardens will be a key location for the Festival and Fringe. Photo: Ian J. Parkes.
The Pavilion Gardens will be a key location for the Festival and Fringe. Photo: Ian J. Parkes.

This July it boasts outdoor family entertainment including a storytelling yurt, an operetta double-bill and a children’s workshop alongside traditional fare such as the Festival’s Song at Six and open-air showcases, Fringe at Five and Fringe Sunday.

Terry Crawford, the Pavilion Gardens general manager since 2008, says: “The festival season is something we look forward to at the Pavilion Gardens.

“It is our busiest month in terms of business and we have hundreds, possibly thousands, of people descending on Buxton.

“The Fringe has become a destination event in its own right and we benefit from that at the Pavilion Gardens.”

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Events such as the Festival’s Song at Six at the Bandstand are particularly gratifying: “It’s great that customers can enjoy that part of the Festival in a very relaxed way and obviously it doesn’t cost anything either.”

The building itself is also being heavily used by the Festival with the Cafe providing an informal setting for jazz evenings whilst the prestigious Arts Centre, which was opened in 2010, houses music and literary speakers.

A brand new venue for Festival authors is the Marquee, which was erected earlier this year after the Octagon closed for repairs.

Although Terry calls the Octagon “the life blood of the Pavilion Gardens”, he maintains “with adversity comes opportunity” and sees the Marquee, with its elevated views of the Gardens, as a fantastic space in its own right.

The complex has been evolving almost since the moment it first opened in August 1871 with the Concert Hall, now known as the Octagon, added later in 1875, and the theatre that is now the Pavilion Arts Centre added in 1889.

The Opera House was opened in 1903. Fascinatingly, this year’s Fringe will offer audiences the chance to ‘meet’ the Octagon’s architect Robert Rippon Duke and Edward Milner (who helped design the Gardens alongside Sir Joseph Paxton) as Discover Buxton Tours presents ‘A Victorian Conversation’.

Terry, who came to Buxton from the fitness sector but started out as a silver service waiter at the Midland Hotel in Manchester, believes that customer-focused refurbishments to the complex, updating the catering, tourist information and retail areas, have made “a family-friendly provision for a range of generations from the very young to the very old.”

One universal draw is the conservatory and he pays tribute to its diligent gardener Ian Cook for the colourful planting.

The fish (all rescue fish) have also created great interest, with a poem being penned to commemorate Boris, a fish which caused consternation by swimming upside down!

The fact that in 2013 the conservatory also housed gigantic model dinosaur skeletons is a reflection of the Pavilion Gardens’ ongoing support of the arts.

Terry cites their close association with High Peak Artists based in the Gallery in the Gardens - “We see them as part of the Pavilion Gardens team” - and also applauds the Pavilion Gardens Friends group whose idea it was to have a tree sculpture.

The new toddler play area is also in large part a result of the Friends’ fund-raising.

Terry believes his workplace is “the jewel in the crown of Buxton” and that in the past eight years “its reputation in the marketplace has improved significantly…

“A lot of that is down to the support we’ve received from the public and from the councillors.

“It’s been a team effort and we hope to continue that. We don’t stop here.”