MEMORY LANE: Buxton’s Devonshire Dome through the years

An interior view underneath the dome of the Devonshire Hospital, showing the statue of the 7th Duke of Devonshire. Photo: Derbyshire County Council, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.
An interior view underneath the dome of the Devonshire Hospital, showing the statue of the 7th Duke of Devonshire. Photo: Derbyshire County Council, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

Famed as Europe’s largest unsupported dome, Buxton’s Grade II* listed Devonshire Dome is one of the most dramatic structures in the UK.

Boasting 44 columns and 145ft diameter colonnade supporting its 560 tonne roof, the stunning dome has dominated the spa town’s unchanged skyline for well over 130 years.

The Devonshire Road building was originally constructed in the 1780s by John Carr of York as stables for the Fifth Duke of Devonshire, providing facilities for up to 120 horses serving his Crescent hotel. Both the stables and the Crescent were part of a plan by the Duke to promote Buxton as a spa.

Far from realising its true potential, parts of the stables were later converted into a hospital for the “sick poor” of the Lancashire and Yorkshire cotton towns.

When the Seventh Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, gave his blessing for the building to be used in its entirety for medical purposes, the renowned architect Robert Rippon Duke stepped in to give the landmark some of its more recognisable features.

Originally the horses’ exercise circle at its centre had been open to the sky. A dome with a diameter of 44.2 metres – at the time the largest unsupported dome in the world – was added in 1881 to create the enclosed space for the hydropathic hospital which used Buxton’s natural spa waters at the heart of its cures

An illustration of the Devonshire Hospital, minus its dome, from 1876.

An illustration of the Devonshire Hospital, minus its dome, from 1876.

The clock tower and lodge were added soon after, followed in the early 1900s by surgical wards, baths, the dining room and kitchens.

When the NHS took over its running from the Buxton Bath Charity in 1948, the building was better known as The Devonshire Royal Hospital, but it was surplus to requirements and closed in 2000, the last of England’s eight hydropathic hospitals.

Its closure left the historic building seemingly without a future. This was until the University of Derby stepped in.

Work to restore the former hospital into a university campus - the highest above sea level in England - took over five years to complete, at a cost of more than £11 million.

Work taking place on the dome structure at the former stables. Photo: Derbyshire County Council, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

Work taking place on the dome structure at the former stables. Photo: Derbyshire County Council, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

Prince Charles opened the new campus in 2006 and put the royal seal of approval on a rescue which saw one of the nation’s most exciting buildings taken off the official “at risk” register and given new life.

“As someone who is extremely interested in heritage-led projects this is a wonderful example of what can be achieved,” the Prince said at the time.

“Projects which aim to bring buildings back to life present a big challenge - but by God, it’s worthwhile in the end.”

He added: “The project has also enjoyed the support of the town of Buxton and I am sure this building, in turn, will make a huge difference to the life of Buxton and the economy itself.”

Dispensing thermal water to patients under the hospital dome. Photo: Derbyshire County Council, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

Dispensing thermal water to patients under the hospital dome. Photo: Derbyshire County Council, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

Home to both the university and Buxton and Leek College, the Dome also houses a fine dining restaurant, cafe, contemporary spa and hair and beauty salons.

• A large selection of images of the Devonshire Dome through the years can be found on the ‘Picture the Past’ website, www.picturethepast.org.uk. Just type ‘Devonshire Hospital’ in the search box.

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HRH Princess Mary lays a memorial stone at the Devonshire Hospital, Buxton, in 1921. Photo: Derbyshire County Council, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

HRH Princess Mary lays a memorial stone at the Devonshire Hospital, Buxton, in 1921. Photo: Derbyshire County Council, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

Staff from the Devonshire Hospital, pictured in the 1930s. Photo: Derbyshire County Council, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

Staff from the Devonshire Hospital, pictured in the 1930s. Photo: Derbyshire County Council, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

A physiotherapy session in one of the baths. Photo: Derbyshire County Council, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

A physiotherapy session in one of the baths. Photo: Derbyshire County Council, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

The Devonshire Hospitals annual dinner dance in 197s. Source: Buxton Advertiser.

The Devonshire Hospitals annual dinner dance in 197s. Source: Buxton Advertiser.

Buxton Advertiser archive, 2000, staff of the Devonshire Royal Hospital, taken to mark its closure

Buxton Advertiser archive, 2000, staff of the Devonshire Royal Hospital, taken to mark its closure

An aerial shot of the Devonshire Royal Hospital (centre), taken in 2000 to mark its closure.

An aerial shot of the Devonshire Royal Hospital (centre), taken in 2000 to mark its closure.