Treasured jewel of our spa town

It may be one of Buxton's most treasured pieces of architectural heritage, but what is the history surrounding the beautiful Grade I Listed Crescent building and why has it stood empty for over a decade?

Located in the centre of the spa town, the Crescent was built by the Fifth Duke of Devonshire between 1779 and 1789 to the design of John Carr, a York-based mason and architect.

Carr also designed the Great Stables, which serviced the Crescent and later became the Devonshire Royal Hospital.

The Crescent was originally conceived as two purpose-built hotels separated by six lodging houses, and over the years has boasted a mixture of coffee shops, card rooms and ground floor shops.

Buxton historian Dr Mike Langham said: "The Crescent was built to put Buxton on the map. It was the intention of the Duke of Devonshire for Buxton to rival Bath, but it didn't work.

"It was a very important part of the lower town during the Georgian and Victorian periods, and was always a busy, bustling place."

St Ann's Hotel was situated within the west pavilion, while The Crescent Hotel (formerly The Great) – along with the delightful Assembly Rooms – occupied the east pavilion.

By the mid 19th Century, the two hotels had taken over the lodging houses, with the St Ann's Hotel occupying just over half of the entire complex.

The Crescent Hotel closed in the early part of the 20th Century and was used as an annex to the Devonshire Royal Hospital before being bought by Derbyshire County Council in the 1970s.

It was then used as offices and a public library by the county council until 1992, when it was abandoned due to structural defects.

The St Ann's Hotel continued trading until 1989, but by that time it had fallen into the hands of unsympathetic owners and was closed pending full refurbishment following the service of public health notices by the borough council because of unhealthy kitchens.

By 1993 the building had rapidly fallen into disrepair, and in a landmark case the Department of National Heritage served legal notice threatening compulsory purchase of the hotel. The owners agreed to sell at a realistic price.

High Peak Borough Council acquired the building – with funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund – and agreed to act as temporary "caretaker" owner.

It were also awarded 1.5 million by English Heritage to fund the repair of the outside of the building, including the slate roof which was badly damaged by severe gales.

The borough council and county council then proceeded to jointly market the Crescent and the spa buildings, and in 1994 a scheme was put forward by Monumental Trust.

Their idea was to turn the Crescent into retirement flats, build a bar/cafe in the Pump Room and allocate the Natural Baths for leisure use.

Richard Tuffrey, Crescent Project Manager at High Peak Borough Council, said: "I don't think people were happy with the Monumental Trust scheme and they failed to get the backing of the Heritage Lottery Fund, who said they would be happier if we put in a bid ourselves.

"By that time we were in a situation where we had three important buildings in the centre of the town – the Crescent, the Pump Room and the Natural Baths – which were all empty. It was a disaster."

So in December 2000 the borough council and the county council submitted the Buxton Crescent and Spa Project to the Heritage Lottery Fund, stage one of which was approved in principle last July.

Following a strict procurement process, the two bidders – Metrobrook Limited and the Trevor Osbourne Property Group Limited – were invited to tender.

The Victorian Grade II listed Pump Room, next to St Ann's Well, was built in the late 19th Century as a place where people could come to take the unique thermal mineral water.

It ceased use as a Pump Room in the 1970s, and has been empty since 1996 when a micrarium, for the study of microscopic organisms and geologial specimens, was closed.

The Natural Baths, also Grade II listed, is believed to be a probable site of the Roman Baths as it sits over the natural mineral water source.

There has been various buildings on the site, but the present complex dates from 1853 and the early 20th Century.

It closed as a water treatment baths in the 1960s, following which it was used as the town's swimming pool until 1972. Part of the ground floor is now used as Buxton Tourist Information Centre.