The First 125 Years of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

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To accompany their 125th anniversary, Derbyshire Museums Manager Ros Westwood reveals the history of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery:

On 28 September 2018, Buxton Museum will celebrate 90 years since opening in its new premises at the Peak Buildings. At least 35 years previously, it was established in the Town Hall, overseen by the first librarian/curator, Mr Sarjeant. But now, with the library, and under the management of the librarian, Mr Hill, it occupied a street side location in the heart of Buxton. The opening was a splendid affair, with a formal luncheon and the opening address by Professor Sir William Boyd Dawkins.

Photo credit: Buxton Museum & Art Gallery. Mr T.A. Serjeant.

The Peak Buildings was only a little older than the museum. In June 1881, Samuel Hyde, a noted balneologist (someone who understands cold-water spa treatments) became proprietor of the Buxton House Hydropathic Co. Ltd, and opened a private sanatorium on Terrace Road. He was a persuasive businessman and negotiated a purchase of land from the Duke of Devonshire to build an imposing Hydropathic hotel. The hotel opened in 1885, with several further extensions and building programmes. Although several of his businesses on the premises failed and were reformed, Hyde remained as proprietor and lessee the Peak Hydropathic. He raised the funds to keep the business going and to improve it. In 1895 architect Charles Heathcote designed the east wing with its ball rooms and additional bedrooms, now the Green Man Gallery.

This was a time of recession. Time and again, the business failed; early in the 20th century the Leek and Moorlands Building Society repossessed the hotel on at least two occasions since the mortgage was in arrears.

Photo credit: Buxton Museum & Art Gallery.

In 1915, The Peak Hydropathic was taken over for military purposes, as an annexe to the Canadian Granville Military Hospital which had its headquarters at the nearby Buxton Hydropathic on the Broad Walk. Amongst the doctors who worked here was Frederick Banting; he would survive the war and in 1923 was awarded the Nobel Prize as the co-discoverer of insulin and its therapeutic potential.

Photo credit: Buxton Museum & Art Gallery.

After the war, in 1921, William Turner of Stockport bought the building and opened the Peak Hotel. Within three years, it was sold again. In 1926, the Buxton Corporation bought most of the Peak Buildings. Within two years, the ground floor was opened as a museum and the first floor became the public library. Many residents of Buxton remember coming to the museum and the library in these interwar years.

Photo credit: Buxton Museum & Art Gallery.

In 1968, the County Council took on the responsibility for the library with the museum alongside. Within five years, the library was moved to the Crescent and then to Kents Bank. Buxton Museum absorbed the vacant spaces and opened the art gallery in 1978. In 2018, the main art gallery will celebrate its 40th anniversary. More significantly, in 1979, the first professional museum curator was appointed, Dr Mike Bishop, who brought specialist knowledge and professional collection management to the collections.

Photo credit: Buxton Museum & Art Gallery. The Buxton Public Library and Reading Room by Robert Lewis McLellan-Sim, oil, 1934.

There have been only ten custodians of the collections. Mr Oliver Gomersal, resident of Buxton and one of the museum’s benefactors, remembers them all.  One of them, John Leach, assembled and published the history of the building, which has provided much of the information in this brief tale. Most of the custodians have worked in the challenging hotel building, where visitors admire the beautiful stained glass even before they are welcomed in the doors. But once here, visitors amazed by the collections that we have cared for over 125 years.

Photo credit: Buxton Museum & Art Gallery. Mr Oliver Gomersal.

The 125th anniversary exhibition Collectors and Curiosities: Buxton and Beyond can be seen until Saturday 6th October. Admission is free. Click here for opening times and for more information about Buxton Museum.