The 'Deborah Devonshire Award' at our recent Architecture Awards was given to Ensana Buxton Crescent.
Development Director - Andrew Ryan RIBA
Client - Buxton Crescent Ltd
Buxton Crescent was built between 1780-89. Designed by John Carr of York, it was the centrepiece of the Fifth Duke of Devonshire’s plans to establish a Georgian spa town in Buxton. As a Grade I listed building it is one of the most architecturally significant buildings in the country.
Alongside it sits the Grade II Listed Natural Baths and Pump Room. All these historic buildings have now been restored and conserved for the future as part of this impressive regeneration project, which now contains a thermal natural mineral water spa, visitor attraction, retail units and an 81- bedroom luxury spa hotel.
The Crescent was last used in part as a private hotel and by Derbyshire County Council as a library and offices. However, due to its deteriorating physical fabric, the hotel closed in 1989 and structural problems forced the Council to vacate in the 1990s leaving the Crescent completely empty. In order to bring the Crescent, along with the adjoining empty Natural Baths and Pump Room, back into use, Derbyshire County Council and High Peak Borough Council jointly launched the Buxton Crescent Hotel and Thermal Spa project with the backing of the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England. Principal objective - bring the three buildings back into sustainable uses that would contribute to the regeneration of Buxton as a spa town once again.
Further key objectives were - The development of a genuine thermal spa and promotion of health and well-being; Development of a Visitor Interpretation Centre to tell the story of Buxton’s spa heritage; Support the regeneration of Buxton and surrounding area, through increased visitor numbers, increased visitor spend and positive impact on local businesses; Create 160 FTE construction jobs and 140 FTE hotel (and retail jobs in 6 boutique retail units proposed on the site) as well as training / apprentice opportunities.
Regeneration In relation to the Crescent, the strategy for delivering the project focussed on retaining as much of the historic fabric as possible whilst enabling the building to be converted for modern use. This, therefore, meant a careful balancing act and blend of the use of modern and historic building techniques to restore and conserve the fabric. Alongside this, modern M&E systems had to be installed to service the building and significant time was spent routing services to minimise their impact whilst ensuring that a 5 star experience could be achieved for guests. Regular design reviews with a Consents (Conservation) Group comprising all of the project key stakeholders helped to drive a scheme which carefully considered these issues.
The main contractor had to employ sub-contractors who specialised in conservation techniques such as stonework restoration and lime plastering, with site agents who also specialised in conservation techniques. Works on site were complex and fraught with challenges with rotten timber leading to significant structural strengthening works right across the building and a need to open up more of the fabric as works progressed. A high level of attention to detail by the Developer was needed to balance site progress, cost and retention of the historic fabric.
Interiors As the Crescent was designed originally as two hotels and six lodging houses, the majority of the bedrooms within the building are relatively plain. However this changes at the two pavilions at the East and West ends where John Carr placed the public rooms of the two hotels. The Ballroom and
adjoining Card Room of the Great Hotel in the East pavilion combined to double as the town’s Assembly Rooms. Once described by the Georgian Group as one of the best rooms in the North of England, the Ballroom provides a wonderful space for events and entertaining, albeit possibly added as a late addition to the scheme at the request of the Duke, since it did not appear to be part of the original designs. With a classic Adam style decorated ceiling, Corinthian columns and pilasters, mahogany doors inlaid with rosewood, marble fireplaces and original chandeliers, it remains as one of the highlights of any visit to the Crescent. The ceiling had to be painstakingly repaired in areas due to water damage and then re-decorated. The floor had to be reinforced with steel beams and then the timber floorboards repaired and replaced with historic boards from elsewhere in the project. Finally filling, sanding and many coats of varnish to bring it back to its original glory. Specialists were also brought in to restore the chandeliers and the water damaged doors which were then French polished.
Unlike the East pavilion which retains its 18th century public rooms largely unaltered, the West pavilion underwent a major redecoration programme in the late 19th and early 20th century. Notwithstanding this, some of the rooms are outstanding, including the Art Nouveau style “Blue Room” with its fully restored early Lincrusta type embossed ceiling wallpaper. Repairs to this room to the ceiling and ornate plaster were specifically funded by Historic England. Less than a quarter of the original ceiling and paper remained, and it had to be painstakingly copied and re-cast by Lincoln Conservation using 3D printing technology, in a never been tried process. Then hand re-decorated by specialist decorators. The new sections of the ceiling paper now blend seamlessly with the old.
The historic Thermal Pool in the Spa had completely deteriorated and there was need to replace it completely – however we wished to retain the elegant filigree steelwork that supported the rooflight above. So, this had to be suspended in mid-air while a whole new pool was built beneath it to support it.
Interpretation Finally, in order to promote a high standard of public access and interpretation of the building, a charitable trust was established, the Buxton Crescent Heritage Trust, to manage a visitor experience in dedicated rooms within the Crescent telling the story of the building and the town. In addition, in negotiation with the hotel, the Trust has access to the Assembly Rooms for a minimum of 60-days per annum in order to promote a calendar of events which will celebrate Buxton’s spa heritage. In another innovative approach to public interpretation of the building’s original use, two of the lettable bedrooms within the hotel have been furnished contemporaneously with the original completion of the building following extensive research.
One of the rooms has been combined with an adjoining room to form a suite which allows an authentic 18th century “day reception room” to be furnished. These rooms will be available for the public to view on Heritage Open Days and other advertised occasions whilst being part of the normal hotel letting rooms for the rest of the year.
The reconstruction, renovation and re-design that has taken place at Buxton Crescent was supported by an extensive team, led by architects. Numerous individuals and companies have been involved in this complex restoration project over many years.