Buxton, Derbyshire – a Georgian Spa Town

The main street in Buxton has some lovely buildings in it, although the shops aren’t exactly high class nowadays, it’s easy to imagine how it must have seemed when all the shops were independent ones.


Buxton is a town which I’ve long fancied visiting, probably because it’s one of those spa towns, mentioned in Jane Austen’s and Emily Bronte’s books. In fact it’s a very old spa town and Mary Queen of Scots went there to take the water in 1573.

Buxton  spa
Buxton has a classic Georgian Crescent, such as I’ve only seen in Edinburgh, although Bath is probably more famous for them, I haven’t been to Bath yet though, I’m saving that for another road trip to the far south west.

Buxton  spa

It seems that everywhere we go places are swathed in scaffolding and tarpaulin, these old places cost a fortune to maintain, so it’s just as well that the lottery fund has given ¬£millions for the refurbishment.

Buxton  spa
As you can see, Buxton has a very grand opera house which seems to be well used for various productions.

Buxton  Opera House

Right next to the opera house, vewry close to the centre of the town there’s a great park, beautifully set out and planted and obviously a favourite place to go for locals and trippers alike.

Buxton park

Buxton Park Bridge

I love that rope effect edging, I’ve only ever seen it straight before, I think the curved swags are very unusual.

Buxton  Park planter

You don’t often see Victorian post boxes like this one nowadays. The nearest one to me that I know of is one in South Queensferry.

Buxton Post Box

The photo below is a stitch of the spa and as you can see there are several advertising boards around the place. One of them pointed up the hill and said there was a secondhand bookshop 5 minutes walk away. So we legged it up a very steep long hill, which was definitely nearer ten minutes away – but lo and behold we reached what seemed like another town, Buxton has an upper and lower town and the upper part is even older and that’s where the high street is. I think a lot of visitors must miss that part altogether, we nearly did. Anyway, suffice to say that books were bought, by me anyway. The shop is ancient with lots of nooks and crannies, an original old cooking range still in place downstairs and – a ghost in residence – allegedly!

Buxton spa stitch

Buxton is definitely worth visiting, unfortunately – or maybe fortunately for us – St Ann’s Well wasn’t in working order, I think it’s being refurbished too. Not long ago Jack read Tobias Smollett’s The Expedition of Humphry Clinker and one of the characters in it said of Bath’s spa that he was sure that people had already bathed in the water they gave you to drink. Let’s hope Buxton wasn’t the same!

The Adventures of Roderick Random by Tobias Smollett

This book was first published way back in 1748 and it’s the first one I’ve read by Tobias Smollett. I’ve actually owned a copy of this book for about 30 odd years, it’s in two volumes printed in 1914 but I decided to download it onto my Kindle from Project Gutenberg to read it. You can get it here if you’re interested.

Smollett was a local author as he was born in Dalquhurn (pronounced Dalhurn) just a few miles from where I was brought up in Dumbarton on the west coast of Scotland and I often walked past his memorial stone by the side of the road which leads to Loch Lomond. For some reason I always imagined that he was a sort of poor man’s Walter Scott but I was completely wrong. I think Scott can be safely read by the most prudish of people but this book is quite satirical and bawdy and for something which is over 260 years old it’s surprisingly modern in some of its subject matter. That’s quite depressing when you think about it because the same inequalities in life which Smollett was writing about stil exist today.

Anyway, Roderick Random has had the misfortune to be born to a father who has gone against his own father’s wishes and married a woman of no family or fortune. The consequence is that they are penniless, Rory’s mother dies and his father goes off to find his fortune never to be seen again. Rory’s wealthy grandfather ignores him but allows him to be educated and so when Rory is of age he takes himself off to London to try to better himself.

Surprise surprise, London is full of Scotsmen trying to make their way in the world, and the naive Rory is duped and conned time and time again. Whenever he gets a bit of money he loses it quickly and never seems to learn from his mistakes. At one point Rory is press-ganged into the navy and as Smollett was a surgeon in the navy this part is all written from his own experiences on ship during battles.

I enjoyed this book which apparently influenced Dickens and other Victorian novelists. He got into the nitty gritty details of life amongst Georgian sailors and gamblers as well as the so called high society of the times, pointing out how unfair life was, as it still is of course. I was interested to read that the phrase son of a bitch was used in Georgian Britain as nowadays we think of it as being an American term of abuse.

A lot of the book is obviously autobiographical and towards the end of it we meet a character who has had ambitions to become a writer and he describes his appalling treatment at the hands of publishers and stage managers. Smollett had tried to have a tragedy which he had written for the stage published for years but it never was published. I’m sure there are plenty of aspiring writers nowadays who have had exactly the same experience.

It’s quite amazing to think that Roderick Random was published just three years after the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion.

I’m going to download Peregrine Pickle next, although I think my next Kindle read will be a Trollope.

Glencairn House, Dumbarton

This is the oldest building in Dumbarton, it dates back to 1623 and it is situated in the High Street next door to what used to be the good old Woolworths store, now sadly missed.

Most of the time I lived in Dumbarton, Glencairn House was empty and neglected. Believe it or not it has had a bit of a facelift in recent years and at least now it is being used. It seems to be home to a credit union nowadays. The credit union is a great idea but I’m sure they could have found somewhere else for it to be housed. I wish somebody would deal with that buddleia before it does serious damage to the building.

Glencairn House would be the perfect location for a tourist information centre/museum, which as far as I can see, they don’t have in Dumbarton. It has links with Robert Burns as he was made a freeman of the town in the building.

Tobias Smollett and A.J. Cronin also have links with the town and Coleridge and the Wordsworths visited the town and castle too.

A.J. Cronin did the research for his book Hatter’s Castle at the local library, sadly years before I was working there. Like many of his books it was made into a film in the 1950s.

Considering all the history involved with having such an important landmark as the castle/rock, the links with Mary, Queen of Scots and even Merlin, the town council has done absolutely nothing to bring visitors into the town and exploit the treasure which they have on their doorstep.