Buxton Holiday 2019


The UWFS have developed a very pleasant habit of twenty to thirty members and friends spending four days in interesting places – every two years – and this year Buxton was the chosen spot. Hanneke, our very able secretary booked us in the Old Hall Hotel – 13th to 16th May 2019. It was built in 1573 by the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, George Talbot, whose wife was Bess of Hardwick, replacing an earlier building. Queen Elizabeth1 sanctioned the new building to provide accommodation for Mary Queen of Scots who was under house arrest in the keeper-ship of the Shrewsbury’s. It is situated over a natural spring, the warm mineral waters – which were the reason for Buxton’s origin. This was the site of the Roman Baths.


Our stay was excellent, though it needed Hanneke to have the evening meal upgraded. Nevertheless, the facilities were very good indeed and everyone enjoyed the wee holiday and the shared friendship.


Our route (from Pudsey where Philip Sugden kindly picked up Mike Richardson and I) was via the M62, M1 then west on the A628 – all fine until we got into the Glossop area, with major road works and great volumes of heavy traffic – about 70 miles and it took three hours ! “Well, we’re not going home that way” was the outcry. A quick off-loading, booking in, a lovely snack in the tea room next to the hotel, followed by a grand walk in the Pavilion Gardens, then a drink in the bar and meeting up with colleagues and we were back to our happy little selves.


Next day -Tuesday, as arranged, we were pleased to have Pauline Barber join us to visit Chatsworth – wall to wall sunshine once again and what a great day we had. Being early, we had time for a coffee before the gates were open – all the facilities are superb and a great credit to the family and the Chatsworth House Trust. It was in 1552 that Sir William Cavendish and his young wife Bess of Hardwick (1527-1608) began to build this magnificent new house, her son to her first husband being created the 1st Earl of Devonshire. The present occupants who pay rent to the Trust are the 12th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. We ‘did’ all the areas available inside the house, lots of ‘Blue John’ vases and excellent geological specimens plus wonderful paintings by all the top artists, furniture, and sculptures – wonderful. We had a break for lunch then set about the gardens, Joseph Paxton’s glasshouses, the Cascade, the Emperor Fountain – the lot !! Just allowing nice time to return to our hotel and meet up in the bar before dinner – a splendid day.

Keith Berrington invited members to join him for a walk along the Monsal Trail, also on Tuesday. “This trail was constructed from a section of the former Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway, built by the Midland Railway in 1863 to link Manchester with London, which closed in 1968.” A small party set off in beautiful sunshine and were delighted by the many wildflowers on the way, such as early purple orchids and cowslips, bluebells and a mass of forget-me-nots. The sounds of birds were all around but many were difficult to spot owing to the foliage. There is industrial archaeology a plenty, fine bridges and tunnels, interesting geological features, and a newly restored train station, recently transformed into a cafe.

Wednesday – and the same perfect weather. Hanneke had arranged a visit to Eyam and a guide to take a look at the whole village and outline the history of the plague. It began in 1665 when a flea-infested bundle of cloth arrived from London for the local tailor. Within a week his assistant George Vicars was dead and more began dying in the household soon after. As the disease spread, the villagers turned for leadership to their rector and the Puritan Minister. The plague ran its course over 14 months and one account states that it killed at least 260 villagers, with only 83 surviving out of a population of 350 with other figures of 430 survivors from a population of around 800 being given.

As an alternative, I took a closer look at Buxton. The Romans developed a settlement known as Aquae Arnemetiae (or the spa of the goddess of the grove). The discovery of coins indicates that the Romans were in Buxton throughout their occupation. As things developed and it became a Spa Town (the highest elevation of any market town in England–about 1,000 feet above sea level) all the Roman sites have been built on. The Crescent was built between 1780 and 1784, by John Carr of Yorkshire. Massive development work is going on here which is most interesting and I managed to buy a booklet in the nearby Pump Room with maps of where Roman history has been built over. This along with a long wander around the excellent museum kept me fully occupied until it was time for a very enjoyable, if late, light lunch. I called in our hotel then took a gentle wander in the Pavilion Gardens, sat by a very pleasant gentleman on a seat in the sun, and as we got chatting it turned out we had a good deal of common ground and contacts in our respective engineering careers – a perfect end to another lovely day. ! Time to get changed and meet our friends in the bar prior to dinner.


Thursday – all packed and ready for off towards home and Philip, Mike and I set out towards the M1. We had decided to visit Hardwick Hall on the way – weather being perfect again. Our first stop was at Stainsby Mill – the Victorian flour mill providing flour for the local villages and the Hardwick Estate – fully operational and guides to demonstrate all the workings and procedures – an excellent visit and reminds one of the UWFS work on Haugh Mill in Barden which was written up in a booklet and is in the Field Society library. From here, it was only a short drive to the car park for Hardwick Hall itself.

Sited on a hilltop overlooking the Derbyshire countryside, Hardwick Hall was designed by Robert Smythson in the late 16th century. Ordered by Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury and ancestress of the Dukes of Devonshire, it remained in the ownership of her descendants until the mid-twentieth century. Bess of Hardwick was the richest woman in England after Queen Elizabeth I, and her house was conceived to be a conspicuous statement of her wealth and power. The windows are exceptionally large and numerous at a time when glass was a luxury, leading to the saying, “Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall.” The house contains fine furniture, needlework, tapestries and portraits, and is set amid extensive gardens with Yew edges and borders. It was the 9th Duke of Devonshire who had to face death duties of £500,000 due to the running debts of the 7th Duke, and then due to the early death at 55 of the 10th Duke, death duties of 80% had to be paid. Nine of the most important works of art and many rare books as well as Hardwick Hall were surrendered to the Treasury in lieu of cash. Thousands of acres of land and other assets were also sold – final payment being made in 1967. Hardwick Hall and Stainsby Mill were later taken over by the National Trust of course. Our journey together up the M1 and M65 finally ended in Pudsey where we enjoyed a fish and chip supper and thanked Philip for his kindness in having us aboard and his very safe driving – thus ended a superb four day holiday and thank you to Hanneke for setting it all up.

Words by Les Bloom (28.5.19) with additions by Hanneke Dye

Images by Chris Alder

Cressbrook Tunnel on the Monsal Trail

Cressbrook Tunnel on the Monsal Trail

Cressbrook Dale from the Monsal Trail

Cressbrook Dale from the Monsal Trail