Other Reviews 2005



On a gloriously sunny Saturday morning, the first weekend of the 2005 Buxton Festival Fringe, John Wilson brought the Crescent to life for an enthralled group of twenty visitors, young and old, from near and far.

The prospect of two hours in a disused and semi derelict building, albeit a place of great archaeological and historical significance, may have been daunting for some, but the consensus was that the time flew by. The ability of the guide to bring out details of interest from a wide range of perspectives held the attention of each individual within the party. John painted vivid scenes of social history, commented lucidly on aesthetics, construction techniques, geology, local politics and more.

Images of hairy Roman soldiers, visionary architects and landowners, wily locals, early pleasure seekers, Georgiana, Mary Queen of Scots, Bess of Hardwick and David Mellor in his Chelsea strip, punctuated the proceedings like characters in an entertaining and enlightening costume drama.

Fossils in the fireplaces, light wells in the ceilings, big holes in the floor, wobbly boards, false doors and windows facilitating symmetry of design, Georgian 'No Smoking' signs, and plaster pudding for soundproofing, provided highlights from a construction perspective. John specialises in restoration of old buildings, with attention to detail and using authentic materials, and is therefore the ideal person to describe the inner workings of the Crescent, including the sourcing of glass from Poland, and the acquisition of locally quarried stone.

Gorgeous rooms contrasted with dark windowless servants quarters in cellars and roof spaces. Images were created of fine ladies and gentlemen with entourages of hardworking servants and local people facilitating their Spa pleasures.

Wallpaper hung in tatters allowing for glimpses of hand painted coverings underneath. The history of how and why the St Anne's Hotel, at one end of the Crescent, had become a decaying shell, and the plans for it's promising future were carefully explained. The grander architecture of the other end, conceived as a modern hotel in the 1780's was described and the commercial risk of such a speculative venture explained.

Historic detail illuminated why the building is where it is, rather than on a hill and visible from a distance, and the background surrounding the conception, execution, significance and commercial riskiness of the whole Crescent venture. The window of opportunity for inland Spas was small in the late 18th century with the rise in popularity of the seaside location. The 5th Duke of Devonshire risked ruin when he commissioned John Carr in 1775.

'I never saw anything so magnificent as the Crescent, though it must half ruin us, my spirit makes me delight in the Duke's doing it'-Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

Commercial viability and political sensitivity have been on the agenda ever since but the renaissance of the Crescent and Buxton as a Spa town seem to be on the horizon now.

Evidence of layers of less than sympathetic refurbishment, such as partitioning of rooms and repairs with modern mass produced glass were highlighted and contrasted with the splendid renovations planned. Light bulbs were hanging on string from the ornate pale pink Wedgwood blue and buttermilk ceiling of the Adam's room, in place of the chandeliers held safely in storage at Matlock. Gold leaf will eventually adorn the fresco, a reminder of former glory and a promise of future splendour.

Audience members filled in details of personal experiences of doing homework in the library in the 1970's, or having to be relocated into safer office premises when it was discovered that the floor was in danger of collapsing in the 1980's.

Comparisons were made with more famous buildings, such as the Crescent in Bath; and a sense of pride was evident from local people basking in the glory of Buxton at it's best, in an astounding building on a beautiful day, during a wonderful festival.

Crescent tours are virtually sold out already. John's reputation as a guide precedes him, and 2005 is the last opportunity to see the structure in its current state of disrepair. Next year it is likely to be a building site, eventually it will be a superb hotel. Book now for a Crescent tour this year -or start saving in order to sample the delights of one of the finest hotels in the county, in the not too distant future.



This is the twenty fourth year that Johnny Dagger has brought his Kingsterndale Slides with Music to the Fringe. He must be in line for some sort of long service award! In all those years the equipment has remained largely unchanged - an ancient slide projector propped up on a telephone directory and wires snaking about on the floor in a way that would give health and safety lock jaw!. But still his programmes hold us with his unique and personal combination of music chosen by him with photographs taken by him.

This year we were invited to assume that we were visiting aliens from a planet many light years away looking at planet earth while music from earth in the form of Holst's Planets Suite wafted through the stratosphere. What would we the aliens make of the extraordinary variable sights that earth offers.

We tend to think now that wild scenes of mountains, lakes and sea scapes are beautiful. But not so two hundred years ago when such places were thought hideous and forbidding. It took Wordsworth and the lake poets to make us see nature for what it is. Would the aliens be so fortunate to have a "wordsworth on their space ship to explain the beauty of what they could see? And even then what would they make of man-made constructions - power stations. locomotives and buildings. Would their passenger list include someone like Macallister who could see " predestination in the stride of yon connecting rod"?

Even more puzzling for the aliens would be the nature of life itself. There were clearly several different types of organism. Some which fly by flapping their wings (birds) and some which fly without (planes); some which stay on the ground and have a number legs (humans, cows) and some which seem to roll along (cars). One picture showed a heap of the latter piled up and immobile. Were they dead? All most curious. What strange tales the aliens would carry back home!

Kingsterndale looked absolutely ravishing in the summer twilight. If I had been an alien I think I would have rather liked what I saw.


One more performance on 14 July in Kingsterndale Parish Hall at 8.00pm.

MRS. JENNIE AINSWORTH - Guided Walk - Vera Brittain's Buxton

Jennie Ainsworth, Saturday July 9th

Vera Brittain didn't live in Buxton for all that long and she disliked the town and its intellectual poverty with a vengeance - so she isn't the most obvious candidate to celebrate Edwardian Buxton.

But this gentle walk isn't a celebration. In the warm, enthusiastic and knowledgeable company of Jennie Ainsworth you will be encouraged to think about the ways in which life in middle-class provincial England has changed in the last 100 years. The life of the young Vera Brittain is something of a lens through which to examine those changes.

It is clear why Vera hated aspects of her early life. Middle-class Edwardian society was shaped by rules and restrictions which denied choice and insisted on duty. It was this sense of duty which contributed to the deaths in World War One of Vera's brother, some close family friends and her first love.

Vera's early life had little purpose. She played tennis, danced, acted in amateur productions, read, cycled - in a way it was a long holiday. Vera seemed to feel guilty about this - she saw that other people worked hard to make a living while she had to do nothing.

It is less clear where Vera's radical ideas came from or quite how they were fostered but by the time she left Buxton the elements of her social and political thinking were in place.

But Vera lived in a period of great social change. She did have the opportunity to study at Oxford and did create the social and intellectual space to challenge dominant ideas and opinions. She did live to see her pacifist views become part of national political debate.

Vera Brittain was not - it would seem - the easiest person to get along with. There may have been a stubbornness about her, a personal vanity, perhaps a sense of intellectual superiority and snobbery - and Jennie Ainsworth does not want to present Vera otherwise. Jennie guides you past the church, homes and schools of Vera Brittain and her family. You will pass what was the Devonshire Royal Hospital where Vera first worked as nurse. In two months time that building will open to the public as part of the University of Derby. Maybe the intellectual excitement that Vera sought will finally be available - and not just to the children of middle-class landowners and employers.

Try to take a couple of hours out from the busy-ness of the Festival and the Fringe to reflect a little on how towns like Buxton have changed and the events that have shaped that change. Apart from the pleasure of Jennie's company you'll meet other walkers with their own interesting reasons for following in the footsteps of Vera Brittain.

Further walks on 10th, 13th, 15th, 17th, 20th, 22nd, 23rd July starting at 2pm (duration approximately 2 hours) - starting from the Paxton Suite entrance in the Pavilion Gardens building.


ORDER OF THE MAGI - Close-up Magic Evening

CHRIS STEVENSON - ORDER OF THE MAGI (credit www.onthehoof.co.uk)

Paxton Suite

Thursday, July 21st

Imagine walking into a dimly lit room. From out of the shadows a tall figure comes to greet you. You are asked to sit where you like, where "we will come to you". You get a drink, find a seat with a group of strangers. There is slightly nervous laughter around the table - someone says, "Have you been here before? I'm told the tall, slim one is very good."

After a short wait a professional attends to you, speaks softly and encouragingly - helps you relax, feel comfortable about being here, makes you laugh, does some tricks and then thanks you very much, wishes you well and goes again so that they can prepare for the next customers. Well it might have been a brothel but it was in fact the only magic show in town all summer.

If the comparison between magician and prostitute seems a bit unfair or far-fetched, well no doubt it is. However, the evening is consciously about deceit, artificiality, trickery. You know that what is being offered is not 'the real thing' - it is not everyday life but is life from a different angle. You are invited to look and to touch, but then the magician packs up his bag, wipes his hands and brow and moves on to the next table. Despite the kind words, the friendliness, the relationship with the customer is purely temporary, strictly professional. A service is provided.

However, perhaps the Order of the Magi makes obvious what is true about all theatre and all entertainment?

Anyway, a more factual take on the show would tell you that seven magicians work at tables around each of which 15 people may be seated. Each magician does a 15-minute 'show' at each table - so you get to see seven magicians 'close-up'. He (no women magicians tonight) does tricks with playing cards, rope, money (American 50 cent coins seem especially magical), metal links and maybe a lemon. The jokes are old and corny but the atmosphere quickly relaxes and we all have a good night. Some tricks you think you might spot - others really are 'magic'. Pieces of rope become longer or shorter before your very eyes. A 10 note becomes two 5 notes. A pool ball drops onto the table out of nowhere. The gold ring you were wearing materialises in the zipped key-fob in the magician's pocket.

Only the dreariest of cynics wouldn't be amazed.

POOLE'S CAVERN - Poole's Cavern by Candlelight

An Illuminating Journey

'An expedition through time' may seem an exaggerated description for a visit to a cave. However, that is genuinely the effect the enthusiastic and charming guides at Pooles Cavern create in their special Festival candlelit tours.

I have been through Pooles Cavern before and can not claim to be especially keen on caves or geology, but the candlelit tour was quite different. The current custodians of the Cavern have researched through literature, historical and local history documents to gather together a broad range of quotations and legends about this exceptional place.

"view the beauty of the arched roof above, which shines as if 'twas beset with stars'." Anonymous writer around 1710.

Through reading the quotations interlaced with the explanation of how the cavern and crystalline features have formed over two million years, the relationship between the landscape and human endeavour is beautifully illustrated. The shadowy light of the candles reveal the cave as the Victorians and earlier visitors might have seen it and lends the visit an atmosphere of discovery.

"And here in the old town is a timepiece that was ticking off the hours thousands of years before the 30th century BC, when the Egyptians built the Great Pyramid . . . During the last fifty odd years the deposit of calcium built up by those drops of water is probably little more than the thickness of, say, one quarter of an inch, and there are some ten vertical feet of it, to say nothing of the cubic feet. At this rate of growth, human history alongside the antiquity of this monolith is just a mere flash in time." J.T.Millett 'A Wanderer Looks Back' from the Buxton Advertiser 1947

The subtle light gives the other senses a chance to experience the cave too. I was aware of the echoes and dampness in a way that I had not noticed on previous electrically illuminated visits to Pooles Cavern. So, whether this will be your first or your forty-first trip to Pooles Cavern, take an illuminating journey through the history of Buxton and the Peak District by candle light whilst this limited opportunity is on offer.

"the light of the candles reflected by the globular drops of water, dazzle upon your eyes from every corner; like as the drops of dew in a sunny bright morning reflect the rising light to the eye, and are as ten thousand rainbows in miniature." Daniel Dafoe 1722

Jean Ball.