Buxton and the Peak District

Lynn Shouls

Published on 22 February, 2023 · Last updated on  01 June, 2023
Cover image: Credit: Panoramic view of Buxton with a key to the sights. Line engraving by Newman & Co. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain.

Following the marriage of Mariana Belcombe and Charles Lawton in March 1816, Anne, together with Mariana's sister Anne (Nantz), spent some six months with the couple to help the bride become accustomed to her new circumstances – this was not unusual at the time. In August of that year, the party spent three days in Buxton. This was one of the most unhappy periods of Anne’s life, and it might be no coincidence that she noted Buxton as "stupid" and "vulgar".

In March 1825, Anne left her lover, Maria Barlow, in Paris, and in August she travelled to Buxton. Family doctors had advised that Aunt Anne’s poor health would be improved by bathing in the spa waters of the town, and Anne and her aunt spent seven weeks there. Though in low spirits for the first few weeks of her stay, Anne brightened at the arrival of Mariana, who, after early plans to come just for the day, stayed for three weeks. Initially, Anne toured parts of the surrounding Peak District alone, but later, as she and Mariana enjoyed a tender, loving and exploratory reunion, they went on a short excursion in the area together.

This travel map is based on the West Yorkshire Archive Service-published transcription of Anne’s journal of 16 August 1816 (SH:7/ML/E/26/2/0004 to 0005), and transcriptions by Lynn Shouls of Anne’s journal of 3 August to 22 September 1825 (SH:7/ML/E/9/0006 to 0020).

Estimated reading time: 30 minutes.

This article describes active research and the facts and details included have and will continue to be updated as new information is uncovered. If you come across any other relevant information that can help clarify or expand the topics below, please get in touch
Content updates are noted at the end of this article.

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Shibden to Buxton

Anne and Aunt Anne left Shibden Hall on Wednesday 3 August 1825:

“I was just 1 40/60 hour in bed last night but had slept all the while – breakfast at 9 – Left my aunt to follow in a chaise with Cordingley, and took George in the gig, and at 9 1/4 off to Rochdale … stopt at the Wellington arms Rochdale at 12 1/2 – my aunt arrived in 20 minutes after … got out at the Bridgewater arms (Manchester) at 4 50/60”.

a black and white image of Shibden Hall, showing the terraces, the small garden, and the front of the house
Shibden Hall. Photo by Lynn Shouls.

They broke the journey at Manchester, and after:

 “a pint of pretty fair bucelas at dinner of which my aunt had 2 glasses, and I 6 1/4 – felt too sleepy to write … slept till 1 1/4 as nearly as I could tell on feeling at my watch for the candle had burnt, and the lamp light from the street was not enough to enable me to see – I undressed and got into bed probably about 1 1/2 was soon asleep again”

Travelling on via Hancock and Disley, where they dined on “indifferent vegetable soup, good roasted fowl – small baked bread pudding and tarts – pint of weak sherry”, they arrived, after it “rained heavily every inch of the way from Disley”, at the “Great Hotel (Buxton) at 8 35/60” on Thursday 4 August 1825.

Buxton – The Spa Town

A well-known spa town at the edge of the Peak District of England, Buxton lies over 1,000 feet above sea level. Evidence has been found of human activity in the area at least 6,500 years ago. The Romans arrived in Buxton in the first century AD, and they built a bathing complex to make use of the thermal springs that surfaced there. Following the Romans’ departure in about the fifth century, the springs eventually became, in mediaeval times, an important pilgrimage destination. In Tudor times, Mary, Queen of Scots spent time in the town, usually under the strict supervision of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Later still, in the 1600 and 1700s, the springs were enclosed and baths were created.
At this time, Buxton was reputed to be difficult to reach and without comfortable accommodation. It was to repair this reputation, and to seek to rival Bath as a fashionable spa destination, that in 1779 the fifth Duke of Devonshire (1748–1811) commissioned the Crescent and the Great Stables. Now with suitable places to stay, high society flocked to Buxton, where they enjoyed social visits, balls, theatre, billiards, gambling, and other entertainments, and sought cures for their ailments. 

Of the Duke’s ambitious schemes for Buxton, Anne wrote, in 1816: 

“no expense has been spared to make Buxton as alluring as possible … They say the Crescent and buildings connected with it cost upwards of £200,000”.

A colour portrait of William Cavendish, Fifth Duke of Devonshire. The Duke is wearing a white wig and dressed in a red waistcoat and a blue jacket, whilst leaning on a small wall.
William Cavendish, Fifth Duke of Devonshire by Pompeo Batoni. Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.

The Great Hotel, Buxton

The Great Hotel formed the eastern end of Buxton’s Crescent, which today is considered a Georgian architectural treasure rivalling the Bath crescent for grandeur. Designed by the architect John Carr of York, the Crescent was built between 1781 and 1789. At that time, it contained three hotels – St. Ann’s, the Centre (topped by the Duke’s coat of arms), and the Great Hotel. The building also included a library and news room, an assembly room, and an arcade of shops. Anne will likely have been interested to read in a contemporary tourist guide that “the span of the Crescent is two hundred feet, and each wing measures fifty-eight feet three inches; making the whole extent of the front, three hundred and sixteen feet six inches”. In 1816, Anne wrote: 

“The Great Hotel is a good house and I would certainly go to it again – They are very nice civil people, there is good cooking – and everything very comfortable”.

A colour sketch showing the Buxton Crescent in the distance, with two ladies dresed in blue and rose in the foreground and a field next to them
Buxton Crescent, 1794. Image Credit: RIBA Collections
a modern photo of the Buxton Crescent, a semi-circular row of houses
Eastern end of the Crescent, site of the former Great Hotel.
Photo by Lynn Shouls.

The journey to Buxton was undertaken by gig and by chaise, with Anne using her horse Caradoc for her ride in the gig: “it is rather too fast for him with such a weight to drag, and perhaps a little beyond his speed at times”. The journey might have been strenuous for Caradoc, but he is likely to have spent his time in Buxton in top class, comfortable equine accommodation.

The Great Stables were also constructed in the 1780s, so as to accommodate the horses and grooms of those who were staying in the hotels at the Crescent; carriages were stored in a sheltered building nearby. Built in octagonal form, the inside walls of the Great Stables contained the horses’ stalls, and a circular exercise paddock formed the centrepiece.

a black and white photo of the old stables at Buxton, a big building with square windows on top and classic Georgian arched windows on the ground floor
The Great Stables. Image Credit: The Devonshire Dome

In 1859, part of the building became accommodation for convalescent cotton workers. In 1880, the open top of the stables was closed with a dome, at the time the world’s largest unsupported structure of that type, to provide a covered space in which patients could take exercise; and the clock tower was added in 1882. After use as a charitable hospital, and later in service in the NHS, the “Devonshire Dome” is now the base of Buxton & Leek College.

A modern photo of the Devonshire Dome on a cloudy day, showing two tower-like structures and a lower level in the classic Georgian style
The Devonshire Dome. Photo by Lynn Shouls.

Why was Anne in Buxton with Aunt Anne?

Earlier in 1825, Aunt Anne had been unwell and weak, and Anne consulted Dr Kenny, Mr Duffin, and Dr H.S. Belcombe (Mariana’s brother, often referred to by Anne as “Steph”) about how best to treat her. The medical men all thought that some treatments at the baths would do her good, with Dr Kenny advising Anne to take Aunt Anne to the waters at Bath (he believed that the waters in Buxton would be too cold). On the other hand, Mr Duffin and Steph both felt that Bath was a long way from home and that the range of water temperatures available in Buxton would be more beneficial to Aunt Anne. Not only were naturally warmed waters available, but in 1818 the Hot Baths had been opened, where the waters were also steam-heated. By the mid-1820s, Buxton offered a great variety of treatments – immersion, showers, and drinking water, accompanied by treatment with leeches and ointments. These remedies were thought to alleviate, or even cure, a range of symptoms. Use of the baths was, however, approached with great caution, as the prevailing view was that the time spent immersed should not exceed just a few minutes.

Shortly after their arrival in Buxton, Anne and her aunt consulted an apothecary:

“Mr Flint the apothecary … a very vulgar man but my aunt was pleased we had sent for him, and we hope he will do her good – he has just sent her an aperient [laxative] draught, and will order about her bath tomorrow she is not to stay more than 6 minutes”.

On 17 August Anne and her aunt sent for Dr Charles Scudamore, and they were in regular contact with him throughout the rest of their stay. After earlier medical experience, Dr Scudamore graduated from Glasgow as a doctor of medicine in 1814. He typically spent part of each year at Buxton, and wrote several treatises on mineral waters and their medicinal properties.

On 19 August, Anne wrote: 

“Dr. Scudamore with my aunt – … very attentive – had even put the bandage on her leg to show Cordingley how to do it – my aunt liked him certainly – … he says little of gout or rheumatism, but that she must be strengthened, … – wrote another prescription today – the pills as before (rather different from Dr. H.[Henry] S.[Stephens] Belcombe’s) and tonic draughts”. 

The doctor felt “it only a case of rheumatism – there may be some little derangement of the liver, but of no other great organ – thinks she may quite recover”. Later in the month, he examined “my aunt’s left side after she was in bed – all right … calls the spasmodic affliction … not of the diaphragm but of the nerves – a chorea sancti viti [an involuntary movement disorder] – there is no symptom of danger about my aunt – her life a very good one”.

Melancholy in the Early Days of the Stay

As in 1816, Anne didn’t take to Buxton. During the earlier part of her 1825 visit, she noted: 

“what a dull lounge this will be if I do not get to know somebody … my poor aunt talking over her complaints … is not exhilarating but I shall fend for myself somehow by and by”. 

Anne found the place “desperately dull” – she herself became “very dull today”, and wrote “if times do not mend here I shall be half stupefied”. She also remarked on “this most rainy, windwhistling, and dreary of places, Buxton” – “what a rainy place!” she found it.

At this time, Anne was plagued by her venereal disease, on some days suffering significant amounts of discharge and attempting self-treatment several times. She even consulted Dr Scudamore on her problem: 

“told him … about what Dupuytren had done for me etc.   only saying I had caught it from an unclean cabinet at an inn   he wrote me a prescription for this complaint and said I should get quite well but might be occasionally subject to relapse   condemned my being an hour at a time in the warm baths at Paris   far too long”.

Anne was also lonely. To Sibbella Maclean she wrote:

“Some companion I must have – I feel the want grow daily more and more into a strong necessity”. 

She was also in some emotional turmoil, dwelling on her feelings for Mrs Barlow and Mariana: “this evening relapsed into my carelessness towards π [Mariana] and tenderness to Mrs Barlow”. Before Mariana arrived in Buxton, Anne felt some ambivalence towards her: 

“when the music played … Mrs Barlow [and] π [Mariana] jostled together in my thought   somehow Mrs Barlow is uppermost yet I shall tell π [Mariana] we shall be glad to see her   shall offer her half my bed said [to Aunt Anne] I knew not what I should feel on seeing π [Mariana] but if I knew I should never see her again assured of her being well and happy I should get over it without much trouble”.

Already in the doldrums, Anne reflected nostalgically: 

“Eliza Raine   more fully praised her as the best I had ever known … she gave me up to Isabella because she thought it for my interest and happiness … said [to Aunt Anne] … she had behaved to me more like an angel than anything else and I was then too thoughtless to return it as I ought to her   I had not behaved as I ought to … I thought more and more of Eliza   should never feel such an attachment to anyone again   Mrs Barlow reminded me the most of her”.

In short, Anne found Buxton dreary and wet; she was suffering with her venereal complaint; she felt lonely and in need of a companion; and with time on her hands, she forlornly chewed over current, former, and prospective lovers.

Yet she began to make good use of her time when the weather allowed. On 7 August, Anne “read aloud to my aunt the 1st 3 pages of Moore’s Buxton and Castleton guide”, and, referring again to this book (“Moore’s Guide”) several more times, she undertook a number of walks around Buxton and wider excursions in the area.

A photo of the first page of the Buxton and Castleton Guide by Moore, showing the title, author, and other bibliographical data for this volume
Moore’s Buxton and Castleton Guide.

Anne Around Buxton

Anne’s sojourn in Buxton encompassed seven Sundays, on most of which she attended the church near to her hotel. This was the church of St John the Baptist, commissioned by the fifth Duke of Devonshire to cater for the needs of increasing numbers of visitors to the town (the Duke died before the church was completed and dedicated in 1812). Moore’s Guide describes the “masonry as excellent, and the building has altogether an air of substantial grandeur; the interior is elegantly finished, and in a style that is extremely chaste”, with the “west end … ornamented with an elegant tower”. Anne’s own words on the church, on her first Sunday there, aligned with those of the guide book: “the church well filled – hot – very neat modern church – handsome stone faced walls within, not covered – not spoilt – with any stain o[r] wash”. While attending the Sunday services, Anne would have seen the north-west window, which is the only Georgian window remaining in the church today.

A modern photo of a limestone building
Church of St John the Baptist, Buxton Image Credit: buxtonparish.org.uk
A modern day photo of a window semi-obstructed by a wood gallery
North-west window of the Church of St John the Baptist. The gallery is a later addition. Photo by Mandy Mellor.

Despite a gloomy outlook, Anne determined that “I shall get used to this sort of thing by and by”, and on 9 August she “went out to the library – looked over the catalogue - subscribed for a month”. She frequently “sauntered to the top of St Anne’s Cliff, and walked about there”. At the time Moore’s Guide was published, the works to the mound in front of the Crescent were underway – this mound was St Ann’s Cliff, and comprised a series of pathways that followed the line of the mound to the top. Its purpose was to provide guests of the Crescent hotels with a space to promenade and exercise, and today the area is a public park known as The Slopes.

a colour sketch of St Ann's Cliff in the 19th century, showing several buildings, grass, a road, and a carriage
St Ann’s Cliff, probably late 19th centuryImage Credit: Photochrom Print Collection - Library of Congress Catalog

On 17 August, Anne took the water for the first time during this stay in Buxton. “Taking” the water meant drinking it, rather than bathing in it. “took a glass (the largest size – might hold about a gill) of the water at the well”. A gill is one-quarter of a pint, and Anne was advised by the apothecary that “I might drink the waters, only should take care of the state of my bowels”. On several subsequent days, she “took a large glass of the water”, or a “1/2 pint glass of the water”.

The water was said to have a sweet, pleasant taste, and was believed to be an effective remedy for rheumatism, gout, paralysis, kidney disorders, and biliousness and other problems of the stomach. Famously, Anne suffered for many years with constipation, and mentioned biliousness from time to time in her journals – she may have hoped that taking the waters would help with this recurring problem.

Despite considering early in her stay “whether I should bathe at Buxton or not etc etc”, and consulting the visiting apothecary (“said I intended to bathe – how long should I stay in who was not an invalid – 1/4 hour on saying I had been used to stay in an hour – he wondered that I should have tried my constitution so much – Did it not weaken me very much?”), Anne “went to the Buxton bath for the 1st. time since our being here” only on 18 September, six weeks into her seven-week stay. On the other hand, Aunt Anne bathed several times: although she was advised “not to stay more than 6 minutes”, on one occasion she “staid in the bath 8 minutes temperature 97° Fahrenheit”.

Though the entertainments on offer in 1820s Buxton were plentiful, Anne and her aunt spent their time quietly. Anne talked at length to her aunt, including about her past and current loves, and read aloud. They were much amused one evening by the book “Sayings and Doings – excellent – know not when I have laughed so much or so heartily”. Other than making observations about her days, and on other guests staying at the hotel, the hilarity over the book was as lively as things got.

Travel Map: Anne's Excursions Around Buxton

Anne knew herself well, and, as she noted on the day after her arrival, she did indeed “fend for [her]self … by and by”, and she set about exploring the area by gig. You can use the map below to explore this chapter of Anne's travels or click here to expand it.

Arrival of Mariana

Anne was in a state of some dishevelment when Mariana finally arrived: 

“felt that after so much fatigue, and such repeated heatings and then starvings in the caverns … I was parched up with thirst – could not eat much dinner – had a little pudding 3 large tumblers of lemonade and then tea at 7 for I had scarce been at home 1/4 hour when Mariana made her appearance … said how much I was shocked at her finding me in such dishabille, after a fatiguing day of excursion - ”

This was on 31 August, and Mariana was to stay with Anne for just over three weeks, briefly interrupted twice by the arrival of her husband. After some initial reticence on Anne’s part¹ , the time they spent together was very loving, and sexually and emotionally satisfying. The importance of this three-week period is described in Helena Whitbread’s book, “The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister – No Priest But Love”.

For the next twelve days, Anne and Mariana spend the time loving and agonising: 

“she bade me take off her wedding ring which had never been off since I myself put it on and put it on again in token of my return to her   I could not but in agony of sobbing   said it could only mark that there had been a time when my heart had left her which I now felt had never been the case   she therefore bade me leave the ring undisturbed and I kissed it in proof of my repromised faith   asked if she forgave me   oh yes yes it was the thought of the fearful danger of losing me that she had escaped which so agonized her   we mutually professed our love”. 

They also talked, gossiped, read letters, took short walks in Buxton, and spent four days convincing themselves that Charles: 

“had never broke the membrane … said π [Mariana] half in wonder half in joke I am the virgin Mary … she was now no longer a virgin at which we were both well satisfied   my having had to do this for her seems to have delighted us both   … my having found her still a virgin in fact was a great comfort to her she would die as she had lived mine and mine only”. 

Anne also gave Mariana gifts from Paris² , and they discussed Anne’s “probable income what we would do at Shibden to make it a nice place”. They were happy and continued to envisage a future life together.

  1. – received her as well as I could but felt restrained   it was the second night of her cousin   pretended it would do her harm to have a kiss yet at last as if unable to resist she not discouraging it had one and fell asleep perhaps about four in the morning” - Anne Lister, 31 August 1825 (SH:7/ML/E/9/0014)
  2. “the gold buckle I bought in Paris   I had before given her the tortoiseshell fan and a bottle of eau de cologne” - Anne Lister, 6 September 1825 (SH:7/ML/E/9/0015)

Anne and Mariana around Buxton

During this time, Anne and Mariana strolled around Buxton. Several times they walked together “in the grove”, described in an 1834 guidebook as: 

“adjoining the Crescent … a beautiful grove of trees, interspersed with walks, and a meandering rivulet, broken occasionally by falls, … the eye is pleased with fresh … prospects at every winding of the walks, … with seats, for the infirm or weary”. 

Three times they went to Bright’s the jewellers, buying “two little lockets”, which they put to use later in their three weeks together. They also “walked a little upon the hill and under the arcades” – the hill is very likely to have been St Ann’s Cliff, and the arcades, situated around the ground floor of the Crescent, housed a number of shops, including Bright’s, and a hairdresser.

Anne would return to the Great Hotel in August 1835, this time with Ann Walker. They, too, “sauntered round the arcades … then sauntered in the walks along the little stream that flows in the valley below the crescent”, in other words, in the grove.

a modern day picture of the arcades in Buxton, showing the arches of the building and the stone façade
The Arcades, Buxton.Photo by Lynn Shouls.

Travel Map: Anne and Mariana’s Excursion

During their three weeks together, Anne and Mariana took only one three-day trip away from Buxton.
You can use the map below to explore this chapter of Anne's travels or click here to expand it.

The Last Few Days

After returning to the Great Hotel on 16 September, Anne and Mariana spent a few quiet days, socialising, talking, and reading aloud to one another. One evening, Mariana “sat by me sewing” while Anne sat settling her accounts. As before, they sauntered around the grove and the arcades, went to Bright’s the jewellers, and wandered up the nearby slope called Hall Bank (built 1793-1798). Anne also had an interesting time at “Beaumont’s the Druggist – he shewed the stomach-pump for extracting poison from the stomach – price 3 1/2 guineas”.

a modern photo of a row of houses in Buxton's Hall Bank
Hall Bank, Buxton. The bay windows were added in the late 19th century. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License

A conversation with a Colonel and Mrs Tryon on the 21st took an interesting turn, with Mariana giving an explanation about why Anne wasn’t married: 

“Col. T [Tryon] was praising me   wondered I had never married π [Mariana] hinted at my having had a disappointment some years [ago]  had then put on mourning would never take it off and never marry   he asked if I was of a county family π [Mariana] said yes could count as many generations as most could and was very aristocratic”. 

Anne would have enjoyed this description of her social standing, but, despite Mariana’s words, she was not a member of the aristocracy. 

As for Aunt Anne, she continued to have a range of symptoms, including weakness and nervousness, and on 20 September:

“the shock of the Buxton bath had been too much for her – nervous tonight – sent for Dr. Scudamore who came about 8 1/2 and staid 1/2 hour – he is giving my aunt lettuce-milk”. 

Lettuce milk, the sap of some types of lettuce, was not widely available, but was used as a mild sleeping tonic.

Anne and Mariana’s Last Night

Anne and Mariana’s precious time together in Buxton was coming to an end:

“We had not done packing till near 3 – Mariana put me on a new watch riband – and then cut the hair from her own queer and I that from mine which she put each into each of the two little lockets we got at Brights this morning   twelve shillings each   for us always to wear under our clothes in mutual remembrance   we both of us kissed each bit of hair before it was put into the locket”. 

On the final morning, Aunt Anne was “off in the gig with George at 10 20/60”. Poor “Caradoc all but down about midway the Crescent – bad driving with more weight than usual, should have started carefully”. The weather as they left Buxton matched their mood:

“Mariana and I off in the phaeton, with Christopher and Cordingley in the rumble behind, at 11 40/60 – soon began to rain in our faces, and we had the top up all the way to Manchester – Mariana a little low; I endeavoured to talk as well as I could”.

They arrived at the Bridgewater Arms in Manchester at just before 3p.m.

Anne’s evolving view of Buxton

Miserable as she undoubtedly was about Mariana's marriage, Anne's experience of Buxton in 1816 matched her mood. It held no joy for her, and had it not been for her aunt's need to visit the town for the sake of her health, Anne might not have returned in 1825. 

The prospect of spending time in Buxton with her elderly, unwell aunt did not fill Anne with enthusiasm. Indeed, her first few days back in the town seem to have matched her expectations - once again, she found it dreary and uninteresting. But in keeping with her tendency to make the best of things, Anne took it upon herself to venture out, and with those excursions her impression of Buxton and its environs started to improve: perhaps to her surprise, she found plenty to interest her.

With Mariana's arrival, Buxton's redemption was begun. This time, Mariana was unaccompanied by her husband, and she was able to be with Anne for three weeks. Their pleasure in each other's company grew with that freedom, and Anne’s pages project a happy and relaxed period, much of it centred on Buxton. From being the ugly town of nine-year memory, Buxton was transformed into a place of private happiness, a town to be remembered, this time around, with warmth. 



With thanks to: my partner Helen Parkins, for her editorial input, and patience (always); and Amanda Pryce and Marlene Oliveira for the creative and technical skills behind the presentation and the Travel Maps. 

You can see the Twitter thread from @PackedWith for further commentary:



On June 1, 2023

Replaced the photograph of Hall Bank, Buxton.

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