History of the hotel
‘This is indeed, a very special place with its own special feeling'. Daniel Defoe writing in 1727
Over the years, many of the Old Hall’s interesting and famous guests have said similar things about 'the special feeling' that the hotel gives them. This is not all that surprising, as when uncovering the hotel's long and rich history, an eminent archivist and historian concluded that the Old Hall Hotel in Buxton, could possibly be the oldest hotel in England.
We thought it would add a little interest to your stay, to learn more about the Hotel, and what has happened on this very site for the last three thousand years, or, even more! The present building dates back to 1573. The New Hall as it was once known was built by the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury; the Countess being the redoubtable 'Bess of Hardwick' who built Hardwick Hall and Chatsworth.
The children from her first marriage to Sir William Cavendish created the line of the Dukes of Devonshire whose generations have lived at Chatsworth House until the present day. It was with Bess's third husband, George Talbot, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury that they built the New Hall in Buxton, on the foundations of an earlier Inn or hostelry known as the Auld Hall.
The New Hall was built with the sanction of Queen Elizabeth 1st, to provide accommodation for Mary Queen of Scots who was under house arrest in the keeper-ship of the Shrewsbury's.
Mary Queen of Scots
Queen Mary had to give one hours notice if she wished to leave her apartments and was allowed no visitors after 9pm. Nevertheless, records indicate that Mary looked forward to her summers at the New Hall and regularly took the waters. The Earl himself seemed to enjoy the company of the Queen of Scots as the hall became the fashionable place to be, with many of the most eminent nobles of the court visiting. He provided lavish banquets and gave gifts of fowl and venison, fruit and wine from his estates; all to the apparent annoyance of Queen Elizabeth.
According to the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments of England, the New Hall was confirmed by a charter of 1576 which describes it as 'that capital message or tenement called the "New Hall" or the Inne of the Sign of Talbot'
As well as the unfortunate Queen Mary, many prominent Elizabethans stayed at the Hall during her residency including the Earl of Leicester, the Earl of Pembroke, the Earl of Suffolk and Lord Burghley. At one stage it became the regular venue for the highest nobility of the land and the centre for court intrigues and traitorous planning against the crown of England. It was said that the future of England was determined more at the hall in Buxton than in London. Consequently it became known as 'That house of Royal intrigue'.
Mary Queen of Scots scratched her famous couplet of Farewell to Buxton with a diamond ring on one of the bedroom window panes: ‘Buxton, whose warm waters have made thy name famous, perchance I shall visit thee no more-Farewell'
The Duke of Devonshire
When the Duke of Devonshire rebuilt the hall in 1670 it was always thought that he demolished the Earl of Shrewsbury's 1576 building, but the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments in England have shown that the original building still stands behind the facade and extension of the Duke's building.
If you look along the main reception hall from the hotel entrance, the older building starts at the far walls of the two residents' lounges on either side of the hallway. These were the original exterior walls and are 3ft thick. The hallway from this point is the original building. All the doorways on either side are entered through Elizabethan stone arched lintels. The original building was in the form of a fortified four storey tower. You can see a drawing of this tower at the base of the 'John Speed' framed map of Derbyshire opposite the reception.
When the Duke built the Crescent and Pump Room, he was establishing Buxton as one the leading Georgian spa towns of' the country. Although many large hotels were built, the Old Hall still retained its special position as the fashionable hotel to stay and be seen at. It became a centre for the Georgian aristocracy taking the air and waters of Buxton.
So far, we have been relating only comparatively recent history, as historians believe that a building to give shelter and sustenance to travellers has possibly stood on this site for at least three thousand years or more. The warm spring which is beneath the hotel was considered to be an important sacred shrine in pre Roman times. It was at the intersection of three main Celtic routes, crossing what was then an extremely wild and hostile landscape...The Pennines. The luxury of a hot and abundant spring giving off thousands of gallons of warm and beneficial water must have been a godsend to the cold and weary Celtic travellers of the time. Hot running water was unheard of in those days, so what a place for the Celts to stay and take a hot bath!
The Romans were already very much into warm baths, especially when they arrived in cold Britannica which was the most northerly posting in the Roman Empire. They probably couldn't believe their luck to discover what the Celts had discovered and made good use of before them; gallons and gallons of hot running water. They named the place after the Celtish goddess of the spring 'Aqua Arnemetiae' and built a Roman Baths, just as they did at Bath in Somerset, which they called 'Aqua Sulis'. And just as they did at Bath in Somerset it is almost certain that they built hot and cold bath houses, a temple and most essential ...a place to eat and sleep! 'Aqua Arnematiae' (Buxton) was an important Roman settlement. It was at the intersection of two main military roads, and a place for bathing in the warm and natural waters. Unfortunately all the remains of the Roman baths have gone. It is thought that successive developers in the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th, centuries have either built over, or destroyed them.
A large Roman, (boat shaped), stone bath was uncovered in the eighteenth century next to the Old Hall, but was buried again. Layers of lead lining were also discovered. In 1975 a deposit of Roman coins including those bearing the mark of Emperor Constantine were found over the site of the spring, which would give credence to the site of the Roman bath, as it was the habit of Romans to throw coins and tokens into the spring with messages to the Gods. For hotel guests who are interested, the spring is immediately under the eastern end of the hotel.
So, The Old Hall Hotel and the sacred place it sits upon, goes a long way back in time. Since the present building was built in 1573, on the site of the earlier Auld Hall, the hotel has continually served intrepid travellers from around the world.
Many famous people have slept away the nights in its ancient rooms. They say that each room could write a book, with perhaps a few plots of treason, intrigue and maybe the odd ghost story thrown in. If you're staying here, just before you drop off to sleep tonight, let your mind wander a while, and think of all the wondrous things that have happened at this place for over three thousand years or more.