I have had the joy of spending this weekend at Buxton Crescent (Ensana) Spa, the (John Carr’s) exquisite Grade I* Georgian icon, restored and re-imagined (finally, it’s been 17 years and £70m in the making) located at the centre of Buxton.
I really, really wanted to love it … and indeed the hotel accommodation offers understated, elegant luxury. The thermal spa is sublime; one of only two in the country recognised by the Romans with the added bonus of the indoor/outdoor rooftop hydrotherapy pool (shame it isn’t poised to look over the Crescent) and other 21st Century upgrades. The staff couldn’t be more accommodating.
However … putting my professional hat on I sense a real tension has emerged when trying to balance the needs of the hotel, against the obligation to ‘protect’ the building in the public interest. There appears to be a tug of war ongoing . As a result, the hotel itself feels almost like a ‘guest’ in the building. Much of the interface with the historic fabric is apologetic; resulting in important spaces feeling slightly disconnected and less legible (the lobby entrance and the entrance to the spa from within the hotel are anti-climactic), which affects the guest experience. Certainly, the communal spaces that work best, and enable people to gather informally whilst in residence are those contained within the ‘extension’.
The hotel carries the weighty responsibility of ‘re-establishing Buxton as an international spa destination’ - a tall order indeed. Whether it will be able to deliver on all that is expected of it, demonstrating that it has been put to its ‘optimum viable use’ remains to be seen. At some point it may be that someone will have to flex their muscles to win the tug of war - hotel or museum.