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Backstage at Buxton Opera House

September 27, 2019
September 27, 2019 - Backstage at Buxton Opera House
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Today was World Tourism Day and we celebrated by taking a backstage tour of Buxton Opera House, an iconic building visited by many tourists who visit the Peak District.

The aim of World Tourism Day is to acquaint people with  the social, economic, cultural and political importance of tourism and hopefully make them responsible tourists in turn. Each year is hosted by a different nation. This year it is the turn of India and the theme is ‘Tourism and Jobs: a better future for all’. #WorldTourismDay

Local Knowledge

Buxton tour busTourism has certainly helped us sustain the family farm. Here in our restful, rural retreat in the Derbyshire Peak District we love to share our special place. To help our holiday guests make the most of their stay we make it our mission to find out about the many interesting attractions, quirky traditions and fascinating places you can visit during your stay. When we first started our tourism business we didn’t fully appreciate the treasure trove the Peak District has to offer!

By exploring our own local area, we have first-hand knowledge of the best places to visit, where to go and what to do, so we can pass them on to you. We just #LoveLocal. Like any other tourist our desire to explore new places and discover new experiences never diminishes.

 

Buxton Opera House

This week David and I visited Buxton Opera House for a behind the scenes tour organised by our local tourist board, Visit Peak District and Derbyshire. The Buxton Opera House was built in 1902 and is an exquisite and beautiful example of an Edwardian theatre, with many stunning features. 

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The grand Opera House was commissioned by John Willoughby, the first manager of the Pavilion Gardens, and designed and built by Frank Matcham. The iconic building is now Grade II listed to preserve the theatre for future generations.

Architect Frank Matcham was an influential and prolific architect who built over 100 theatres, including London’s Victoria Palace, The Palladium, London Hippodrome, and Blackpool’s famous Tower Ballroom. No two were the same but they definitely had a certain flair and style. 

Buxton Opera House plans


The original features at Buxton Opera House are stunning, starting in the foyer where you can see the original ticket booths, the sweeping staircase and the beautiful painted ceilings. In many ways the theatre was ahead of its time. The Upper Circle and Circle were constructed from steel and concrete, suspended from the walls without the need for supporting pillars to allow an all round view of the stage.

An early form of air conditioning was also installed. In the very centre of the auditorium ceiling is a gasolier, which when lit draws warm air upwards from the stalls and was used to extract smoke. Matcham also designed extra wide aisles which even comply to today’s strict safety standards! The two striking towers that you see outside the Opera House also served a purpose. They were used for water storage, one for domestic water and the other for the hose pipe system in case of fire. 

Buxton Opera House ceiling

The ornate auditorium ceiling is beautifully painted with cherubs depicting the six arts, comedy, literature, dance, music, poetry and painting, showing the variety of performances performed.


Class distinctions

Whilst ahead of its time in construction, the theatre adhered to the restrictive class distinctions of the Edwardian era. The entrance to the Stalls, Circle and Dress Circle is at the front of the theatre with the beautiful stained-glass canopy. However, the entrance to gallery for the lower classes was tucked out of sight at the side of the theatre and the common folk had to stay in their seats at the interval.

In Edwardian times upper class Ladies were not allowed in bars so they took their drinks in the Upper Circle or Dress Circle cloakroom with their drinks being ordered and delivered by a dumb waiter, whilst the men retired to the bar. The Ladies areas were so small they were nicknamed the Crush! Thankfully times have changed and everyone can socialise together.

buxton Opera House Upper Circle The theatre has an intimate feel and as the stage and seats are raked everyone has the perfect view of the stage. The ceilings, balconies and boxes are adorned with gold leaf which glitters creating a stunning sight everywhere you look.

Take a back stage pass tour

However, go backstage and the there is a stark contrast. Everything is very functional, and the dressing rooms are basic, small and painted dark brown. There are no carpets on the floor and there is little room in the wings for props. Then you go further down into the orchestra pit which is prone to flooding. Buxton is known for its natural springs, one of which comes up under the theatre. There are electric pumps continually going to keep the place dry and prevent members of the orchestra having to wear wellies!

Buxton Opera House auditorium

Why not take a backstage pass tour so you can tread the boards and stand on stage looking out at the auditorium? We had a fascinating morning and its a great thing to do on a rainy day. It is not the first time David and I have been on stage – going back to our days in Ashbourne Young Farmers Club we have performed various plays on stage at Buxton Opera House as part of the regional drama competitions. We obviously didn't become famous and stuck to our day job of farming!

Felicity

Back stage tour at Buxton Opera House

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