Buxton in the High Peak in the UK has some grand architecture for a small northern town. Arguably the most spectacular building is The Devonshire Dome. Seen from almost any high point in Buxton, the largest freestanding dome in Europe looks impressive and the interior is even more breath-taking.
For a while, I’ve been aware of the rumours that the ex-hospital is haunted, perpetuated in recent times by the students who currently attend the place as a university. It is no surprise when you consider that most buildings of this size and age in England usually have at least one resident spook. It wasn’t until a man called Carl Bothamley got in touch with some stories about working the night shift as a security guard that I really began to take notice.
I present Carl’s reports for you in his own words but it is perhaps necessary to give you a brief history of the building first. Ghosts need context, if you subscribe to the belief that they are the restless spirits of the deceased (I’m not sure that I do but more about that later). Long before there was an actual dome, the place was a stable for horses, built by the fifth Duke of Devonshire in 1779 (who is based in Derbyshire, not Devon, confusing I know!) In 1859, the seventh Duke donated the first floor to trustees to turn it into a hospital although, bizarrely, the ground floor remained occupied by our four-legged friends! Twenty years later, he was persuaded to relinquish the rest of the building to the hospital and the horses moved out. 1880 saw the construction of the massive dome. The hospital closed in 2000, one of the few remaining hydropathic hospitals left in the country. As I’ve already mentioned, it now belongs to the University of Derby and the interior has a very contemporary feel. However, it seems that something lingers in the shadows … over to you, Carl:
The magnificent dome in Buxton is a fantastic and beautiful building. I was lucky enough to work there for a few years. Just after it closed as a hospital, through its change into the Uni and whilst it was open as the Uni. Many a strange thing happened over the years and these were witnessed by myself or myself and others. This first one was witnessed by myself only. I had just done a full patrol of the entire site. It was a warm summer night without any breeze. I was the early hours and the only occasional sound was the odd owl. I stood outside the old original doors (as I often did) having a smoke, when I heard the sound of children’s laughter. It couldn’t have been clearer. I realised it was coming from behind the main door, where only a minute or two earlier, I was stood. I thought that a group of teens had sneaked in and hidden from me. I quietly slid the key into the lock and burst into the hallway to confront them, only to find myself standing alone. No kids, no laughing and no sign of anyone inside! The same thing happened on another occasion too, the only difference was, I was already stood in the hallway and children’s laughter seemed to be surrounding me!
Another tale from the dome: I was stood inside the main entrance as I had done hundreds of times before. Now when it was the Devonshire Hospital, the upstairs floor was tiled and outside each room was a carpet runner. It was a quiet still night and from the far left end side I heard ladies footsteps walking towards where I was standing. The sound tip tapped over the tiled floor and made a muffled sound as it crossed that carpet. Then again the tip tap of the tiles and then the carpet. It kept walking until it stopped right above where I was standing, turned around and walked back to where it started then simply just went silent again. In went to investigate but there was no sign of anybody. That’s weird but the weirdest thing is that at least three weeks before the incident, the builders had ripped up all the carpets AND tiles, leaving just a concrete floor! So how did this ‘woman’s footsteps’ still make the sounds as if walking on tiles and carpet?
Another time whilst on patrol, when Chiswick house (to the rear of the dome) was linked directly by an underground passage, myself and another officer witnessed the tunnel filled with smoke. We both thought that kids had broken into Chiswick house and set it on fire. We ran through the smoke to see if we could do anything but as we entered through the glass porchway, the smoke disappeared. There was no sign of intruders and certainly no sign of any fire! Another time I was showing some friends the former chapel when a large block of wood was thrown towards us. It bounced several times, the whole length of the dome floor (which is quite a feat in itself) and impacted the wall next to us. Again there was no sign of anybody other than us. I felt like a person or spirit had passed through me as i stood on the stairs, one time as I was locking up the former John Duncan school. A place I had been tens of times without any event. A friend turned up and without telling him anything, I asked him to stand on the same stairs with me. He did so and immediately said he also felt as if someone or something had passed through him. Moments later he claimed to see a face looking at us through the door by the staircase. We soon left ad you could imagine. To this day (as far as I am aware) one of the cleaners refuses to be in there alone as she heard laughing coming from a stall in the toilets, when she was alone cleaning!
Carl’s disturbing accounts are not the first that I’ve heard about the place. Back in the early 1990s when the hospital had its own radio station, DJ Tony Francis, aka Big T, told me about an equally frightening encounter. The corridor that led to the station studio had an unfortunate feature; the light switch was at the other end so the first person in or the last person out had to walk through darkness. It was while one of Big T’s colleagues was performing this minor act of courage that he felt someone brush past him, going the other way. The young man switched on the light and was horrified to discover that he was alone. Apparently, he refused to be the first or the last person to the studio ever again. The creepy corridor is no longer used but I’m sure you will agree that it retains an eerie aspect.
Generally speaking, Buxton is not a very haunted town. I was once asked to provide information for a ghost-themed guided tour and struggled to suggest more than three stops. This has something to do with the people; Buxtonians tend to be very down-to-earth and pragmatic and they are not prone to fuss or flights of fancy. That’s why when one of them turns to me and says they have experienced paranormal phenomena, I tend to raise an eyebrow and take notice. Personally, I love a good ghost story (I’m from Staffordshire which is a different kettle of fish) but I struggle with the notion of an afterlife and therefore struggle with the concept of “spirits who are unable to pass over to the other side”. That said, I’ve spoken to many people who have seen, heard or felt something weird inside an old building and I have no reason to doubt any of them so I think there must be something going on; lingering souls being only one possible theory, albeit the most popular. I’m also fascinated by why some individuals experience by what appears to be supernatural whilst others do not. Veteran ghost hunter Wesley H. Downes once told me about a situation where two people were in the presence of an apparition but only one of them could see it. You can read more about my afternoon with Wesley here.
Hauntings aside, the university is a great place to visit; seeing the Dome itself is worth anyone’s time and I recommend the café, the restaurant and the spa. It just seems that it is not the right place to be alone at night, unless you relish the company of the otherworldly. If you have a story about the Dome you would like to share, or indeed any other place, please get in touch.
with special thanks to Carl Bothamley