Think of Buxton and the first image that is likely to come to mind is Buxton Opera House. The building is a fine example of Edwardian architecture, with a rich and diverse history that local people are proud of.
The building was designed by Frank Matcham. Very little is known about his life, but Matcham nevertheless made a name for himself as one of the country’s most prominent theatre architects. He was at the forefront of the industry during the era when Buxton Opera House was built, which was a time when new designs were being demanded. More and more people were visiting theatres, so it became apparent that the buildings needed to hold much larger capacities than they had done so in the past. Performances were also becoming more intricate and demanding, so the backstage capabilities of theatres were increasingly necessary.
One of the biggest concerns when building Buxton Opera House was safety. It wasn’t uncommon for theatres to burn down, so fire precautions needed to be taken at every stage of the construction process.
Buxton Opera House opened its doors on June 1 1903, with the first shows being Mrs Willoughby’s Kiss and My Milliners Bill. One of the most notable performances ever to be held at the venue was in 1925, when world renowned Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova performed the Dance of the Dying Swan.
The roof of the opera house is one of its most striking features. The two domes at the front of the theatre are visible throughout the local area, not least because of their blue colour. Roofing tiles have been used to protect the interior of the opera house, which underwent extensive restoration work in the 1990s.
In 1927, Buxton Opera House was transformed into a cinema. A number silent films were first shown at the site, although audio equipment was installed five years later. It remained a popular venue, but started to fall into disrepair by the 1970s. As a result, Buxton Opera House closed its doors in 1976 and there were fears that it would never reopen. However, the hard work of the local people – and many more from further afield – meant the building was brought back into service by 1979.
Buxton Opera House was restored to its former glory, and an orchestra pit was put in place to complement Matcham’s original designs.
The building’s owners realised a couple of decades later that work urgently needed to be carried out both inside and outside Buxton Opera House. This lasted two years and came to an end in June 2001.
Buxton Opera House is still very much at the heart of the local community and plays host to some of the biggest performers the country has to offer. Comedians, actors and musicians have all trodden the boards at this famous venue, which is just as awe-inspiring as the day it was built.
The likes of Peter Kay, Bill Wyman and Elvis Costello are just some of the names that have taken to the stage over the years – and there will be many more in the future.