Cavendish Arcade, Buxton Thermal Baths

Buxton Baths, The Crescent, Peak District, Derbyshire


The sky is always blue in Buxton’ – Brian Clarke's stained glass gave the Thermal Baths restoration its tagline, and the Peak District town a new phrase, when it enclosed the former Victorian spa from the grey and wet Derbyshire skies in a 3,100 square foot 'skin of art'. Forming an integral part of the restored Grade II listed building, which occupies a key position in the town’s Georgian streetscape, the landmark work – the largest stained glass window in Great Britain, and one of the largest works of public art in England – provides a visual counterpoint to John Carr's famous Buxton Crescent adjacent to it. The dilapidated 19th-century Thermal Baths, designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, were saved by a major conservation scheme which restored them as a shopping centre, the Cavendish Arcade, of which this barrel-vaulted ceiling of mouth-blown glass is the centrepiece, forming a covered atrium within the complex. By day, a changing wash of blue and green light – the dappled overlay of the leaf-like amorphs, hand-painted by Brian with silver stain, punctuating it with red and orange – fills the space, and at night it is illuminated from within and can be seen, glowing, from the hills around the Peak District town. The first drawings, and studies in watercolour and collage were made in 1984, and the arcade opened in 1987 with the artwork's installation, by which time Clarke's design had developed significantly, into a more lyrical direction. The restoration, by Derek Latham architects, and Clarke's window, received the 1987 Europa Nostra award.

Brian describes the space as being “bathed in an immense blue light”. The forms of the leaded, mouthblown glass at Buxton grew out of his experiments tearing, rather than cutting, geometric shapes – which at the time were a visual signature of his work – from paper, resulting in organic, ‘amorphic’ figures. An early visit to the site at Buxton pushed this further – Brian recalls having seen fallen leaves on the roof of a local park’s pavilion, and observing the contrast between their autumnal colours and the sky. A trust was created for the protection of the window prior to its installation, to assure its future care and place in Buxton.