Robert Rippon Duke
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The Octagon was first opened to the public in 1876. It is a glass and cast iron masterpiece of Victorian architecture, situated near the Buxton Opera House, which was designed by Frank Matcham and built in 1903.
The other great Buxton building for which Rippon Duke was largely responsible is the Devonshire Dome. Originally a vast octagonal stable block designed by Georgian architect John Carr of York for William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire to accompany his magnificent Crescent, it has undergone several major transformations. After Rippon Duke's redevelopment, the Devonshire Dome had the largest dome in the world at 44 metres (144 ft) in diameter.
In 1859, the Buxton Bath Charity had persuaded the Duke of Devonshire to allow part of the building - by then accommodating nothing like the 120 horses for which it was designed - to be converted to a charity hospital for the use of the ‘sick poor’ coming in for treatment from the ‘Cottonopolis’ and many towns around.
Devonshire estate architect, Henry Currey, architect for St Thomas’s Hospital in London, converted two thirds of the building into a hospital. Then, in 1878, the Buxton Bath Charity trustees under their doughty chairman Dr William Henry Robertson, persuaded the 7th Duke of Devonshire to give them the use of the whole building in exchange for providing new stables elsewhere in the town.
Robert Rippon Duke was commissioned to design a 300-bed hospital to rival Bath and Harrogate for charity medical provision. The Cotton Districts Convalescent fund put up £25,000 for the conversion.
Rippon Duke included in his design what was then the world's largest unsupported dome; a vast steel construction clad in slate and comprising 22 curved steel arms. This figure was revised upwards following advice from a railway engineer, Mr Footner, in the 1870s, who retold an account of the Tay Bridge disaster. Its structure had not taken into account the stresses of lateral wind and storms.
With a diameter of 45m, the Devonshire's Dome beats the Pantheon (43m) and St Peter's Basilica (42m) in Rome, and St Paul's Cathedral (34m). However, this record is now routinely beaten by space frame domes such as the Georgia Dome (256 m). The main building and its surrounding Victorian villas is now the Devonshire Campus - a faculty of the University of Derby.
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