30.4.12

Taking the Waters

Monday, 13 June 1881 - Royal Leamington Spa, UK

Downtown Royal Leamington Spa
Next to Warwick is the town of Leamington, so close in fact that I took the tramway for two pence rather than the train. One hundred years ago, this town was called Leamington Priors, to differentiate it from the other Leamington up the River Leam, called Leamington Hastings to differentiate it from this Leamington. Leamington Priors was a tiny hamlet in 1781. A couple of locals wanted to change that.

William Abbotts knew about a local spring owned by the Earl of Ayelsford that was reputed to have medicinal properties. Spas were all the rage with the rich in the Georgian period, and Bath with it’s famous mineral springs had become a boomtown. Maybe the same could happen here.

Abbotts tried to buy the spring, but Lord Ayelsford refused, preferring to just give the water away. Very noble, but it wasn’t making Abbott any money. He got together with his friend Benjamin Satchwell and began poking about on Abbotts property until they found a second spring in 14 January 1784. Two years later they opened the first commercial bath in town, now renamed Leamington Spa. Others wells were drilled. Abbotts opened a couple of pubs to accommodate the tourists.

By 1811 the tiny hamlet had grown to 543. In 1861 it was over 19,000, making it the fastest growing town in Great Britain. That was due in a large part to Dr. Henry Jephson who touted the miraculous waters of Leamington Spa, making it one of the most popular spas in the world in the 19th century. Queen Victoria loved it so much, she tacked “Royal” onto Leamington Spa’s name.

Royal Pump Rooms and Baths with benches to sit in the water
Another reason Royal Leamington Spa is so popular with the Victorians is because of the location. When one got tired of bathing in the waters, one could do a little sight-seeing. They loved Medieval castles and there is one of the best surviving next door in Warwick. Coventry with all it’s Medieval and Tudor buildings is ten miles away by train.

And eight miles to the south one can make a pilgrimage to the birthplace of HIM--William Shakespeare. Victorians love Shakespeare. Perhaps its his way with words or his knack for melodrama, but he is more popular now than he was in his own time. People come from all over the world just to visit the room he was born in.

Unlike other towns that grew up over night, Royal Leamington Spa does not have that tossed together look of other boomtowns. Streets are lined with trees as well as fancy homes, apartments and hotels. Valuable space was set aside for parks and gardens to further attract visitors (preferable rich ones.)

Victoria Terrace in Royal Leamington Spa
The town is very health minded. Not only is one to drink and bath in the mineral waters, but diet and exercise are recommended. The city has promenades along the Leam River and paths through the parks to stroll along. Recently in 1872, two local doctors, along with the inventors of the game, Harry Gem and Augurio Perera, opened the world’s first tennis club here in Leamington. Lawn tennis is definitely excellent exercise and a socially acceptable way to work up a sweat.

Lawn Tennis Club (obviously nice place to meet ladies)
I shall spend the next week hobnobbing with the health conscious, the desperately ill, wealthy hypochondriacs, and curious tourists as we all sit in a pool of water together trying to get healthier. Decidedly a golden opportunity for people watching.

All Saints Parish Church in Royal Leamington Spa
The small building in front is the well house built over
the first spring by Lord Aylesford in 1803.
The water from this spring is still free.
The horse-drawn tram on left is the one I took from Warwick.

A short documentary on Royal Leamington Spa history

A Practical Dissertation on the Waters of Leamington-Spa: Including the History of the Springs, a new Analysis of Their Gaseous and Solid Contents, the Rules for Drinking the Waters, Bathing, Diet of the Patients, and Other Regimen by Dr. Charles Loudon - 1828
a free download ebook (snappy title)

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