Category Archives: Taking the Waters: the history of spas & hydros – Derbyshire

Kedleston Bath House

Kedleston Bath House, Derbyshire

Kedleston Bath House, Derbyshire

My Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & Hydros guests who didn’t think much of Quarndon Spa didn’t have the chance to see its upmarket neighbour, the Kedleston Bath House, because it’s in the middle of a golf course.

For clients who might scorn the “wretched lodging and entertainment” in the village of Quarndon, Sir Nathaniel Curzon of Kedleston Hall built the New Inn, now the Kedleston Inn (1761), on the stretch of new turnpike road that enabled him to extend his parkland.

As part of this development Sir Nathaniel built the classical bath house, designed by Jason Harris (Matthew Brettingham’s assistant), over a sulphur spring in Kedleston Park, about half a mile from the Quarndon Spa, with segregated baths and changing rooms divided by a central hall and entered through a recessed portico.  The baths themselves were originally overlooked by a statue of Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine.

The Kedleston spring had been recognised by 1730, when Thomas Cox described it as “singular in curing old ulcers and especially the leprosy”.  James Pilkington, in A View of the Present State of Derbyshire… (1789), remarked –

Persons of a weak and relaxed habit have been much benefited by the use of this water.  After drinking it a few days they have found their spirits and strength return in a surprising manner, and in the space of a month a cure has been entirely effected.

By visiting the two nearby springs, visitors had a choice of drinking chalybeate (iron-bearing) or sulphurous waters according to their perceived needs.  Neither sounds a lot of fun.

The bath house, reduced to half its original depth in a 1925 restoration, is particularly difficult to see.  Access to the actual building requires permission (and the key) from the National Trust office at Kedleston Hall.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

 

Quarndon Spa

Spa House, Quarndon, Derbyshire

Spa House, Quarndon, Derbyshire

When I took the tour-group on the Derbyshire Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros programme on a whistle-stop tour of the lesser spas of the county, I’d no idea what their expectations might be when we reached Quarndon Spa.

One or two people were a little disappointed with what looks like a Gothic bus-shelter.

In fact, its inconsiderable size is what makes it interesting.  In the days before science gave us ample solutions to many maladies, those who could afford it (or gain charity) would travel long distances and put up with privations in the hope that the mineral qualities of a particular spring would bring relief.

The little chalybeate (iron-bearing) spa at Quarndon was recommended as early as 1663 as “good against vomiting, comforts ye stomach, cures ye ulcers of ye bladder, stopps all fluxes, helps conception, stays bleeding in ye breast and at ye srige”.  (I’ve no idea what “srige” is, but it’s not a typo.)

Daniel Defoe visited in 1727:  “We found the wells, as custom bids us call them, pretty full of company, the waters good, and very physical, but wretched lodging and entertainment.”

The adjacent pub, the Joiner’s Arms, is first recorded in 1702, and was run by one family for nearly three hundred years to 1928.  The last survivor of that family was Miss Helen Hampshire, who died on July 16th 1972, aged 102.

Quarndon lost out in the nineteenth century to nearby Matlock Bath, and to Buxton in the north of the county, because its waters were cold and no railway came near it.

The spring disappeared as a result of successive earthquakes in 1863, 1895, 1903 and 1956, but the pub survives [http://www.pub-explorer.com/olpg/joinersarms/quarndon/index.htm] and the little spa house is maintained by the parish council.

You could easily drive past it without even noticing, yet its history has much to say.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

 

Well well

Bath Houses, Stoney Middleton, Derbyshire

Bath Houses, Stoney Middleton, Derbyshire

When I put together the Derbyshire Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, I made a point of including some of the obscure, rarely noticed relics of the ancient custom of using natural springs for therapeutic purposes.

The village of Stoney Middleton has twin bath houses, hidden behind the parish church.

They were built by the local landowner, Thomas Denman, in 1815.  Before that, according to James Pilkington, in his A View of the Present State of Derbyshire (1789) the baths were open to the elements and “discouraging”.

Denman provided male and female baths and changing rooms, complete with fireplaces.

That must have counted as luxurious in the wilds of Derbyshire in the time of Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë.

Nowadays they are used for an associated purpose:  restored in 1985-92 by the parish council, they provide storage for the village’s well-dressing team.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

 

Smedley’s

County Hall (formerly Smedley's Hydro), Matlock, Derbyshire

County Hall (formerly Smedley’s Hydro), Matlock, Derbyshire

Matlock owes its importance as the county town of Derbyshire primarily to two men.

The first, John Smedley (1803-1874), was a local hosiery manufacturer who made a recovery from typhus at the age of forty-three at the newly-opened Ben Rhydding Hydro near Ilkley.  He felt he owed his life to an innovative form of water-cure, hydropathy, a system of baths, compresses and treatments in mineral-free water to expel morbid impurities from the body through “putrescent excrescences”.

He underwent a religious conversion which led him to encourage temperance through the promotion of hydropathic “cures”, which he promoted as an “entirely an original system, not the cold water cure”.

In 1853 he bought a small private medical establishment serving six patients and developed it into the huge Smedley’s Hydro on Matlock Bank.

After his death the business was incorporated as Smedley’s Hydropathic Company Limited, with capital of £25,000.  The buildings were repeatedly extended until by the Edwardian period Smedley’s had 300 bedrooms.

The opulent architecture of Smedley’s Hydro reflects the gradual relaxation of its founder’s strict temperance regime:  tobacco, cards, billiards and dancing were introduced over the years, and the iron-and-glass Winter Garden of 1900 was built with a dance-floor.

What John Smedley had intended as a therapeutic establishment open to all classes gradually became a high-class hotel for those who could afford it:  eventually there was actually a licensed bar on the premises.

The comfort and luxury of Smedley’s in the early twentieth-century was a long way from its founder’s precepts banning “books, newspapers, or tracts of an irreligious character”, visitors or receiving letters on the Sabbath.

The entire building was taken over at the start of World War II and used as the Military School of Intelligence.  Business resumed in 1947, but failed to pick up, and Smedley’s Hydro closed in 1955.

At that point the second “father” of modern Matlock stepped in – Alderman Charles White (1891 -1956), the chairman of Derbyshire County Council, who spotted the opportunity to move the council’s offices from cramped sites in the centre of Derby to a huge empty building nearer the geographical centre of the county.

Smedley’s became County Offices, and in the 1990s was aggrandised as County Hall.  There is a species of rush hour up the bank and across the moors twice a day as hosts of civil servants flit in and out of the town.

Its position as the county town is no doubt the reason why Matlock retained its rail service as a branch-line when the main line to Manchester closed in 1968.  Perhaps it’s also the reason it has a Sainsbury’s.

There’s a particularly well-constructed website of Matlock and Matlock Bath history at http://www.andrewsgen.com/matlock/index.htm.

The former Smedley’s Hydro, now County Hall, features in the four-night tour, The Derbyshire Derwent Valley (June 6th-10th 2015).  For further details, please click here.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

 

Biker’s spa

Royal Well, Matlock Bath, Derbyshire

Royal Well, Matlock Bath, Derbyshire

Driving through the limestone gorge along the A6 through Matlock Bath always has a feeling of being on holiday.

The place has in fact been a resort since the end of the seventeenth century, when a mineral spring on the hillside was developed for the growing fashion for cold-bathing that had already fostered the growth of new spas such as Harrogate, Scarborough and Tunbridge Wells.

This spring still feeds into a grotto at the back of a public car-park that occupies the site of the Old Bath Hotel, latterly the Royal Hotel, which burnt down in 1929.

The New Bath Hotel of 1762-7 remained a hotel where the basement bathing pool is supplied with tepid thermal water from the original spring, until it suddenly closed in July 2012:  http://www.matlockmercury.co.uk/news/local-news/employees-and-guests-face-uncertainty-as-hotel-goes-into-liquidation-1-4731341.

Further along the valley, the Temple Hotel [http://www.templehotel.co.uk] was built in 1786 alongside the Fountain Baths, which had opened eight years previously.

A fourth hotel, known simply as the Hotel or Great Hotel, proved overambitious, and was subdivided in the 1790s into a terrace which became Museum Parade, so named after Mawe’s Old Museum which took over the enormous dining-room.

In days gone by, the appeal of Matlock Bath was that it wasn’t Buxton.  Though Buxton was anything but grand until the 5th Duke of Devonshire tried to turn it into Bath in the late eighteenth century [see Mary, Queen of Scots slept here, Buxton’s Crescent and Duke’s Dome], Matlock Bath, in a dark gorge with hardly any road access, was much more secluded.

Phyllis Hembry, the historian of British spas, described the late eighteenth-century lifestyle:  “…the company…had their meals at 1s each in common ‘in a very sociable manner’;  they dined at 2 pm and had supper at 8 pm and were free to drink as they pleased.  The evening concluded with dancing or card-playing.  Visitors inclined to exercise could take the ferry near the Old Bath, rowed by Walker the boatman, to the other river bank where he had made a Lovers’ Walk.”

Indeed, Dr Hembry relates, when the teenage 5th Duke of Rutland turned up with some friends at the end of the season in 1796 he had the place to himself.

Nowadays the main road runs through the dale, and at weekends it’s the resort of bikers, whose gleaming machines are lined up outside the cafés and chip-shops.  The black leather gear may look intimidating, but you may be sure the people inside are entirely respectable.

Indeed, when my mate Richard bid at a fantasy auction for a ride on a Harley Davison, he found himself whisked off to Matlock Bath for a greasy-spoon breakfast by a hospital consultant.

Priceless.

There’s a particularly well-constructed website of Matlock and Matlock Bath history at http://www.andrewsgen.com/matlock/index.htm.

Matlock Bath features in the four-night tour, The Derbyshire Derwent Valley (June 6th-10th 2016).  For further details, please click here.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

 

Duke’s Dome

Devonshire Campus, University of Derby (former Devonshire Royal Hospital), Buxton, Derbyshire

Devonshire Campus, University of Derby (former Devonshire Royal Hospital), Buxton, Derbyshire

Any modern tourist resort needs a car park.  A Victorian resort needed a railway station.  In the days of coach-travel, stables were essential.

When the 5th Duke of Devonshire developed the spa at Buxton, he commissioned the architect John Carr of York also to build a commodious stable block on the hill at the back of the Crescent (1780-90).

The Stables (1785-1796) was a huge octagonal building accommodating 110 horses and sixty coaches, with a circular covered gallery around the internal courtyard for exercising.  Ostlers and grooms were accommodated above the horses, to take advantage of their body heat.

On top of the capital cost of the Crescent – £38,601 18s 4d – the Stables cost the Duke a further £40,000.

The imminent arrival of the railway in 1863 indicated that the Stables would soon be redundant, and the Seventh Duke allowed two-thirds of the building to be converted by the Buxton Bath Charity “for the use of the sick poor” by the Chatsworth estate-architect Henry Currey in 1859.

Subsequently the courtyard was enclosed in 1881-2 by the superb 156ft-diameter dome – the largest in the world at the time of construction – by the Buxton architect Robert Rippon Duke (1817-1909).

Robert Rippon Duke is one of those minor Victorian architects who never made a national reputation, but stamped his identity on a particular locality.  His life is chronicled in an admirable biography by Mike Langham & Colin Wells, The Architect of Victorian Buxton:  a biography of Robert Rippon Duke, “the Duke of Buxton” (Derbyshire Library Service 1996).

The hospital was renamed the Devonshire Royal Hospital in 1934, and continued to offer hydropathic treatments until 2000.

After it closed, the University of Derby took over the site, restored and converted the building as reopened it as the Devonshire Campus in 2003.

The dome is open to the public and, because the campus houses the faculties of hospitality and what are described as culinary arts, there’s always a cup of coffee to be had at Bistro 44http://www.derby.ac.uk/thedomefinedining/bistro44.asp, and serious food at the Fine Dine Restauranthttp://www.derby.ac.uk/thedomefinedining.  Be sure to book.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

 

The shortest way, or the prettiest

L&NWR Station, Buxton, Derbyshire

L&NWR Station, Buxton, Derbyshire

At one time, you had a choice of rail routes to travel between Buxton and Manchester.

As a result of farcical Victorian competition, there were two Buxton stations, served by two companies, running between Buxton and Manchester by completely different routes.

The London & North Western service, which survives, took a reasonably obvious way over the hills to Whaley Bridge and Hazel Grove, where it joined the main line through Stockport to Manchester.

The Midland route, which was a by-product of that company’s desperate dash to find an independent route from Derby to Manchester, dived through deep Derbyshire limestone dales and a lengthy, 1½-mile long tunnel at Dove Holes, to link with the Cheshire Lines into Manchester Central.

Though the Midland line passenger service closed in 1967, almost all of the track is still in place for use by mineral trains.  Only the approach tracks into Buxton and the Midland station have gone, replaced by the town’s inner relief road.

Present-day trains run into the North Western platforms, and though the train-shed roof has been demolished, the distinctive gable with its Crystal Palace fanlight window remains.  The adjacent Midland station was a mirror-image of this.

The shape of the window hints at the involvement of Sir Joseph Paxton, the 6th Duke of Devonshire’s head gardener and a Midland Railway director.  It seems that the Duke, as principal landowner, insisted that the two stations should sit harmoniously side-by-side, and Paxton was instructed to advise the architect, John Smith.

Indeed, when the two companies opened on May 30th 1863 it seems that the inaugural dinners were scheduled to begin an hour apart.  Presumably, Paxton turned up to both, and got two starters and only one pudding.

A full and well-illustrated account of the Buxton Midland station can be found at http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/b/buxton/index.shtml.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

 

Buxton’s Crescent

Assembly Room, former Great Hotel, The Crescent, Buxton, Derbyshire

Assembly Room, former Great Hotel, The Crescent, Buxton, Derbyshire

The major health-resort of the Roman Empire was Aquae Sulis, which we know simply as Bath.  The second most important was Aquae Arnemetiae, high in the bleak Derbyshire hills, which is now the town of Buxton.

Whereas the spring-water of Bath steams at a temperature of 116°F, Buxton water is comparatively tepid at 81-2°F.  If you’re in Buxton, you don’t have to buy the stuff in a bottle;  you can simply fill your flask for free at St Ann’s Well opposite the Crescent.

The fifth Duke of Devonshire (1748-1811), taciturn husband of the effervescent Georgiana (respectively played by Ralph Fiennes and Keira Knightley in the film The Duchess, 2008), reputedly used a single year’s profits from his copper-mine at Ecton, Staffordshire, to set up Buxton as a rival to Bath.

He employed the architect John Carr of York from 1780 to 1790 to build a crescent of hotels and lodging-houses, resembling John Wood II’s Royal Crescent at Bath.  Whereas John Wood had the advantage of an eminence overlooking the Avon valley and sufficient space for his expansive half-ellipse of thirty residences, Carr had to incorporate the thermal spring on a cramped site at the bottom of a steep hill.

Carr made the best of it, and designed a semicircular crescent with an arcade that offers protection in a town that famously catches the worst of the weather at every season.  Because of its low-lying position, the building is visible from all angles, especially by arriving travellers, so the cornice continues right round the building, hiding all the roof features except the cruciform chimney-stacks.

From no viewpoint is it apparent that the two return blocks are asymmetrical:  the east wing has seven bays, while the west has only five.  The wedge-shaped lodging houses are arranged with three storeys facing into the Crescent and four behind, so that the arrangement of rooms and staircases is curious and complex, to maximise the flexibility of accommodation for first- and second-class guests.

John Carr also gave Buxton, for the first time in its history, an imposing formal assembly room as part of the Great Hotel in the eastern pavilion.  Carr’s command of three-dimensional planning challenged his masons:  he was obliged to make a full-size model of the assembly room staircase which sits within the spandrel where the curved south wall joins the rectangular east wing.

This beautiful Adamesque assembly room with plasterwork by James Henderson Jnr of York was, in the 1970s, beautifully restored as the local branch library, until it became clear that the weight of the books and bookcases was threatening the stability of the floor.  The library was quickly removed, and from 1993 onwards the rest of the building gradually fell derelict.

The whole exterior of the Crescent has been restored, but schemes to renew the interior and bring the building back into use have repeatedly stalled.  The latest project is detailed at   http://www.highpeak.gov.uk/hp/news/historic-agreement-paves-way-for-crescent-development.

The Buxton Crescent has stood empty for too long.  It’s a building that deserves to be enjoyed.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

 

Mary, Queen of Scots slept here

Old Hall Hotel, Buxton, Derbyshire

Old Hall Hotel, Buxton, Derbyshire

When I lectured to the Cavendish Decorative & Fine Arts Society in Buxton [http://www.cavendishnadfas.org.uk/index.html], I was taken for an enjoyable lunch to the Old Hall Hotel [http://www.oldhallhotelbuxton.co.uk], where the food was as excellent as the service was leisurely.  I chose wild boar burger which, to be honest, tasted much like any other hand-made burger – very good indeed.

The Old Hall is at the heart of historic Buxton.  It stands on the site of the Roman bath and medieval holy well, and was constructed as a typical Midland four-storey high house [compare with North Lees Hall, Hathersage] by George, sixth Earl of Shrewsbury who recovered from an attack of gout after trying the “baynes of Buckstones” in 1569.  It had a battlemented roof and contained a great chamber and lodgings for up to thirty guests.

Here he entertained most of the greatest names in Elizabethan politics – Lord Burghley (1575), Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (five times between 1576 and 1584) and his older brother Ambrose, Earl of Warwick (1577).  Queen Elizabeth herself never travelled this far north, but did receive a delivery of Buxton water, which gave her no benefit:  it was said not to travel well.

Lord Shrewsbury was the fourth husband of the formidable Bess of Hardwick and the custodian of the captive Mary, Queen of Scots, who stayed here nine times between 1573 and 1584.  Caught between his domineering wife, the duplicitous Scottish queen and the volatile English one, he lived an unenviable life.

Buxton Old Hall was substantially rebuilt in 1670 and again in the late eighteenth century, but its core survives within the present-day hotel, as becomes obvious when you move from room to room through thick walls and odd doorways.

Celia Fiennes hated it when she visited in 1697:  

Its the largest house in the place tho’ not very good… the beer they allow at the meales is so bad that very little can be dranke…if you have not Company enough of your own to fill a room they will be ready to put others into the same chamber, and sometymes they are so crowded that three must lye in a bed;  few people stay above two or three nights its so inconvenient:  we staid two nights by reason one of our Company was ill but it was sore against our wills, for there is no peace or quiet…

Needless to say, it’s much improved over the past three hundred-odd years.  They take their time over the boar burgers, and the result is worth waiting for.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.