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.