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White Wells, Ilkley, West Yorkshire

The White Wells spring on the moorland above Ilkley was never a sophisticated resort.  The facilities are even today rudimentary, and it’s a stiff climb up the hill from the town.

Asses provided transport for patients who were too weak to walk up to the well.  A guidebook of 1829 indicates the rigours involved in seeking a cure:

Patience is a virtue which will every day be called into action here;  the best time for getting a bath soon after going to the wells, is between five and eight in the morning.  It is extremely unpleasant to be at the wells during a storm or heavy shower, as the hill is made so slippery, that in going down a person may think himself extremely fortunate, should he arrive at home, without a fall or two, not to mention the pleasure of riding, ie, sliding half way down the hill.

The White Well is first mentioned c1710, and was actively promoted for the first time by Dr Thomas Short in his Natural, Experimental and Medicinal History of the Mineral Waters of Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire &c (1734).  This was a masterpiece of marketing:

…this water is of the greatest esteem and repute of any of the north of England, in the King’s Evil [scrofula] and other old ulcers;  yet it derives these effects neither from its fixt nor volatile parts, but wholly from the coldness and the purity of the elements, its drying nature from the lime-stone it washes, tho’ a great part of it comes from blue clay.

In other words, this mineral water has nothing in it at all.  That’s why it does you good.


For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on spas and holiday resorts, please click here.

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