Friday, 20 January 2017

Bascote (searching out the old spa bath houses of Leamington)

There was a pleasant change in the weather on Friday morning – it was sunny and frosty and, once again, the canal was frozen over.

Sun coming up on over the ice on Friday morning

Thursday had been yet another grey day; a poor day for taking photographs and writing about them, so that’s why there wasn’t a blog entry on Thursday.

A gloomy Thursday morning

I had a doctor’s appointment on Friday afternoon in Leam so we went for a walk around the town in the morning to have a look for the old spas and also a wander around the Old Town.

We parked in Old Town just round the corner from what is now the Apollo Rooms but was built in 1817 and, as well as having baths, it had an assembly room and a library.  It was originally known as Smart’s Marble Baths and through its life it had other names including Imperial Sulphuric Baths.

The site of Smart’s Marble Baths

Mineral springs were discovered in Leamington (Leamington Priors as it was then known) in 1480 but commercialisation didn’t arrive until the end of the 18th century.  In the early 1800s there were up to a dozen saline and mineral bath houses in the town.

Leamington Priors became Royal Leamington Spa after receiving permission from Queen Victoria in 1838.  The River Leam runs through Leamington, hence its name.

Sunny view along the River Leam – Old Town to the left – Regency (New) Town to the right - although the houses on the left bank are Regency

I believe that the only bath house on the regency side of the river was the Royal Pump Room and Baths, which still stands today but houses the library, visitor centre and café.

Royal Pump Rooms

On the other side of the river we came across Robbins' Baths, which, according to the plaque, was the fourth bath house to be built in Leam; they opened in 1806.

The site of Robbins' Well is now a bar

On the other side of the road was the site of Lord Aylesford’s Well that used to sell spa water for drinking and bathing.  Unbelievably it was demolished in 1961.

Lord Aylesford’s Well in the 1930s

In 2007 this so-called sculpture called ‘Spring’ was erected over the site of Lord Aylesford’s Well.

The church behind the site of the well is All Saints’ church and we went in for a look around.  It has some amazing stained glass windows but only these seemed to come out in a picture.

One of the stained glass windows in All Saints’ church

At the back of the church are two houses that are reputedly the oldest houses in the town.  They had plaques on but the writing was too small to read and as they are private houses we couldn’t really walk through their gardens for a closer look.  I have been unable to find out when they were built.

The oldest houses in Leam

Although we enjoyed our walk around the town we were a bit disappointed that none of the baths have been restored and opened to the public.  The only spa water available to the public is now delivered through a fountain outside the Royal Pump Rooms.

Many of the old buildings or sites of historical interest have plaques in the style of this one at the site of Robbin’s Well.

Plaque with information about Robbins' Well

Unfortunately some of the plaques have become unreadable like this one at the site of Read’s Baths

Apparently Read’s Baths were refurbished in 1861 to become Leam’s first Turkish Bath.

Just before we got back to the car to go home for an evening in on the boat we passed the building that used to be the headquarters of Automotive Products.  This company was the largest employer in Leamington until it was broken up and sold off to various other companies such as Lockheed at the end of the last century.

The plaque needs updating as it is no longer the largest employer in the town and in fact no longer exists as a company
When we got home the ice had all melted in the sun and with a sunny day forecast for Saturday we may well take in a cruise for a few miles and locks.

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