Jane and Cassandra Austen visited Cheltenham in May 1816, in order to seek a cure for Jane’s failing health.
HISTORY OF THE SPA ITS VIRTUES AND QUALITIES
This valuable and salubrious spring rises at the distance of one-third of a mile south of the church, in a mixed loamy and sandy soil which revils for several miles round, and produces abundant crops of every kind of vegetation, while it seems to render the air classic and pure.
This water owes its discovery to a slow spring being observed to ooze from a strong thick bluish clay mould, under the sandy surface of the soil, which, after spreading itself for a few yards, again disappeared, leaving much of its salts behind. To feed on these salts, flocks of pigeons being daily observed to resort, Mr. Mason, who was then proprietor of the spot, was induced to examine it with more attention, and soon remarked, that when other springs were fast bound by the frost, this continued in a fluid state.
Originally the ground belonged to Mr. Higgs, of Chariton Kings, who, ignorant of the treasure it contained, sold it to the aforesaid Mr. Mason in 1716. In a short time after the discovery of the spring, it remained open, and was drank by such persons as thought it might be of service to them. In 1718, however, it was rattled to, locked up, and a little shed built over it; and, in consequence of some experimets made on the water by Dr. Baird, of Worcester, and Dr. Grevil, of Gloucester, its virtues became more generally known ; and, for three years, it was sold as a medicine, till, in 1721, it was leased to Mr. Spencer at £61 per annum.
After the death of Mr. Mason and his son, Captain Henry Skillicorne, father of the late landlord, becoming possessed of the Spa and premises, in right of his wife, the daughter of the original discoverer in 1738, he not only built the old room, on the west side of the pump, for the use of company, but scoured the spring from all extraneous matter, and erected a square brick building to four arches over it, with a pump on the cast side rising its the farm of an obelisk. This structure now remains, and the well in the centre of the dome is about five or six feet below the stirface, close shut down with doors to prevent the admission of air.
At the same time Captain Skillicorne laid out the paved court that environs it, planted the upper and lower Well Walk, planted the trees, and was continually improving the natural beauties of the place, so render it more worthy of the respectable company that began to visit it from all quarters. Dr. Short, in 1740, published some experiments he made on this water, and under the name of a neutral purging chalybeate water, pronounced it superior to any thing of the kind in England.
The growing fame of the Spa met with a great accession from this just testimony to its virtues ; and other distinguished physicians and chemists have successively analyzed it, particularly Dr. Fothergill, of Bath. Its principal ingredients are Epsom and glaubus salts; a small portion of chalybeate, and some fixed air.
It is probable, that it contains some other impregnations, if minutely examined ; but the principles already mentioned are sufficient to account for its salutary effects.
Almost incredible cures have been performed by it, when drank on the spot. Its salts prove atienuant and cathartic ; its chalybeate bracing, and its air exilerating; and, by its containing a small portion of iron, it strengthens the stomach, and is therefore preferable, in many cases, to other saline springs.
In mildness, certainty, and expedition of operation, it is almost unrivalled, which renders it peculiarly serviceable in hypochondriac and scorbutic cases.
It is singularly efficacious in all bilious complaints, obstructions of she liver and spleen, dyspepsia, lost of appetite, in habitual costiveness, and obstinate obstructions, which lay the foundation of many chronic disorders.
It restores a relaxed habit, whether from long residence in a hot climate, free living, the use of inercury, or any other cause. In nervous complaints it has likewise proved extremely salutary ; but in such cases it should be used as an alterative rather than as a purgative.
In female complaints, at an early period of life, proceeding from too languid a circulation, and likewise, at the turn of life, when there is a redundancy of blood, it may be used with much benefit. On the latter principle, it is serviceable to studious sedentary men, between forty and fifty. A pint of water taken at two draughts before breakfast is generally sufficient for most constitutions. There are always physicians, or Resident apothecaries, on the spot, who should be consulted on the use of such powerful waters, as they will either prove beneficial or detrimental according to the mode of taking them.
THE KING’S WELL
In 17S1 Mr. Skillicorne built a mansion for the late Earl of Fauconbcrg (who, for many years, drank the waters with great benefit) at a small distance to the vest of the Spa or old Well, on an eminence, coinmacding an extensive and beautiful landscape. When their Majesties honored Cheltenham with a visit in 1788, they occupied this house, which is called Bay’s Hill Lodge, and probably, its compliment for the use of it, the king before his departure ordered a well to be sunk, to procure a supply of fresh water for domestic purposes. At the depth of fifty-two feet, however, a mineral water was discovered, which, on examination, proved to be similar to the old well. A pump was accordingly placed in it, and it is now open with some necessary accommodations for the use of the company; but whether it is from prejudice or reason, it is much less drank than the Spa-water. In this well the sulphur is said to be more predominant,and the volatile still less; but the effects are nearly the same ; and one great advantage is gained by the discovery-there never will be a deficiency of water for the drinkers, which was often the case before it was made.
This spring, which, though known to exist before, was only particularly noticed last summer, promises to possess very active virtues, and will probably rival Tunbridge and Astrop. It is the property of Mr. Barret, situated in a meadow, two or three hundred yards from the mill, at the top of the town. A pump-room has lately been erected, and a book opened, which has already a great number of subscribers; but it has not yet bcn sufficiently analyzed to allow us to speak with confidence on its qualities and effects. We are informed that Dr. Jameson, an eminent physician of London, who examined the water last summer, intends soon to publish an account of it.
For a long time Hot Baths were a desideratum here, but Freeman has fitted up some in the High Street, on an excellent principle, and which meet with the encouragement they deserve. Perhaps every person should use the Bains de Sauté, or tepid Baths, once or twice, before they begin a course of the waters.
THE Upper Assembly-rooms, opposite the Theatre,were built by the late Mr. Miller, to whose spirited ex-ertions Cheltenham is under lasting obligations. They are sixty-eight feet long, by twenty-six wide, and are toted up in a high stile of dcpratio,s, with lustres and chandeliers. The card-rooms are no less convenient and appropriate.
The Lower-rooms are sixty feet by thirty, and may vie with the former in elegance and accommodation, either for dancing or cards. They are now both in the occupation of Mr. Rooke, whose obliging attention, on all occasions, claims the warmest returns of patronage. Subscription at each room half-a-guinea for the season. The balls are regularly kept up till the first or second week in October, when Mr. King, the master of the ceremonies, assumes the same office, at the Lower-rooms at Bath.
THE SPA, OR LONG-ROOM.
THE Spa or Pump-room is open every morning for the accommodation of the water-drinkers ; and, by the permission of the liberal and obliging renters of the wells, Messrs. Capstack and Matthews, artists, are allowed to exhibit here specimens of their skill or manufacture ; and the room is farther enlivened by tables covered with different wares, for sale.
While the company is parading up and down the Well Walks, or Pump-room, from eight so ten in the morning, a band of music, supported by subscription, plays to entertain them.
The number of names entered in what is called the Well-book, have lately amounted to nearly 2000.
Excursion to Cheltenham, either for pleasure or health, is not very expensive ; and, from the hospitality of the natives, and the various allurements of company and diversified amusement, it cannot fail to be agreeable.
The principal INNS and HOTELS are the PLOUGH and the GEORGE. At the former is a well-frequented COFFEE ROOM. Two large commodious BOARDING-HOUSES, one kept by Russel, and the other by Smith, furnish the best accommodations to single gentlemen, or such persons as prefer living constantly amidst company.
In the back street are two elegant BILLIARD-ROOMS, where gentlemen frequently amuse themselves in a rainy day; while the BOWLING-GREEN,in fine weather, presents an attraction which few who delight in active and healthy sports can resist.
On the whole, there is a sociability and easiness of intercourse at Cheltenham, which are not often witnessed in other places. The hospitable genius of Gloucestershire sheds his benign influence on this central point of his dominions, and even strangers catch a portion of his spirit.
Text , Engraving and Map (1) : A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places etc (1803) by John Feltham
Map (2): Cary’s Traveller’s Companion or a Delineation of the Turnpike Roads of England and Wales etc.,(1812) by John Cary
Jane Austen References
Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 14th September 1804
Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 15th June 1808
Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 20th June 1808
Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 25th April 1811
Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 14th October 1813
Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 6th November 1813
Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 4th September 1816
Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 8th September 1816
Mansfield Park : Chapter 21