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English spas have a long and fascinating history, having constantly been reinvented from the time of the Ancient Romans through to the Elizabethans, and then to the doctors and unscrupulous entrepreneurs of later centuries. This series of three talks looks at the hidden (and sometimes scandalous) histories of three of England’s most popular spas.
1) Bath Spa (September 15)
The Romans enjoyed the hot waters of Aquae Sulis hundreds of years before Bath became the elegant city we know today. This talk will look at how Bath was dramatically transformed in the eighteenth century from a rustic, rundown city to a capital of leisure and entertainment, hence becoming the blue-print for all other English spas. Our starting point is in 1704 when a 30-year-old chancer, gambler and opportunist called Richard ‘Beau’ Nash arrives in town.
2) The Middle Ages (September 29)
Tunbridge Wells was a successful ‘start-up’ in an age of ‘spa wars’ in England. The mineral waters were discovered in 1606 by a 24 year-old nobleman, Dudley, third Baron North, while recuperating at his friend’s hunting lodge in the Kent countryside. By 1619 the spring was enclosed and quickly became a spa with royal and noble patronage, and with both men and women coming to ensure that (as one observer wrote) they could ‘piss well’. This talk will introduce some of the fascinating characters that helped Tunbridge Wells gain the reputation as the ‘Wells of Scandal’.
3) Early Modern to Modern (October 13)
Once described as the ‘Queen of English Watering Places’, Scarborough Spa sits on the North Sea coast of Yorkshire. The healing waters were discovered in 1626 by Thomasin Farrer, who spotted them trickling down the cliffs. They soon became so popular that the Corporation of Bath began spreading rumours that people died from drinking the mineral water due to pollution from sea water. The long journey, bracing Yorkshire climate and rumoured toxicity did not put off either Celia Fiennes (in 1698) or Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (in 1732), who were drawn to the spa because of its reputation for curing all sorts of ailments from gout to infertility. One famous visitor that its waters failed to cure was the English novelist Anne Brontë, who died of consumption in the resort in 1849, at the age of 29.
- Duration: 3 x 60 mins
- Online Zoom event: Join from your computer, phone or tablet (a recording will be available)
Meet the Host, Melanie
Melanie King has published eight books of historical non-fiction, covering subjects from prophecy and espionage to the history of chocolate. Her latest book, The Secret History of English Spas, was released September 2021.
Melanie graduated from Sussex University and has worked in Bangkok as a staff writer for the Nation, in Brussels with eurocrats, in the publications department at Chatham House, and in London with refugees and victims of torture. She earns a living as a writer and speaker, exploring the oddities of little-known byways of history.
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