The Spa at Witham
An account of the Spa from pages 37-38 of
A History of Witham by Janet Gyford
For a time a Spa helped to enhance Witham’s reputation for gentility. The spring was in a field north of Powershall End. A recent dowsing survey indicated that the remains of two large structures are hidden underground there (existing houses with ‘Spa’ names are all later).
There had been an unsuccessful attempt to tap the waters in about 1700, and then in November 1735 the business was properly established by a written agreement between four partners. They were Sir Edward and Lady Jane Southcott, Dr James Taverner, and Martin Carter. Sir Edward owned the field, which was part of his Witham Place estate. Dr Taverner, a Catholic like the Southcotts, was the medical man. And Mr Carter was a very rich gentleman and lawyer seeking a good investment. A few years later he had a six-year old ‘negro’ boy ‘belonging’ to him at his home (now Avenue House). The lad fell ill, was baptised with the name Scipio Africanus, and died shortly afterwards.
The agreement refers to the ‘profits and advantages’ to be gained from selling the water, admitting people to the field, and renting out shops and stalls. Expenses included ‘wages to servants or dippers’, and the purchase of bottles and flasks.
Tickets could be obtained at inns in the town, or at the ‘Little Room’ next to the ‘Pump’. The centre-piece was the Assembly Room, or ‘Long Room’, probably constructed from the remains of the great Hall at New Hall near Boreham.
Dr Taverner published a booklet in 1737, stressing that the water was ‘of so exceeding volatile a nature’ that it could not be transported, however well corked. So invalids needed to ‘come to the Spring, and take it upon the Spot’. He also mentioned the ‘serene wholesome air’.
I have not found any comments from people who took the Witham waters. But the Sussex man mentioned later as finding Witham ‘handsome’ wrote that the town was ‘universally known on account of the spa, which has two very agreeable walks about it’.
Advertisements in the newly founded Ipswich Journal tell us about its medical successes and its social life. Visiting patrons could be fetched from their lodgings. During the summer season there were regular gatherings where people could mingle or play cards. The highlights were monthly Assemblies, with a Ball, held in the Long Room.
‘Coffee and refreshments’ were served at Barnardiston House in Chipping Hill by Jacob Pattisson. In due course he obtained a quarter share in ‘the waters’, and probably continued to run the Spa after all four of the original partners died (the first being Dr Taverner in December 1747).
The advertisements ceased when Jacob also died in 1754, but a house to let in Terling in 1756 was promoted as being ‘about two miles from Witham Spa’, showing that the image was still valuable.
Above: Features of the Spa, on a modern base map.
Below: Possible traces of the Spa buildings in a dowsing survey by Don Pettican and Janet Gyford in 2002.
Spa events from Ipswich Journal
|Year||Dates||Monthly Assemblies in Long Room at Spa||Other events|
|1742||24 June, 22 July, 26 August, 4 October||Assembly and Ball. At the ‘Long Room at Witham Spa. Tickets from White Hart or Red Lion in advance, or from ‘Little Room next the pump’ on day of assembly|
|1743||23 June, 22 July, 26 August, 4 October||Assembly. Now on subscription so ‘certainty of meeting good company. Signify inclination at Spa, White Hart, or Red Lion. Conveyance from town.||Weekly assemblies continue as formerly|
|1744||3 June, 16 July, 13 August, ?Sept, 8 October||Assembly. Proper conveyance for those who lodge at a distance.
Subscription to exclude improper but genteel OK even though not sub (30 June)
|Card assemblies twice a week as usual|
|1745||3 June, 5 August, 2 Sept, 30 Sept||Assembly. ‘At the Long Room by the Spa’||Card assemblies every week as formerly (June), twice a week as usual (August, Sept)|
|1746||23 June, 21 July, 18 August, 15 Sept||Assembly. Long Room at the Spa. With a Ball.|
|1747||8 June, 6 July, 10 Aug, 7 Sept||Assembly and Ball. Genteel appearance admitted though not sub|
|1748||27 June, 25 July, 29 Aug, 26 Sept||Assembly. By subscription at Long Room by the Spa. OK if Genteel appearance though not sub|
|1749||15 June, 13 July, 17 Aug, 14 Sept, 12 Oct (last if desired)||Assembly. By sub at the long room by the spa. OK if genteel though not sub|
|1750||7 June, 5 July, 9 Aug, 6 Sept, 5 Oct (last if desired)||Assembly and Ball. By sub at the long room by the spa. OK if genteel though not sub. September assembly ‘to be preceded by a concert of music’.|
|1751||27 June, 29 July (altered to 25?), 22 Aug, 26 Sept 25 Oct (altered to 24?)||Assembly. By sub at the long room by the spa. OK if genteel though not sub
For July, tickets to be had at the White Hart or the Spa Room.
|1752||18 June, 16 July, 13 Aug, 21 Sept, 19 Oct (last if desired)||Assembly. Admitted of genteel appearance if introduced by subscriber|
|(1756)||(12 June, ad for house to be let in Terling says ‘about two Miles from Witham Spa’)|