Category Archives: Salt

Hail Weston’s lost mineral springs, Huntingdonshire

In Huntingdonshire, twin springs, simple called the Hail Weston Springs were the most celebrated in the county and were highly esteemed and much visited but now lost and largely forgotten. Charles Hope in his 1893 Legendary lore of holy wells notes basing his work of C. G. Cameron, H.M. Geological Survey:

“HAIL WESTON : HOLY WELLS. At Hail Weston, on the borders of the counties of Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire, about two miles north-west of St. Neots, there are some mineral springs, formerly looked on as holy wells. They are situated on the alluvium of a small stream, but may have their origin in the underlying Oxford clay. Michael Drayton describes them as “the Holy Wells of Hail Weston.”

Indeed it does appear to have  Michael Drayton who suggested these were holy wells in his Polyobion published in 1613 as follows speaking of the Ouse, as they were discovered less than 20 years before that publication in 1597:

The muse, Ouze from Fontaine brings, Along by Buckingham and sings, The earth that turneth wood to stone, And t’holy Wells of Hailweston……Scarce is she entered yet upon this second sheere,Of which she soveraigne is, but that two fountains cleere, At Hailweston neere hand, th’ one salt, the other sweet, At her first entrance thus her greatnesse gently greet, One we were two fair Nymphs who fortunately proved. The pleasures of the woods, and faithfully beloved. Of two such sylvan gods, by hap they found vs here, For then their sylvan kind most highly honoured were, When the whole country’s face was forresty, and we Liv’d loosely in the wilds which now thus peopled be. And quoth the saltish spring, as one day Muse and I Set to recount our loves, from his tender eye, The branish teares dropt downe on mine unrepeared breast, That brackish I became. He finding me deprived Of former freshness quite, the cause from hmm deprived, On bestowed this gift, my sweetness to requite, That I should ever cure the dimnesse of the sight!‘and’ quoth the fresher spring, ‘the wood-god me that woo’d, As one day by brm surprised with love he stood, One me bestowed the gift, that ever after I, Should cure the painful itch, and loathsome leprosie!”                          

His naming them as holy wells appears to be unquestioned. Fuller in his 1665 Worthies notes that:

“Now in the aforementioned village there be two fountainlets, that are not far asunder, (1) one sweet, conceived good to help the dimnesse of the eyes; (2) the other in a great measure salt, esteemed sovereign against the scab and leprosie. What Saith St James? Doth a fountain send forth at the same place, sweet water and bitter?’ meaning in an ordinary way, without miracle. Now although these different waters flow from different fountains, yet seeing they are so near together it may be justly advanced to ber the reputation of a wonder.”               

It was still esteemed in 1770 when it was described as:

There is a mineral spring at a village called Hail Weston, near St Neots, which is esteemed extremely useful in curing many disorders incident to the eyes and likewise for eruptions of the skin.”

Another account notes:

 “place of baths or medicinal welles is at a hamlet called Newston, a little from Sant Neots…which is ten or twelve miles from Cambridge, where two springs are known to be, of which the one is verrie sweet and fresh, the other brackish and salt; this is good for scabs and leaperie the other for dimness of sight sweet and cured painful itch and leprosy was salty and cured dimnesse of sight. … Verrie many also doo make their reparie unto them for sundrie diseases, some returning whole, and some nothing at all amended, because their cure is without the reach and working of those waters. Never went people so fast from church, …as they go to these wels.”                   

The site of these spring was north-west of Hail Bridge, the site is marked as mineral springs on the first edition OS map. The 1952 OS marks as Sodium and soda and saline (covered) and a separate spring. Kelly (1898) includes a lengthy piece on the springs:

“Springs.-Near the village, and on the right bank of, but at some distance from the brook, are three mineral springs or wells of considerable value, and once in high repute: they rise within a limited area situated on high ground sloping gently to the brook, and through strata of the secondary period, but though near each other, differ materially in their constituent elements, two being distinctly mineral, and therefore medicinal in character, while the third supplies fresh water of remarkable purity. It appears probable that the existence of these wells was known at a very early period, land in the immediate vicinity of the springs having furnished large numbers of Roman remains, some of considerable antiquarian interest; and it is an ascertained fact that the springs in question were extensively used for medicinal purposes, as long ago as 1597, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Raphael Hollinshed, the well-known chronicler of that period, whose histories were published in 1577, refers at some length to the wells of Hail Weston, and to the great repute of the waters yielded by them, as remedies for diseases of the skin, dimness of sight and other affections. A short poem by Michael Drayton, “The Holy Wells of Harlweston’’ describes these springs; and their characters and reputed medicinal properties are also mentioned by Fuller the historian, and by Camden and others. Later on the wells fell into disuse, in consequence of the land surrounding them having been much trespassed upon, and therefore inclosed by the owners; but in 1815, samples of the water yielded by the two mineral springs were submitted to analysis by Dr. C. R. Aikin, whose report (dated June 24th, 1815) was produced when the Hall Weston springs were sold April 2nd, 1844. In December, 1885, the springs were visited, and samples taken from each, by Arthur H. Hassall esq. M.D. and E. Godwin Clayton esq. F.I.C., F.C.S. and these samples were afterwards submitted to full chemical analysis, with the following results:-the water taken from the fresh water spring was found to be of excellent quality, and therefore well adapted for ordinary consumption; the water from the first of the two mineral springs contained as its chief constituents chloride of sodium and sulphate of soda & belongs to the class of saline aperient mineral waters, but without their unpalatable qualities; it is free from every kind of organic contamination, and constitutes an agreeable table water. The water of the second mineral spring has a local reputation for its beneficial effect in cases of skin disease, and has long been known by the name of “Scorbutic” or “Sore” water. These springs are used by the Hail Weston Springs Company, for the manufacture of soda and potash water and other aerated beverages. The results of the analyses of 1885 are given below, the figures representing in each case parts by weight in 100,000 parts of water:

Constituents Fresh Water Mineral Spring No 1 Mineral Spring No 2
Chloride of Sodium 3.29 212.57 137.92
Sulphate of Soda 2.17 108.72 82.45
Carbonate of Lime 17.05 12.95 14.29
Nitrate of Lime 5.61 1.07  
Carbonate of Magnesia 0.42 5.64 0.86
Sulphate of Magnesia 3.90 9.15 7.96
Carbonate of Iron 1.54 0.61 0.41
Silica 0.66 0.76 1.20
TOTAL 34.64 351.47 245.09
Free Ammonia Absent Absent 0.001
Albuminoid Ammonia Absent Absent 0.004
Oxygen absorbed 0.005 0.114 0.050

Google map view of the location of the lost mineral springs

Chris Dunn in his 2001 Cambridgeshire journal article Taking the waters also found out that it cost 5 shillings per month to use the waters at this time or sixpence for a quart to take away. Dunn (2001) records that their fame had become largely forgotten by the middle of the 19th Century and attendance had dwindled. This resulted in a company called Hail Weston Springs buying the springs. The company tanked the springs and had the bottled water aerated, and sold. This bottling plant has itself gone, being at Hail Bridge adjacent to the A1. Although they continued to be marked on maps until the early 20th century the site had long gone.     The site was unfortunately incorporated into the water supply by then, although they continued to be marked on maps until the early 20th century.

Suffolk Mineral Springs: An overview

Compared to Essex and Norfolk the study of mineral springs and their associated phenomena have been less covered in the Suffolk. Unlike Essex, there does appear to be a paucity. A consequence of poor research or geology?

Like adjoining counties, Suffolk does have some springs which are simply described as mineral springs, such as Elmsett’s Dropping Well which issued out of limestone rock, and producing fibrous crystallizations was said to possess ‘healing virtue for certain complaints’. Halesworth was unnamed but said to be good for eyes and that at Cranmore Green, was so hard it has been blamed for causing arthritis. None of these springs had a history of organised exploitation. As far as I have discovered only one spring was recorded as being chalybeate, that once at Claire priory. The tendency to have iron bearing water is however very common in Essex by comparision.

It does not appear until 1700, that a serious attempt was undertaken to develop a spa. This was at Bungay which was described by spa promoter John Kelly as:

:” …amply supplied with excellent water from numerous springs, some of which we said to possess medicinal properties. ”

The first site to be developed was a chalybeate spring in the grounds of Bigod’s castle. However, Bungay’s first attempt to develop proper facilities, John Kelly’s bathhouse lay over the border in Norfolk in the village of Earsham. Writing a promotion pamphlet ‘An Essay on Hot and Cold Bathing’ he said of the town and spa facilities,:

“Those lovely hills, which incircle the flowery plain, are variegated with all that can ravish the astonished sight. They arise from the winding mazes of the river Waveney, enriched with the utmost variety the watry element is capable of producing. Upon the neck of this peninsula, the castle and town of Bungay, (now startled at its approaching grandeur,) is situated on a pleasing ascent to view the pride of nature on the other side, which the goddesses have chose for their earthly paradise; where the sun, at its first appearance, makes a kindly visit to a steep and fertile vineyard, richly stored with the choicest plants from Burgundy, Champaigne, Provence, and whatever the East can furnish us with. Near the bottom of this is placed the grotto, or bath itself, beautified on one side with oziers, groves, and meadows; on the other with gardens, fruits, shady walks, and all the decorations of a rural innocence. The building is designedly plain and neat; because the least attempt of artful magnificence would, by alluring the eyes of strangers, deprive them of those profuse pleasures which nature has already provided. As to the bathing, there is a mixture of all that England, Paris, or Rome could ever boast of:—no one is refused a kind reception: honour and generosity reigns throughout the whole; the trophies of the poor invite the rich, and their more dazzling assemblies compel the former.”

Sadly the scheme was not fruitful despite the platitudes and no evidence can be found of the town’s spa heritage today.

Seaside towns which appealed to the healthy idea of sea bathing as well attempted to develop spa springs to varying successes. At Lowerstoft one was to be found at the Sparrow Nest, however it was to Ipswich that the greatest attempt appears to have been made. An advert in 1720s records:

“IPSWICH SPAW WATERS

Experimentally found to be good in the gravel of the kidneys, obstructions in the liver, spleen &c. Hectic fevers, the scurvy, violent vomiting, lost appetite, the jaundice, King’s-Evil, salt and hot humours in blood, pains in stomach, frequent spitting of blood, or bleeding at the nose, diarrhoea or blood fluxes. Sold at two pence per flask or quart, or each time of drinking what you will in the morning. By me, JONATHAN ELMER, living on St Margaret’s Green, Ipswich.”

Another recorded:

“Ipswich Journal ”The Ipswich Spaw Waters is now opened by Mrs Martha Coward, and Attendance will be given every Morning at the Bath on St Margaret’s Green, from 6 to 9 at One Penny per Morning, and Two Pence for each Falk carried off.”

Around about the 1810s, reports are made of the discovery of a brick arched spring in St. George’s Lane whose water had such a foul taste it was thought to be medicinal. To ensure it was tested by three local doctors who analysis suggested it was equal to Bath. A M.D of Bury St Edmunds favourably also compares them to the German Spas as well as common comparison Tunbridge Wells. Furthermore, in Clarke’s 1830 History of Ipswich records another near the Shears Pub which was never known to freeze and analysis in London suggested its content of Iron sulphate, Iron carbonate and Sulphurated hydrogen could be utilised.

Sadly despite a promising start and some suitable extraneous facilities, the town’s urban growth and remoteness compared to other sites meant its spa aspirations disappeared and nothing remains.          This means that Felixstowe has the only surviving mineral spring in the county. The Dripping Well, located in the Spa Gardens were described by the Felixstow Town guide that that its waters were good for ‘depression, nervous prostration and over-work’ and they resembled those the waters of Baden-Baden. A Spa Pavillion was built and still exists and used a theatre facility. One can still parade around the Pulmanite gardens around where the Dripping Well exist, as does the pump tap in the Pavillion, although taking the water is not encouraged.

A well for April: St Richard’s Well, Droitwich

The third of April is St Richard’s Day a day which was greatly celebrated in his home town of Droitwich for his associations with the local brine pits which became holy in association with him.

Take with a pinch of salt

John Leland in his Itinerary, written around 1540 gives the legend:

“Some say that this salt springe dyd fayle in the tyme of Richard de la Wiche Byschope of Chichester and that after by his intercession it was restored to the profit of the old course. Such is the superstition of the people. In token whereof, or for the honour that the Wiche-men and saulters bare unto this Richard their cuntre-man, they used of late tymes on his daye to hang about this sault spring or well once a yeere with tapestry, and to have drinking games and revels at it.”

John Aubrey noted that:

“on the day of St Richard the Patron of ye Well (i.e.) saltwell, they keep Holyday, dresse the well with green Boughes and flowers. One yeare sc. Ao 164-, in the Presbyterian times it was discontinued in the Civil-warres; and after that the spring shranke up or dried up for some time. So afterwards they kept their annuall custome (notwithstanding the power of ye Parliament and soldiers), and the salt-water returned again and still continues.”

This appears to have been an early record of well dressing in the country, albeit not as elaborate as those of Derbyshire today and simply arches over the well to give thanks. When this custom  fell into abeyance is unclear, but it was probably around the Reformation

Worth his salt

Richard was born in Wyche, and a house in the town records this, around 1197 and his image in the church was a site of pilgrimage. A ‘new’ statue, in 1935, was erected in Vynes Park, once an industrial site where the salt was removed.

The brine pits

In Vynes Park was the Upwich Pit which is believed to be St. Richard’s Well it was built in 1264-5. Excavation in the 1990s revealed a long history dating from the Roman period. However, what greets us now is a bit of a controversial site – a replica erected in 2000! It is filled with salty algae covered water which is not directly connected to the source below as it was capped. So strictly speaking St. Richard’s well no longer exists but a replica sort of does!

The return to a modern celebration

A version of the old celebration have been recently restored but set at the end of April or beginning of May, when the weather can be better (generally!) Now, the town of Droitwich celebrates the saint with a modern event which combines elements of the traditional custom with modern twists. The replica Upwich pit and a brine pump in town are imaginatively dressed in honour of the saint with a model of a swan made of flowers and other flower dressing. Around the town, there are displays of Morris dancers, Maypole dancing, historical re-enactments and a most bizarrely vintage car display…..which rather surreally spreads through the quaint streets of the town. Certainly worth a visit when you’re in the area.