Leicestershire is perhaps not readily associated with medicinal springs or mineral springs but it does have a number of sites including one called once the nobliest spring in England. Roughly speaking there are three main types of springs: Saline, Chalybeate and Sulphurous. Leicestershire had examples of each. Often as at Loddinton’s Eye Well, the impregnation with Epsom salts made it undrinkable and in this case was used for ocular complaints. In other cases, surveys by antiquarians, in particular Nichols (1795-1810) referred to them as medicinal such as at Newton Linford, Shawell’s Shady Well and Ullesthrope Cawdel Well. Chemically many of the springs contained salts, although this did not make them necessarily salty in the general meaning to this although , Nichols (1795-1810) describes a spring at Belvoir as ‘Brackish Well’ and he also refers to a Salt Spring at Donisthorpe. Which he says was used for used against scorbutic disorders, and was visited on summer Sunday mornings. Nichols refers to a salt well at Saddington once used for scrofula and scurvy, but was thought to be useless in point of medicine at the time of his survey perhaps suggesting contamination or the dropping of the water table.
Chalybeate springs were more common such as Holwell’s spring, but also at Hinckley where Richardson (1931) notes a Cogg’s Well, at Old Dalby, as well as Neville Holt’s spa.
Indeed the name Spa is associated with minor springs in the county as it is across the midlands it appears, the name is recorded at Thorpe Arnold, Hinckley, called Christopher spa perhaps after the saint or its founder/owner and the most interesting at Burton Lazar. Here the spring with its sodium chloride and hydroxide brackish water was perhaps used by the inhabitants of a lazar house in the village. However, a minor spa was established in 1760 after a discovery that the health of cattle was improved by drinking the spring. The spa continued until at least 1849
Often in the county the colour of the spring suggests its properties, such as Nevill Holt’s Goldthorpe Spring was said to be curative and at Sapcote the Gold Well was noted a sulphur spring. Here the water was used to cure nervous complaints, consumption, scurvy, eyes. A bath house built in 1806 by a Mr. J. Turner for £600 still stands and is a private house. By 1853 apparently it was little resorted and may have closed soon after, At bath was supposedly to be found at Staunton Harold although very little was left by 1795. These sites hint at the wider establishments set up elsewhere, the true spas. However, only three sites reached what we could consider as a true spa.
Leicester had a spa, commemorated in Spa Place. Watts (1820) comments how:
“furnished by the proprietor with neat marble baths and easy convenient appendage for bathing, has not been found to be sufficiently impregnated with mild properties to bring proper use”.
Nevill Holt’s spa, a separate site from the Goldthorpe spring it would appear, was discovered by 1728 when a local farmer utilising a spring found that he could get his cattle to drink from it. Within two years it was identified as a spa water and christened Holt Spa. Its fame appears to have been cemented by Shorts work on mineral springs. The site was soon developed, utilising the Hall as a residence for attendees and a season from April to October was established. Over the spring the Countess Migliorocci of the Hall built a fountain head. The waters were chalybeate in nature and that:
“became famous for their speedy and surprising cures of the most stubborn diseases: externally applied they removed complaints of the eyes, healed fresh wounds, and died up old ones. Taken inwardly they have cured the rheumatism, bloody flux, stone, spitting of blood, scurvy and restored lost appetites.”
Such was the fame of the spring that it was called the nobliest spring in the county. Despite this it soon appears to have fallen into decline. Close by is Shearsby Well, located in a hollow and mentioned by the Leicestershire 18th century historian, John Nichols. This was converted into a spa and became renowned as a famous salt spring. Bath hotel remains and supposedly one can bath in its waters in the cellar but I have failed to have this confirmed. Hinckley’s mineral spring, whose water was said to resemble Harrogate, Tunbridge, Buxton and Carlsbad, were developed into baths in the 1830s with the opening of the Mineral Baths hotel and its pleasure grounds in 1849 for bathing and drinking of its waters. The main bath being 20 feet by 60 feet. The outlay never met the profit and in 1892 or thereabouts the baths were demolished and the New Mineral Bath’s Hotel built on the site. The waters have vanished but the pub remains.
But the most famous was Ashby de la Zouch’s spa. This was a prospected spring so to speak, having arisen as a result of colliery work at Moira in 1801, water being struck some 700 feet below the surface. Its waters were said to be good for skin diseases, scrofula. First the water was transported in carts or boats to the town. However, the first Marquis of Hastings realising the commerciality of the waters set about developing a proper spa, with hotels, theatre, elegant terraces and a bath house. The bath house was completed in 1822 and named Ivanhoe baths after the association of the Sir Water Scott’s book with the nearby castle. Six baths were established in the Doric portico temple spa and the waters were recommended for gout and ‘full neck, nerve-ache, green sickness and ringworm’ However, it was too late a spa and could not compete with established spas and the growing trend for maritime spas.
The springs of which were on the borders with Derbyshire and now fill ponds at the Conkers activity centre where there is a small information board about it. The famed baths were destroyed in the early 1970s. This was the last attempt at undertaken to develop mineral springs in the county.