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EPSOM AND EWELL WELLS - Chapter 9



The First History of Epsom 1769
Dr Bruce E Osborne


The First History of Epsom: the 1769 account from Lloyds Post.

Mention has been made of the Lloyds Post history of Epsom in previous chapters. The 1769 account of the history of Epsom was one that set the pattern for the interpretation of the town's history by later scholars. Although some of the detail has been questioned over time and seen to be inaccurate, much has proved to be correct and confirmed by other sources. A combination of truth, half-truth and innuendo draws the reader to a conclusion, particularly regarding the activities of Livingstone. It is this emphasis that has biased subsequent texts. The Post account of the history of Epsom is therefore reproduced in full. The present author's comments are added [in plain type] and it will be seen that the original text gives remarkable insights into the state of affairs at Epsom at the time. The contemporary spelling is used.

For LLOYD'S EVENING POST. [1]


A concise Historical Account of the old EPSOM WELLS, situated on Epsom Common, in the County of Surry.

The spot upon which Epsom stands, before any house was erected, was called Flowerdale, on account of its mild salubrious air, and having a warm bottom, and lying between two ridges of hills, that on the south-east a white chalk, and on the west a clay, also open to the refreshing and warm blasts of the south, and somewhat screened from the north-west rough gales by Clay-hill. It is bounded by downs meads, and corn fields, which everywhere encircle the place.

Possibly from the healthiness of this spot, as well as the fine country, reasons may be assigned to why Ebba, the first Christian Queen, erected a mansion, now called Epsom Court, distant from the town a quarter of a mile, or rather more.

This Ebba was the daughter of Eanfred, and niece of Eanher. She was first created Queen of the Isle of Wight: and about the year 590 was baptised by Bishop Wilfred.
[this is now known to be incorrect and is discussed later]


From this Lady's name this village took its name Epsum, or Epsom: a corruption of Ebba's-ham, the Saxon ham signifying home, house, or mansion.

Somewhat about 1000 years after this period a report was spread, that there was a pond lay open on the common, where poor people, for ages, had resorted to drink the waters, and wash their old sores, and that the cures performed were astonishing, especially in the leprous, old ulcers, scabby, and in other diseases; and these cures being confirmed by the poor innocent cottagers, soon reached the ears of the Physicians, viz. in the reign of King James the first, 1603.

Doctors visited the pond, examined the homely rustics, and the Gentlemen in the neighbourhood, in regard to the salubrious effects which years had proclaimed: and they returned to London, well satisfied with what Fame had spread, believing the waters worthy of their attention.

In the consultation afterwards, an examination into their contents was thought an object of no small consequence: hence an Analysis was made, to discover their principles, from which they found to consist of a soluble, bitter, purging salt, or calcarious nitre: and they reported them to be the first of that nature discovered in England.

 



9.1 John Ogilby's road map of 1675, Ewell to Dorking showing the Epsom (Old) Well.

From this aera, the waters began to be generally spoken of, and soon after were visited by strangers: hence the Lord of the Manor first erected a shed, to shelter the sickly visitors, and inclosed the pond. This was about 1620.

About 1640, the fame of the waters for cures performed, spread over the island, Germany, France, and most parts of Europe. At this time, Dr Grew, Moult, and others analysed them again, and reported their contents to consist of soluble, bitter, acid salt, consisting of eight parts nitre, and one of earth, without one grain of alum, as had been supposed in the first analysation; also that they, in nature, were diluent, absorbent, diuretic, gently purging, and innocent in operation.[The date of Grew and Moult is in error, they were active at the close of the 17th century]


Very soon after, salts were prepared from these waters which sold for five shillings an ounce.
[this was a substantial sum at the time but the price quickly fell]The demands for them, in a few years were greater than the quantity that could be made; in consequence of which all salts sold under the name of the Epsom, were sophisticated. [meaning artificial being produced elsewhere]


As to these waters, late experiments prove them to have the same properties as formerly, and are one of the most innocent cooling purges in England. At this time a gallon contains about 480 grains of calcarious nitre, which is 36 grains more than Acton; 80 more than Pancras; 304 more than Holt; 280 more than the Dog and Duck; and so in proportion with others.
[This confirms an important point in that manufactured salts did not match the genuine product]


About 24 years after the Fire of London, on account of the great concourse of foreigners and families resorting to the Wells, that is about 1690,
[this date is too early, see Chapter 6]
- Parkhurst, Esq; enlarged his first building, by erecting on the spot a Ball-room, at least seventy feet long with other conveniences: these he enclosed with a piece of ground, by a brick wall topped with free stone. Its situation was and now is about half a mile from the center of the town, on a common, rather the side of a hill, commanding very extensive as well as pleasant prospect over Banstead Downs on the south woods, commons, and valleys, on the west; London and Westminster in the north-east; parks, gardens, Gentlemens seats, and corn fields from east to west. Here was also planted a long walk of elms from the London road, with several avenues leading different ways, part of which remain to this day. And though the long room has often been repaired, yet there is near the upper end on the right hand, a piece of old wainscot remaining, into which several have cut the initial letters of their names, with the year; purporting, it is supposed, the aera some cure was performed.

About 1692, these waters obtained great credit for their virtues in curing various diseases, which were recorded, and it was about this period they were celebrated through Europe. Cases, from time to time, were communicated from one to another of their salubrious properties; hence most of the Nobility and Gentry, not only in England, but even foreigners, crowded to Epsom, insomuch, that this small village was enlarged to a great extent, by erecting many houses for lodgings, and even then many visitors were obliged to the neighbouring towns and villages for accommodations. Magnificent taverns, the largest in England, were opened, public stands of sedan chairs and numbered coaches were appointed, and Epsom became the most public resort for all ranks of people. Public breakfasting, dancing music every morning at the Old Wells with all rural sports; races were then on the the Common, the Ring, at noon on the Downs, cudgelling, wrestling, footraces, &c. for small prizes in the afternoon; and in the evenings were spent either in private parties, assemblies, or cards. In a word, neither Bath nor Tunbridge could vie in splendor, or boast of such noble visiters.

From 1704 to 1715, Epsom waters gradually lost their reputation,
[this may be a little early and may have been given to emphasise the case against Livingstone, it being roughly comparable to the era of the New Wells]and must have sunk, but the Queen (Anne) keeping her Court at Windsor, for the Nobility and Ladies at times came to the balls, rafflings, games, and diversions then carrying on at the New Wells, which in some measure gave support to the town, that is to the time of her death in 1714, for in these last ten years the Physicians gradually withdrew sending down the diseased, many having returned without receiving benefit, and miserable objects with ulcers, leprosies, &c. could not find a remedy. The Faculty stood confounded, the distempered lamenting, and the afflicted with painful diseases searched for relief where none was to be found. Few or none were able to assign reasons for so great a loss to the Public; the principal conjecture was that fresh water had broke into the well, which had spoilt the virtues in the water; hence the waters lost all credit with men of skill, and never since 1727 have been in great esteem. [this coincides with greater reliance on Livingstone's New Wells and clearly indicates that the Old Well waters were by then more a dilute solution of salts. This was probably as a result of the well penetrating the underlying chalk aquifer due to over ambitious removal of bottom silt. Allen in 1699 confirms that the well on the common was deepened in an attempt to improve water supply.][2]
In 1720, the Golden Age, or South Sea Bubble, the Alchymists of the times, Dutch, Germans, Jews, &c. again filled the village, nothing but gaming for large sums was taken notice of; but this did not last long, though several of the most stately houses were built at the time, among which stood Baron Swasso's - After this period Epsom became once more almost uninhabited. It is but within a few years the truth if all this wickedness was known, and that avariciousness midwifed designedly the miscarriage of Epsom; and though the story is unpleasant by speaking ill of the dead, yet the Public ought to be acquainted with it, so far as they are interested in preserving their own healths.

[Livingstone died in 1727 and it was likely no coincidence that this heralded the demise of Epsom as a spa]


As to Epsom genuine salts, none have been made from these waters for more than seventy years; what has been sold in Epsom were brought there clandestinely from other places. This was the first imposition on the Public.
[this reiterates a point in the 1760 supplement to Dr Russell's work, which is discussed later]


As to ruining the extensive character of the Old Well Epsom Water, it stands with truth as follows:-

One Mr Levingston, an Apothecary, came to Epsom about 1690, the time the Old Well Water was in high vogue. In about sixteen years he acquired a considerable sum by his practice in physic.

In about 1706, he bought certain lands lying in the town of Epsom, of Sir John Parsons, which were formerly Sir John Bean's. On these lands he erected a large house with an Assembly-room, planted with a sort of grove, built small houses for Milliners, Toymen, Haberdashers, Glovers, and the like; also rooms for raffling, diceing, fair chance, and all sorts of gaming. He made a large bowling green, and at the end sunk a well; also put down a pump, and laid pipes under the ground to convey the water down to the foot of the Assembly-room, into a bason built there; and when every part was finished, which took up more than two years, he called it New Epsom Wells. To these he planned amusements, such as concerts, balls, assemblies, gaming in all shapes, which, for some time, allured the company from the Old Wells, and many were induced to drink the waters for a time.

In a small space the convalescents not finding relief, returned to the common to drink the old waters.
[Livingstone's New Wells were questionably efficacious - the reason for this will be shown in due course]This in a great measure, disconcerted Levingston's schemes; therefore it was necessary to make additions to his operations to recover the company, and establish his New Well, which, with the buildings, had cost him great part of what he had acquired. [Livingstone had to take action to restore confidence in his New Wells - what it might have been is discussed later]


At this time the Old Wells were held by lease for seven years, by John Grant, John Maynard and Daniel Ellicar. To these then Levingston made application to purchase the remainder of the lease, on condition they could get another for twenty-one years, to commence after the expiration of the first, which would be 1715.

Application was made, and - Parkhurst, Esq: granted a new lease for twenty-one years, to commence in 1715; which as soon as executed was assigned, with the other lease, to Mr Levingston for a consideration. Here arose the mischief; for soon after Levingston was in possession of these leases, he locked up the Old Wells, and kept them locked till near his death, which was about 1727, in the fifty-sixth year of his age.
[Celia Fiennes account indicates that both the New and Old Wells were open contemporaneously in 1712]


Here we see the reasons why Epsom fell into disarray, the lodging-houses were sold to Gentlemen, infirmities creeped on without hopes of reliefs for from 1710 to about 1727 not any genuine old water could be got at, unless by some particular persons.[The implication is that the New Wells were not considered genuine]

However, after expiration of this last lease on 1727, - Parkhurst, Esq; repaired the buildings, and almost ever since it has been opened and for many years one Mrs Hawkins has kept it, and to this day the neighbouring families, as well as those in Epsom, in the summer season, meet on Mondays and breakfast there, keeping up the custom of music, dancing, carding, &c. till about three in the afternoon. I have seen near a hundred in a morning, most of them people of fashion and of opulent fortunes.

About two years since, the Old Well waters were analysed by several of the Faculty, when they were reported to possess the same salutary properties as when they were first celebrated in 1640. Since which, by the company visiting the Wells, it seems as if their credit would recover.
[this proved to be wishful thinking]


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