Listen to a concert at Pittville Pump Room
300th Anniversary of Cheltenham "Spa"
Have you ever wondered how Cheltenham became known as Cheltenham Spa?
Well, 300 years ago, local people were curious as to why pigeons gathered at the chalybeate spring to peck at the salt which it deposited. The land, close to Cheltenham Ladies college, was owned by a Mr Higgs, who enclosed the spring when it was realised the waters had some form of healing powers. The Chalybeate Well still partially survives today at Sandford Park.
In 1738, a Bristol couple, Capt, and Elizabeth Skillimore, who had inherited the land, moved to Cheltenham to take advantage as what they saw as a fantastic opportunity. They dug out the spring to make a well and put in pumping equipment, landscaped the ground and built some assembly rooms (demolished to build Lloyds Bank, and replaced by the erection of Cheltenham Town Hall). They also created what is now known as Well Walk, connecting the well to the town centre.
The waters were bottled and sold as far away as London, and the well received hundreds of paying visitors each year until the late 1750’s when the poor conditions of roads stopped coaches travelling to the town, alongside an epidemic of the smallpox virus. However, in the 1770’s Capt. Skillimore’s son, William, rejuvenated the area by building a new Pump Room in 1775 – Pittville Pump Room.
On 12 July 1788 King George III arrived having been advised by his GP to travel to Cheltenham and drink the spa waters to cure his ailments, and the well from then became known as the Royal Well. By the start of the 1800’s it was attracting thousands of visitors. To meet the demand, further spas began to appear including the Montpelier Spa on Bath Road and the Sherborne Spa, located at what now is the MGallery Queens Hotel.
The spas went into decline from the 1830’s by which time most had gone. The town became a non-spa in 2003 when the last functioning well at Pittville Pump Room was found to be leaking, but Cheltenham Borough Council, generously subbed by local business Kohler Mira, committed to fixing it and in 2005 a new borehole was successfully brought into use to restore the supply.
If you visit Pittville Park, the refreshment kiosk was once known as the “Little Spa”, built as an alternative site, and pre-dates the Pump Room.
You can still sample the spa waters at Pittville, however, it is said they are not very pleasant in taste, even though believed to still cure many ills!
Bringing 300 years of history to life, our newly restored phone boxes feature prominent figures from Cheltenham's rich heritage including Brian Jones, the Duke of Wellington and 'Mary Black Hat'; these are just some of the varied figures from Cheltenham's past who will be appearing as stand-up figures in a special exhibition about to open Monday 16th May in historic telephone boxes on The Promenade - Cheltenham's newest gallery space.
The boxes will also celebrate less famous people who were well-known in Cheltenham, from Mrs Forty and Mrs Rous, who operated the well in the eighteenth century to one-eyed fruit seller 'Mary Black Hat'. The boxes also feature the hashtag, #Chelt300, inviting passers-by to take to social media and offer their own suggestions about which of its former citizens the people of Cheltenham should be celebrating today.
'Cheltenham 300' forms part of a wider tourism campaign over the summer months drawing visitors and shoppers in to enjoy public art and all the town has to offer.
You can see the video here.
Join the debate on Twitter using #Chelt300 and drop in to the Tourist Information Centre at the Wilson, Clarence Street, GL50 3JT to find out more.