The town of Leamington Spa, originally known as Leamington Priors was a tiny village until about 1800. The value of the mineral springs was known in the middle ages, but it was not until 1784 that the small village began rediscovering its saline springs and started building baths around some of them.
In the period just prior to 1810 it had become obvious that the town’s existing Bath Houses could not cope with the ever increasing number of visitors. Plans were made to build a bathing establishment on a scale surpassing anything yet attempted. A syndicate was formed to provide the necessary funds.
A company was formed to buy the land on the west side of the Parade for building purposes. This was the start of the ‘new town’ and it was hoped the new baths could be erected in this area. However, attempts to discover a reliable source of saline water in this vicinity were unsuccessful. Eventually in 1810 a spring was discovered on land owned by Mr Greatheed – a member of the syndicate – on the north side of the river, but only a stones-throw away from the old town.
The Royal Pump Rooms
In July 1814 ‘The Royal Pump Room and Baths’, designed and built by C.S. Smith of Warwick at a cost of £30,000 were officially opened. The Spa treatment was claimed to cure, or relieve a huge number of disorders, examples being ‘stiffness of tendons’, ‘rigidity of the joints’, ‘the effects of gout and rheumatism and various paralytic conditions’. The Spa water is a mild laxative which is one reason why the water was drunk.
The Pump Rooms gardens were originally laid out and enclosed for the exclusive use of the patrons of the Pump Room ‘to afford them pleasant promenades’. A bandstand was erected and military bands played in the evening during the summer for the gratification of the subscribers. It was not until 1875 that the Royal Pump Room Gardens became public.
The ‘Royal Pump Room and Baths’ paid handsome profits in their early days but by 1848 the fashion of ‘taking the waters’ had begun to decline and hard times loomed on the horizon. The original syndicate decided to cut their losses by selling out and later the Pump Rooms became the sole property of the Hon. Charles Bertie Percy of Guy’s Cliffe.
In 1860, owing to the decline in the patronage, he announced his intention to close the Pump Rooms and put them up for sale for building purposes. In 1862 a newly-formed company took over the building and carried out extensive reconstruction work, including the addition of a tower and pediment on the facade.
Post-War Royal Leamington Spa
After two world wars and declining fortunes, the problems of rehabilitation looked almost insurmountable. This time, in order to save it, the building was given an almost complete face lift. When finally this was achieved it emerged into the modern world with a new status – that of a medical centre able to provide patients with a wide range of spa treatments.
In 1996, Warwick District Council, in collaboration with Warwickshire County Council, produced proposals to relocate Leamington’s Art Gallery, Museum and Library to the Pump Rooms. The scheme was further developed to include the refurbishment of the Assembly Room within the Pump Rooms and provision for the Tourist Information Centre and Café, so creating a major cultural and tourist attraction. The project is also a central element in a wider strategy to use arts, heritage and leisure facilities to help regenerate south Leamington’s ‘Old Town’.
If you would like more information, why not visit the new Museum. There are displays on the historic use of the Pump Rooms and Spa Treatments – including several weird and wonderful objects from the former physiotherapy department. There is also the opportunity to sample spa water (for those who are brave enough!).