Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Taking the Waters

Out of thy famous Hille
There daily springeth
A water passing still
That always bringeth
Great comfort to alle them
That are diseased men
And makes them well again
So Prayse the Lord! 

      Rev Edmund Rea, Vicar of Great Malvern 1612

In May this year we visited friends in UK who took us to the famous spa town of Great Malvern in Worcestershire. Between the 17th and 19th centuries the town had become popular for the health-giving properties of its waters, and because it was situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty, invalids and tourists seeking cures, rest and entertainment flocked there. Many famous people, including Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Charles Dickens' wife, Catherine came to 'take the waters'. The water was also bottled and shipped, hydrotherapy clinics were set up, hotels developed and residential villas built.

In the delightful Priory Museum we saw many artefacts dating from the time that the town was enjoying a popularity as a spa. Some of these have already featured in previous posts: Market Share, and Museum Piece.

This exhibit depicts a visitor taking the cure, in his Oxford Hip Bath. He doesn't look too comfortable, and is wearing a reather worried expression, but perhaps he's objecting to being snapped in this rather ungainly position.

I wonder if he'd already had a 'shallow bath' like the one portrayed in this engraving. I don't suppose the water was very warm, and the attendant looks as if he's enjoying administering the 'cure' rather more than the client does in receiving it.

The advertisement for Essington's Hotel confirms my suspicions. It offers both hot and cold baths, though why anyone would choose the latter is beyond me. Perhaps some visitors went home with more chills, aches and pains than they arrived with.

For those willing to venture out of the hotel and take a trip to some of the hillside springs, or view some of the breath-taking scenes from the surrounding hills, donkeys were the transport of choice. Donkeys would stand outside the hotels like modern taxis, waiting for passengers. There were ten donkey stands in the town, in addition to seventeen Hackney Carriage stands.

Queen Adelaide visited the famous St Ann's Well and requested a donkey ride and helped to popularise this method of transport. When Queen Victoria's mother also encouraged these jaunts, one of the donkeys used was re-named 'Royal Moses'. Very enterprising of the donkey's owner!

No opportunity was missed to capitalise on the floods of visitors as the next picture shows. Teas and Cadbury's Chocolate must have made a welcome change from the strange-tasting waters. I have sampled the waters at Bath, and once was quite enough for me! Behind the donkey lady in the picture above, is a chart listing some of the minerals to be found in the waters.

Great Malvern was an interesting place and I can recommend a visit if you are in the area, but whatever you do check before you go for interesting things to see. I thought I'd done pretty well snapping away at anything I thought would be useful for a blogpost! Then I did a little more research and realised that we had walked close to, but missed, a magnificent statue to the composer Edward Elgar and the 'Enigma' Fountain by the sculptor Rose Garrard. The fountain is a tribute both to Elgar who lived there, and to the pure spring water which feeds it.

Just a little further down the road, also by Rose Garrard is this wonderful 'drinking spout' called by 'Malvhina'. Here she has been 'dressed' with flowers for the May Day Festival.

The spout bought back spring water to the town, for the first time in forty years, from three springs on the hills above. You can read more about this clever design sculpted in stone and bronze, and the symbolism behind it here.

Continuing a theme from my post last week, where I casually mentioned literary connections in the places I'd visited, I have to point out that William Langland's 14th century poem, 'Piers Plowman', was written in Malvern, J.R.R. Tolkien frequented Malvern pubs with C.S. Lewis and both found found inspiration there (NB: it wasn't the waters that did it!).

The picture prompt for this week's Sepia Saturday had a group 'taking the waters' at The Twin Wells of Lisdoonvarna in County Clare at the turn of the century. They don't look too impressed either, but then their attention was probably drawn to the female attendant, who seems to have been mummified. When it comes to ladies and spring water I think I'd rather take my chances with Malvhina!

Why not take the cure yourself by sampling the restorative posts of other Sepia Saturday contributors?

Both images by Bob Embleton via Wikimedia Share alike Licence


  1. I hope that was just an awkward moment for the attendant because she does look dead. Your description of your visit and the things you saw were really on topic!

  2. Loved your post, Nell, with its well chosen photos to accompany the text!

  3. What a great place to visit; thanks for taking us along. I'm glad you included the picture of the Elgar statue and fountain.

  4. Hello Marilyn:
    Having lived across the border in Herefordshire for over twenty-five years, we made frequent trips to Malvern, not least for the excellent theatre productions which were staged either before going on to, or coming from, London.

    On a clear day, from the wonderful hills, it is possible to see several counties of England and Wales.

  5. Excellent post, Nell. I wonder if the modern obsession with personal trainers and regular treadmill torture, is any match for hot and cold bathing, and taking the waters.

  6. The hip bath does look very uncomfortable. I would rather ride a donkey than sit in one of those.

  7. This is a perfect post, Nell. You seamlessly wove the story that you wanted us to know. That guy in the tub looks rather helpless. The women in the drawing with the donkeys look like sort of like the old woman in the prompt picture. It was fun to see the ones that you took of your trip too.

    Great job, I loved this!

    Kathy M.

  8. Thanks for the tour! So many resorts have grown up in unlikely spots thanks to springs promising better health.

  9. Well your first photo certainly reeled me in! Wonderful post! I've always read stories about the "Waters at Bath' and "taking the cure" and now I really have a better idea of what it all means.

  10. I thought for sure the man in the first photo was real.

    Do you think Elgar's music was a result of the waters. He could have written a piece called "Water Music". Oh right, that was already done!

  11. When I drink my next bottle of Malvern Water I shall appreciate it more. Very informative post Nell. Now I wonder what the water tastes like from the spring that has developped in my garden as a result of this dreadful rainy year.

  12. The picture of the visitor in the Oxford Hipbath is priceless. I wonder what his problem was before going into the tub but I can see his problem getting out of it. And I like to draw the attention of Wendy to the umbrella in the corner of the room :)
    PS Does the English word 'spa' have anything to do with the Belgian city of Spa where they bottle mineral water?

  13. So very much there and such interesting photos....the man in the tub in the first one looks anything but pleased and would not have been a good advertisement for those waters. An interesting journey thorugh the waters. I think the doll photo with the small donkey is precious with that red.

  14. The Oxford Hip bath photo is an absolute hoot! I saw that floating by my sidebar earlier and couldn't wait to see where you would take us. I was not disappointed. :)

  15. Oh my that poor sad man in his hipbath...what a photo find there! Amazing info,and enjoyable photos to match and I thought a bath was a bath...ha! ha! I could use some of the curing water about now...while I try to catch up. It's been long days for me! Tomorrow even busier, so I just posted mine minutes ago! As I said...bring on that wonderful curing water...please!

  16. I went to a wedding in Malvern but apart from admiring the views did not get to see anything of the area, now I've had a virtual tour. Must make a return visit some time.

  17. I'm not sure it counts as taking the waters, but I once had a seaweed bath in a spa on the coast of Ireland.

  18. Quite an interesting post! Ah! Cadbury's chocolate! Lovely!

  19. The healing waters have been and still are very popular, today aptly named, Wellness centers! Great post with all the early pictures. The hip bath occupant seems to have a little problem, despite the treatment or has it been the treatment?

  20. Taking the waters doesn't look as pleasant as I had imagined! Very interesting!

  21. Such a shame you missed that statue and fountain to Elgar! It's a beaut! As much as I love water, I think Cadbury's would get my vote!


  22. You've collected a good series of pictures from Malvern, which gave me a good tour. Worth to visit, I see.

  23. Outstanding post - I enjoyed the tour. My favorite part was the photo of "Malvhina" and the details of this lovely fountain included in the link you provided.

  24. Just a couple months ago I visited the "healing springs" at Idaho Springs in Colorado. The most fascinating part of a natural spring location (for me) is considering how the water is heated. In the Idaho Springs instance, there is a hot vent fissure close to the surface. The only thing that makes me a bit sad is that in order to capitalize on the healing nature of the springs, they are usually walled up and the original natural state is obliterated. I do think the Malvhina sculpture/fountain is quite lovely. Thanks for showing us around town!

  25. The only thing I can see from capitalizing on the natural springs is that they are usually walled up in order to make fountains and pools, obliterating their natural state. I saw this explicitly in Idaho Springs, Colorado a few months back. I was a bit sad at the amount of destruction to the vicinity that was required to build a resort on top of the springs. Ah well, it is the nature of man to shape his landscape, is it not? I enjoyed your tour though town and I think Malvhina is a uniquely lovely sculpture/fountain.

  26. A perfect fit to the theme. As to Peter's question, he has found the answer as noun "Spa" is derived from the Belgium town's name. I did not know that illnesses brought on by iron-deficiency could be helped by drinking the rather nasty flavored iron mineral waters. Not so sure that just immersion would work. Do you think it cost more to get hot baths?

  27. The photo and the model are just brilliant - I can't think of many things less appealing than a cold water bathing cure, definitely a contributory factor to any early deaths from consumption I'd have thought!

  28. All of this spa talking only reminds me of "Agatha", about Agatha Christie's disappearance in 1926, until she is found again in a spa in Harrowgate. It was a fun mystery, speculating as to what may have happened back then. (Vanessa Redgrave played the role).
    You do literary references, I do movies!!!

  29. Malvern looks like an interesting an relaxing region to visit. The statue of Edward Elgar is so lifelike you may have thought he was a real person. And I wouldn't mind poring water over semi-naked ladies, so I can understand why the attendant looks happy :-).

  30. I admit I had no idea that they did well dressing in the Malverns. I think it's lovely tradition.


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