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Water, Mineral Waters And Spas

Water is the most essential commodity for life of man and beast and it is nor surprising that, where a source of it was found in the way of a spring or a well, it often became in the Middle Ages a centre of pilgrimages associated with a saint.

All domestic water contains some minerals; if it did not it would be wholly unappetising. Sometimes the mineral content is large as evidenced from the smell or the taste and in a few places water from springs is quite warm which makes it attractive to bathe in. The Romans exploited such waters in Bath and Buxton, but even when they were not warm a supply of pure water would help to cure external sores when the supply from the back yard well did not, so people would travel long distances to such sources of water — the efficacy of which often relied more on reputation and rumours than on proven effect.

The mineral salts in some waters were claimed to cure many ailments and in the days before a medicine for almost any illness could be bought over the chemist's counter, the sources of such mineral waters were often exploited for claimed miraculous qualities in curing almost anything.

People flocked to places where such waters were readily available and inns and taverns were required to put up the vistors. But one could not drink the waters all day long, so diversions and entertainments usually developed. In many cases, with good marketing these became much more important than the curing of illness; indeed some places developed into centres of great fashion with patronage of royalty, the nobility and the rich. To be anything one had to be seen in the latest fashionable centre. The village of Spa in Belgium, where many chalybeate springs rise, was the place that gave its name to such watering places. Those who could afford it went to Spa and other continental "spas" for the cure. From the early 17th century places in Britain were promoted as spas of equal effectiveness and without the inconvenience of long journey for sick people. One of the earliest was Epsom.