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Epsom: The Earliest English Spa

1667-1699 It is clear from reading Pepys' description of his Sunday visit in 1667, and what Shadwell describes in his play of 1672 about the goings on in the town, that Epsom had already established itself by this time as a centre of entertainment.

There were already two bowling greens. The one on Clay Hill (now West Hill) near Fair Green is first mentioned in 1680, but was probably the first to be made. The other is first mentioned in 1671 on 2 acres of land west of the King's Head. This land was sold in 1679 to John Haynes who mortgaged it for £206. After his death it changed hands and by 1699 the property was being mortgaged for £1,600; a very considerable sum at the time. There is no doubt that we have here the building of what is now known as Waterloo House, the Assembly Rooms, referred to later in the Court rolls as "le New Tavern".

This property (now a building society at the south end of the High Street) is often referred to as the "New Inn" but Norman Nail in 1974 established that the New Inn was what is now the "White Horse" public house, in Dorking Road, earlier known as New Inn Lane.

In 1755 this property is referred to in the Court Roll as: the Brick Building, called the new tavern, the old coffee house and the old longroom, a cockpit, stables, storehouse and brewhouse and ground including the old bowling green.

So by 1699 or perhaps a few years earlier we have the Assembly Rooms. It seems remarkable that Celia Fiennes (see below) does not mention it on her first visit. It may be that the assumed date of that visit — 1701 — is incorrect.

Here Epsom is ahead of its competitive spas. In Tunbridge Wells, in spite of royal patronage, the refinements developed later: Princess (later Queen) Anne's son, the Duke of Gloucester, slipped on the unpaved "Upper Walk" in 1698, and she gave £100 to have it paved. When she found the following year that nothing had been done she left offended and did not come again.

In Bath, Celia Fiennes finds in 1689 the various baths well established, but says the town is "adapted to the bathing and drinking of the waters, and nothing else". For diversion one walks in the King's Mead or the cathedral and cloysters. When she comes again in 1698 there is a fine Hall on top of the open market hail for dancing. Bath's Assembly Room came only in 1769 and the present Pumproom 20 years later.