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Livingstone, The Promoter

All this evidence points to considerable improvements in facilities to receive and entertain the visitors once Livingstone got his establishment going. From one well house described as a dungeon, we have three fashionable entertainment centres by 1707.

Studying the documentation we can only come to the conclusion that, far from being an unscrupulous speculator who ruined the spa, he was a dynamic entrepreneur who built it up.

The only source suggesting that Livingstone ruined the spa comes from an anonymous article in the issue of August 14—16, 1769 of Lloyd's Evening Post. A full page is devoted to "A concise Historical Account of the old Epsom Wells, situated on Epsom Common, in the County of Surrey". An abridged version of this account is in appendix A.

This article has little historical value. F.L. Clark before 1954 showed that it had many factual inaccuracies and was in fact an advertising stunt, written to blow some life in the rather pathetic efforts of Mrs. Hawkins to revive interest in her establishment.

This is corroborated by an advertisement in the same Newspaper 1 5 years earlier by the same Mrs. Hawkins, telling the readers that Epsom Old Well is open daily; breakfasting and dancing every Monday. The waters are as good as ever for curing all sorts of diseases as proved by Dr. Grew in 1640 (a date we know to be incorrect) and the first discovered in the country. The advert ends up surprisingly:

"They (the waters) are a necessary Preparative before entering on a Course of Bath, Tunbridge, Bristol, Pyrmont or any Chaiybeat Waters, to prevent Heat, Fevers, etc. Sold in London by Mr. Owen only, at his Water Warehouse in Fleet Street near the Temple-Gate."

It is clear that the fashionable spas were now elsewhere. Pyrmont in West Germany had mineral springs; Bristol had its " Hot Wells".

This anonymous newspaper article was accepted by all subsequent authors on Epsom and Epsom Wells. No one ever questioned its veracity until Clark wrote his study.

We have not so far found any confirmation that Livingstone acquired the old well, let alone that he ever closed it down. The only source we have for this is the anonymous writer in Lloyd's Evening Post of 1769. But the article is very specific on how and from whom Livingstone acquired the lease. Clark's evidence that he kept both wells going for a number of years is faulty because he confuses the New Inn (now the White Horse) with the New Tavern (now Waterloo House), but we know that both wells were open in 1711 from Toland and Uffenbach who tried them both.

Livingstone was an astute businessman: when getting hold of the land round the New Well and adjacent plots the transaction was not straightforward as he somehow got round the normal legal procedures of the time. This involved getting the agreement of the manorial court, paying a 'fine' and getting the transaction recorded in the court rolls. Instead he seems to have got hold of the property, started building and straightened it out afterwards.

Livingstone would gain from owning both wells: his New Well only produced a barrel a day, not much for a thriving spa. So he might augment it from water of the old well, which could also be sold in bottles or in bulk to Epsom Salt producers in London. Closing the old well to the public would encourage people to come to see his new one.

It would all make commercial sense.

But Livingstone also did a great deal for the resort. His establishment round the new well clearly fulfilled the public demand for entertainment and no doubt increased the flow of visitors for a time. It also forced the Lord of the Manor to improve facilities at the old well, and increase the attraction of the town. He got the markets and fairs going. He may also have been instrumental in getting theatrical performance into Epsom as in 1708 Mrs. Mynn's company was performing at the new Cockpit (part of Livingstone's establishment) and Mr. Powell's at the new playhouse in Hudson's Lane (now Waterloo Road). The date follows soon after Livingstone opened his new well. He also provided for alms-houses during his lifetime.

So we must conclude that he was a shrewd businessman, possibly with flexible morals who saw the opportunities and exploited them. Epsom won a great deal as a result.