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What We Can And Cannot See Today

Little remains of the Spa period in Epsom: the town being so near to London, most of the old buildings have disappeared in recent years under pressure of demand for housing and commercial premises. But with imagination and observation, there is still much of interest to see.

The Wells - The Old Well The old wellhead on the common remained, until recently, much as it was around 1900 when Gordon Home drew it. The small house built nearby by Mr. Hitchener in 1804 was in turn demolished, and in Victorian times a mansion called "Wells House" was built by Mr. Stuart Grange a little to the north of the well which remained in its garden. When the contents of Wells House were auctioned about 1926, one resident (now living near the Well) recalls that she as a child was allowed to sample the water on payment of 2d.

The Borough Council acquired Wells House with surrounding land in 1946, for housing development. The House was later sold to the County council, who now use it as a home for handicapped children. The old Well was conserved within housing built around 1950.

In December 1950 the Borough Engineer was instructed to prepare a scheme for the permanent protection of the old well as an ancient structure. The following month the Borough Medical Officer of Health reported that the water was contaminated and the Borough Engineer was asked to provide for sealing off in his scheme. It seems that in consequence the well was surrounded by iron railings, which were in situ in December 1953.

When the water was tested in 1986, it was found to be safe for a party of visitors to sample it. This year the wellhead and its surrounding have been reconstructed to create an impressive monument to Epsom's past fame.

Livingstone's New Well - The exact position of this is uncertain; it was probably on land along South Street behind the Magpie public house. This area is now part of the gardens of Mounthill House and has public access.

Entertainment Establishments

The first entertainment complex was behind the present Waterloo House, where a bowling green is mentioned in 1672. Later the New Tavern was built and in 1755 this property was described as "the New Tavern, the old coffeehouse and the old longroom, and a cockpit, stables, storehouse and brew house and two pieces of ground, the one called the old bowling green and the other the Bear, all of which contains 2 acres".

Of all this only the "New Tavern" remains — a fine building of late 17th century on the South end of the High Street. It had, and still has, sash windows — still a bit of a novelty at the time, and remarked on by Celia Fiennes (see p 20). The 1866 map shows gardens where the bowling green was. Later this became a carpark and is now built over by the Ashley Centre.

The Assembly Rooms, as they are also called, had facilities for carriages to drive through the centre: we can still see the archway outlined in the right hand flank. Gordon Home concluded in 1901 that the Long Room was on the first floor at the rear. The building was later divided and occupied by a variety of shops and businesses, notably John Bailey's drapery, but the advertisement pages behind C. J. Swete's book (1860) show a number of occupants at that time.

Livingstone's entertainments near his New Well came next. The court rolls tell us that by 1707 he had made a bowling green here and erected several buildings which in 1770 were described as "the New or Upper Long Room.... together with the yard and garden formerly called the Bowling Green and the New Wells and a building thereto adjoining formerly called the Old coffeehouse".

This was Celia Fiennes "Upper Green" with "little Shops and a gaming or dancing room". It was on the rising ground behind the Old Manor House (on West Street) with access from a lane still to be seen alongside the Albion Hotel. The area is now overbuilt but we can get a good view of it from the north part of Mounthill garden behind the Magpie public house.

The Albion Hotel is referred to by that name in 1860 and 1871, "formerly the coffeehouse" (but there was a coffee house next door to it: indeed there must have been several). The Magpie is mentioned as the "Sign of the Magpie" in 1 754. Possibly parts of the present building and most of the Albion are Spa period, so is what remains of the Spread Eagle.

Of the entertainment establishments near the Old Well, nothing remains.

Houses from the Spa period Those of the "Nobility, the Gentry and the Quality"

Some fine houses in this category remain:

Celia Fiennes mentions Lord Baltimore's home Woodcote Park (now the RAC Club): earlier it had been the property of the Minn family. It was rebuilt largely in replica after a fire in 1934. "Lord Guilfords" was Lord Berkeley's Durdans, but the house she saw was an earlier version, built from materials of Nonsuch Palace (demolished c. 1680). There must have been a substantial house before that seen by Fiennes for Charles II, and his queen and brother were entertained to dinner by Lord Berkeley in 1662. The present house dates from 1764—8, having been added to a century later, but most of the Victorian additions were later removed.

"Another House of Mr. Ruths" (Rooth) stood on the site of the present Clock House of early 1800s in Dorking Road. Opposite further up the hill are Hylands House of the late 17th century and The Hylands of the early 18th century, two fine gentleman's houses, the latter added to in 1969.

In Chalk Lane Woodcote Grove (earlier called Mount Diston) is a fine house of about 1686 with later extensions, now owned by the firm of W. S. Atkins. Also in Chalk Lane are Westgate House, dated 1684 but much altered, and the Chalk Lane Hotel of the early 18th century. Coming back into Epsom, Woodcote Hall is a much-altered early 18th century house at the junction of Woodcote Road and South Street.

In West Street the Old Manor House and White House remain with good facades as gentlemen's houses. West Hill House on West Hill originally dated from about 1690, but the present House is a good rebuilt version of the original structure, which had collapsed during building work.

In Church Street, The Cedars (named after some great cedars over 160 years old which blew down in the great gale of October 1987) is of about 1700 with the coat of arms of John Mysters above the front door. Later it was owned by Edward Moulton Barrett (Mr. Barrett of Wimpole Street) and occupied by William Everest — a solicitor and union clerk — and his large family; then it became a school for young ladies, run by Rebecca Eisdell and her sister. The Borough Council now owns it. No. 18 was built as the Vicarage, late 17th century but with Victorian additions and no. 24, Parkhurst (now labelled Park Place House), is also of the Spa period. Ebbisham house has recently been refurbished and enlarged. The central part is of around 1720.

Houses for the "Company"

"There are abundance of houses built of brick, with fine gardens and courts with open gates and railes to view, which are used as lodgings for the Company" said Celia Fiennes.

Those remaining are listed below and shown on the plan on the back page. High Street 94-98 "Yew Tree " cottage c. 1700 128-132 including Albion Hotel 137A-145 Timber framed Bramshott house brick, (where Lord Buckhurst entertained Nellie) 109-113 West Street Marquis of Granby, early 18th Cent. 1-11 Brick South Street 26-28 Behind single storey shop a fine facade late 17th Cent. 49-51 Gutted interior, front retained 55 Recently reconstructed 73-75 Brick fronted c. 1 700 Chalk Lane Woodcote Green House late 1 7th Cent. 8-10 Late 1 7th Cent. Chalk Lane Hotel 'I early Maidstone House ( 18th Cent. Waterloo Road 16, 28, 30 early 18th Cent. The Parade Old Pines early 18th Cent, much altered Church Street The Hermitage ^ 17th Cent. Stone House ( probably pre Spa period

Abridged version of:

"A concise Historical account of the Old Epsom Well, situated on Epsom Common in the county of Surrey".

From Lloyd's Evening Post 14—16 August 1769.

The anonymous writer says: around 1590 (a date the reader had to work out) a report spread about a pond on Epsom Common where poor people for ages drank the waters and washed their sores and miraculous cures of leprosy, ulcers, scaby and other diseases were confirmed. In 1603 physicians examined the water, had it analysed and found it contained a bitter purging salt, the first to be found in England. The waters became known, and about 1620 the Lord of the Manor erected a shed to shelter the sick. About 1640 news of cures performed spread to Europe and Dr. Grew and others analysed them again when they were found to contain not alum as first throught, but "eight parts nitre and one of earth". They were declared greatly purging and innocent in operation and had other good qualities. So soon salts were prepared from the water and sold at 5 shillings an ounce. He says later experiments prove it to contain more calcareous nitre than other waters at Acton, Pancras and Holt and the Dog and Duck.

About 1690 Parkhurst (the Lord of the Manor) enlarged his first buildings by erecting a ball-room at least seventy feet long and other conveniences, set in beautiful surroundings with lovely views. About 1692 the waters were recognised for their virtues, their fame spread, nobility and gentry from England and abroad flocked to the well and houses were built to house them. Magnificent taverns, the largest in England were opened; sedan chairs and coaches were introduced.

There was public breakfasting, dancing, music and several sports at the old wells together with cudgelling, wrestling and footraces on the Downs.

Neither Bath nor Tunbridge could vie in splendour. 'From 1704 to 1725 Epsom waters gradually lost their reputation' but the Queen (Anne), nobility and ladies sometimes came to the balls, rafflings, games and diversions at the New Well. But physicians gradually stopped sending the diseased, because many returned without benefit "The Faculty stood confounded". He hints at a revival in the 1720 South Sea bubble boom when a range of unsatisfactory characters came to gamble large sums. But this was soon over and Epsom became almost uninhabited.

Soon the true reason for the decline became known. Genuine Epsom salt was no longer sold, but substitutes from elsewhere were brought in clandestinely and sold as the real thing.

Now we come to the crux of the story: One Mr. Levingstone came to Epsom about 1690; about 1706 he bought land in the town on which he erected a large house, an assembly room, small houses for milliners, toymen, haberdashers add glovers etc. rooms for gambling and rafflers and a large bowling green. At the end he sunk a well with a pump and piped the waters to the assembly room which when finished he called the " New Epsom wells" where many were induced to drink the waters and join in the amusements. But soon the convalescents not finding any relief, returned to the water on the common. This did not suit Livingstone, who got hold of the lease of the old well and closed them till near his death in 1727. This is supposed to be "the truth of all this wickedness... and that avariciousness midwifed designedly the miscarriage of Epsom".

But, our author continues, in 1727 on the expiration of Levingstone's lease Parkhurst repaired the buildings and that for years one Mrs. Hawkins has kept it and in the summer on Monday many people come to have breakfast and resume the customary entertainment.

The water was analysed two years ago and found to have the same salutary properties as in 1640. The story ends with the prediction that it seems as if the credit will recover.

This anonymous tale has been proved an advertising stunt, full of errors and of little historical value.