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Epsom Wells II

1981/2 pp5–6


Epsom Wells: II


Our next visitor to record their impressions was Celia Fiennes. In 1711 she comments ‘the Well is large without bason or pavement on the bottom, it covered over with timber and is so darke you can scarce look down into it, for which cause I do dislike it; its not a quick spring and very often is dranke drye, and to make up the defficiency the people do often carry water from common wells to fill this in a morning (this they have been found out in) which makes the water weake and of little operation unless you can have it first from the well before they can have put in any other, the usual way of drinking them is by turning them with a little milk; there is a walk of trees by it but not very pleasant, there is a house built, in which the well is, and that is paved with brick to walke in in the wet weather and where people have carrawayes sweetemeates and tea etc. but it look’d so dark and unpleasant, more like a dungeon that I would not chuse to drinke it there, and most people drink it at home. There are severall good buildings in Epsome for lodgings and good gardens behind them for walking’.


Celia goes on to describe some of these houses in a later journey, A Further Description of Epsome, Hampton Court and Windsor. The Durdans is described in great detail together with ‘another house of Mr. Ruths’ (Rooth). Epsom Reference Library has a printed copy of Celia Fiennes’ Journeys together with a photograph of a contemporary engraving of Durdans and a scale drawing of Mr. Rooth’s house.


She continues her description of Epsom Spa ‘and now the Wells are built about and a large light roome to walk in brick’d, and a pump put on the Well, a coffee house and two roomes for gameing, and shops for sweetmeates and fruite; Monday morning is their day the Company meete, and then they have some little diversion, as raceing of boyes, or rabbets, or piggs; in the evening the Company meete in the Greenes, first in the Upper Green, many steps up, where are Gentlemen bowling, Ladyes walking, the benches round to sitt, there are little shopps, and a gameing or danceing-room; the same man at the Wells keepes it, sells coffee there also; the Lower Green is not far off, just in the heart of the town, its a much neater Green and warmer, the whole side of this is a very large roome with large sashe windows to the Green with cushions in the windows and seates all along, there are two hazard-boards; at the end is a Milliner and China-shop, this is belonging to the great-tavern or eateing house, and all the length of this roome to the street ward is a piaza wall, and a row of trees cutt and platted together as the fashion of the place with tops running up a top with heads, the Crosse in the streete has a good Clock’.


The ‘great-tavern or eateing house’ is presumably the Assembly Rooms known today as Waterloo House and currently occupied by the National Counties Building Society (opposite Epsom Market). The ‘Crosse’ which has ‘a good clock’ was replaced by the present Clock Tower in 1848. Here were also the village pond (filled in for health reasons) and the stocks which can be seen in contemporary illustrations held in Epsom Reference Library.


As Norman Nail has pointed out in an earlier newsletter, Waterloo House was not the New Inn as it is described in many books and articles: the New Inn was on the site of the current White Horse public house in Dorking Road (next to Epsom Hospital) and the stretch of road between the White Horse and Epsom Market was known as New Inn Lane. This has been confirmed by one of our members, Dr. H.L. Lehmann, from his own researches into the history of Epsom Spa and a detailed analysis of the descent of property in that area which he is currently preparing for publication.


Dr. Lehmann contributed a number of photostat copies of documents and contemporary newspapers such as the ‘Gazette’ to our last exhibition. He has deposited a copy of a translation from the German of an extract from vol. 2 of the Journal of Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach. Herr von Uffenbach visited Epsom in 1710 where he found all houses so full of visitors that they had difficulty in finding accommodation. Uffenbach describes in some detail a visit to Epsom Downs where a race took place between horses belonging to Lord Castleton and Mr. Buckley for one hundred pounds. In the evening they walked around the town and visited the Wells the following day. Herr Uffenbach describes the ‘small nasty stoneware jugs’ containing the water and comments ‘it is said to be rather exhausting, some purge and some vomit of it. The water, according to its taste, must contain a large amount of vitriol’.


John Toland’s The Description of Epsom, with the Humors and Politicks of the Place: In a Letter to Eudoxa has been recently republished and Epsom Reference Library has copies of both the new and an earlier edition. He describes Epsom in 1711, mainly concerned with the Spa town but also mentioning Roman remains at Epsom Court Farm, as well as the Portwey, an old trackway over the Downs, the route of which was strongly disputed in correspondence between members of NAS some years ago. He too describes Mr. Rooth’s house in New-Inn-Lane – ‘whose canal on the top of a hill, with the soft walks on both sides, and the green mounts at each end, are very delightful’.


This was presumably where the Convent of the Sacred Heart and the adjoining recreation ground are today. The Durdans and other houses are mentioned and also the ‘daily fixed market in the middle of the Town’ with new fairs held during the Easter holy-days and on 24th July which are ‘as yet of little moment, tho’ capable in time to be highly improved’.


Toland’s 27-page description of Epsom in 1711 notes that the ‘old Wells at half a mile’s distance, which formerly us’d to be the meeting place in the forenoon, are not at present so much in vogue; the waters, they say, being found as good within the village, and all diversions in greater perfection’.


He compares the cold Bath in Epsom with the one in Ewell, where ‘Ewell would by much be the properest place; since by reason of the spring, the water may not only be chang’d for every new comer, but a basin be likewise made adapted for swimming, which on such occasions was the practice of the antients’.


Apart from this, his lyrical description concludes that ‘Epsom is the place you must like before all others’. The recently published edition of Toland’s book contains an introduction by Mr. L.C. Silverthorne of the Surrey County Library and the Bourne Society.

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