Musings from the Museum 25


The Chalybeate Spring.


I have been curious for some months how many ‘salt’ springs we have in the area, and how many spas with fascinating histories. Woodhall Spa is, of course, the best known.

John Parkinson had intended to sink a coal mine there and had the vision of developing a city around New Bolingbroke based upon his lofty ambition. Suffice to say, it was an heroic failure, but instead by a happy accident, he discovered salt water near Coal Pit Wood. Thomas Hotchkin, the local entrepreneurial squire, erected a bath house in 1834, and then later, the Victoria Hotel in1839. The waters, containing iodine and bromide salts were hailed as a cure for many ailments, including those which were tubercular in origin, rheumatism, gout and even gonorrhoeal rheumatism (whatever that was), were all cured by the waters taken internally and used externally. A consortium was formed by local grandees keen to invest in the spa town on the eastern coast.

Visitors came from afar to take the waters, the Kirkstead to Horncastle railway was built in 1855 to facilitate easier travel. Mr Richard Came was commissioned to design a new town to accommodate the anticipated visitors. By 1897 the Royal Hotel opened with 120 rooms and suites. It was designed and owned by Came and is the distinctive view of Woodhall Spa we know today. That of the central crossroads of the town. The tree lined avenues, now fully mature are also thanks to Came’s town planning. The hydro spa baths were developed further with a new well sunk providing a plentiful supply of water to meet the demands. The pump room and baths were erected over the well and an hotel built. Sadly, it was destroyed by fire in 1920, but the heyday of the spa culture had faded from its former fashionable status. The baths closed in 1983 when the shaft leading to the well collapsed. The property became derelict.

At Stainfield on the fen edge, another Spa developed around a chalybeate spring of ferruginous water. This is just off Roman King Street, and am sure they would have made the short detour to ‘take the waters’. Roman pottery sherds were found dating from early in the occupation to the 4th century, mainly to the west of the village where the spring is. My theory is that it may have been the site of a mansio, the equivalent of a Roman Travel Lodge where officials and those on official business could stay, have a meal and a bath! The spring was rediscovered in 1720 by Dr Edward Greathead of Lincoln, a complex of spa buildings were built but there is no sign of these today. They are only evidenced by the Spa stud farm at the crossroads of Stainfield. But the springs are accessed through a metal kissing gate just south of Dowsby wood.

Braceborough Spa is no longer extant, but it was the place where King George III was treated by Dr Willis for his porphyric‘madness’ in a wing of Shillington Hall nearby, now demolished. The healing spring, itself, rises in the grounds of Spa House. In 1841 a bath house was built, but again as the spas fell from favour Braceborough declined until it finally closed in 1939. There is a plaque at Braceborough Church commemorating King George worshipping there.

History is all around us, if we know where to look!

Freya Trotman

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