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14th September 2005
The Lost Spa of Gipton

- From the Yorkshire Evening Post, article by Simon Jenkins

Think "spa" and you'll probably bring to mind Cheltenham or Harrogate, or some stylish Georgian-Victorian hydro where well-to-do ladies went to take the waters.

You are perhaps less likely to think of Gipton, though Gipton has had its own spa and bath house for more than 300 years.

It's actually a mile or so from the inner-city suburb we know as the modern-day Gipton, and is tucked away among a clump of trees and bushes at the Roundhay Road end of Gledhow Valley Road.

It has been disused for years, boarded up and out-of-bounds to all but the intrepid teenagers who have scaled its walls to graffiti their names on the ancient stone, or the prostitutes who ply their trade round the back. I must have driven past it a thousand times without ever getting the chance to go inside.

That is until last weekend, when the Friends of Gledhow Valley Woods held an open day at the site and almost 400 people turned up to take a peek at this little piece of history on their doorsteps.

It was part of the four-day Heritage weekend, when across the country buildings of every age and style , from castles to factories and town halls to temples are opened up for tours and events. Gipton Spa Bath House joined the party for the first time this year.

The Leeds historian Ralph Thoresby was a regular visitor. His Ducatus Leodensis (1715) says: "Gipton is a curious old spring which in a Romish country could not have missed the patronage of some noted saint". Thoresby adds that his son, Richard, who suffered with rheumatism and rickets, was taken there in an attempt to find a cure.

The bath house was in regular use until the late 19th century, though it closed soon afterwards and passed from private hands to Leeds Corporation in the 1920s. Despite its age and decades of neglect, the building survives largely intact. You enter a small square room, where the open fireplace would once have been used to "sweat" visitors before they moved into the next room and down the short flight of steps into the ice-cold plunge pool.

A large commemorative stone plaque set in the inside wall near the entrance bears a Latin inscription informing us that it was constructed by "Edvardus Waddington de Gleadowe" in 1671.

Following some restoration work by the entirely-voluntary "Friends", the local spring once again fills the pool to a depth of about two feet and drains out through the 17th century pipework into the local watercourse.

The building is supposed to be in the care of the local authority and much more work could be done. The roof's traditional Yorkshire flagstones were restored some years ago but were stolen within a fortnight and replaced by corrugated plastic. Horrid railings of the kind which might enclose a council tip have kept out the vandals but quite what Edvardus Waddington de Gleadowe would make of it, I can hardly imagine.

- end -

More information about the opening of Gipton Spa Bath House for Leeds Heritage Open Days 2005, together with photographs from the event, can be found on the page entitled 10-09-2005 Gipton Spa Bath House Heritage Open Days in the Events Gallery section.

You can also learn more about the history of Gipton Spa in the About the Woods section.

If you come across any articles in newspapers or magazines which relate to the Friends of Gledhow Valley Woods, or to the woods in general, please contact us so we can add them to the site.

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