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Gipton Spa:
A Potted History of Bathing

Although from very early times the indigenous British had considered features such as rivers, waterfalls and springs as sacred, it was not until the arrival of Roman invaders in 43 AD that water was used for washing, and the habit of bathing caught on in England.

For the Romans, bathing was a social activity, an opportunity to catch up with the latest gossip and intrigue, as well as to develop business and political links, or, what we today would call networking.

Ornate and luxuriant bathhouses were built throughout the country, probably the best known of which was that at Bath. These bathhouses enables people to gather together, cleanse their bodies and take advantage of the therapeutic and medicinal qualities of the rich mineral waters.

Following the departure of the Romans in 410 AD however, the popularity of bathing fell out of favour and for some length of time, until, in the latter half of the sixteenth century, bathing and the taking of the waters again became fashionable.

For the Tudor tourist, trips to the Continent to visit the medicinal springs of Germany, Italy and Belgium became all the rage. Indeed, English visitors eventually adopted the name of the Belgian town of Spa to refer to all medicinal springs and wells both at home and abroad.

By the beginning of the seventeenth century, people had taken to bathing in and drinking home grown "spa water" in order to find cures for a whole range of ailments, including rheumatism, anaemia, mouth ulcers, heat rash, cancer and sore eyes.

Throughout the country, well-attended commercial spa resorts sprang up, including, in Yorkshire, those at Harrogate and Ilkley. However, many smaller, local wells and spas also developed and became popular, and Leeds too had its fair share of "peoples wells", where the public could take advantage of bathing in curative sulphuric and iron rich spring waters.

The noted Leeds antiquarian and topographer, Ralph Thoresby (1658-1725), the first historian of Leeds, documented the history of Leeds and its surrounding area in his book Ducatus Leodiensis (1715). The Ducatus made mention of a number of the spas and spring in Leeds, as did Thoresby's diaries, which chronicled his own and family and friends' visits to various medicinal spas.

Thoresby who was a regular imbiber of sulphurous water, was afflicted with dizzy spells and apoplexy for much of his adult life. Finally, in 1725 he suffered two paralytic strokes, and died aged 67. A good age for this period in history - perhaps the drinking water that tasted like the "rincings of a gun barrel or putrid eggs" did some good.

Generally Ralph Thoresby favoured the waters of Spaw Well situated on Quarry Hill, but an entry in his diary for July 5th 1708 refers to a visit to another Leeds spa:

"Walked with my dear by Chapel-town and Gledhow to Gypton-Well (whence my Lord Irwin, who comes hither in his coach daily, was but just gone) to enquire for conveniences for my dear child Richards bathing."

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