Epsom Wells : III
A Journey Through England by John Macky, originally published in 1722, contains a ‘Letter VII from Epsom’, which is another contemporary description of Epsom in the later Spa period. ‘Epsom is a charming town... being nearer to London than Tunbridge, is more frequented by the Citizens, for its purging Mineral Waters tinctured with Allom, and good Air; and what is extremely convenient, you have a travelling Market of Flesh, Fish, Fowl and Fruit brought to your Doors every Morning. Here are two Bowling-Greens, with Raffling-Shops and Musick for the ladies Diversion, as at Tunbridge; but the Ladies do not appear every Day on the Walks as there. Here you see them on Saturdays in the Evening, as their Husbands come from London, on Sundays at Church, and on Mondays in all their splendor, when there are Balls in the Long-rooms; and many of them shake their Elbows at Passage and Hazard with a good Grace’.
John Macky adds some more details and then quotes a long extract from John Toland’s Description. A copy of the modern reprinted edition of both books are held in the Reference Library.
The final contemporary visitor whose account survives was the famous author, Daniel Defoe, in his Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, published originally in 1724, and available now in several reprinted editions.
Daniel visited Epsom in July, ‘the middle of the season, when the town is full of company, and all disposed to mirth and pleasantry’. After being wakened by music under his chamber window he visited the Wells to drink the waters ‘or walk about as if you did; dance with the ladies, tho’ it be in your gown and slippers; have musick and company… After the morning diversions are over… the town is perfectly quiet again; nothing is to be seen, the Green, the Great Room, the raffling-shops all are shut up… till dinner is over, and the company is repos’d for two or three hours in the heat of the day’.
‘Towards evening the Bowling-green begins to fill, the musick strikes up in the Great Room, and company draws together a-pace: And here they never fail of abundance of mirth, every night being a kind of ball; the Gentlemen bowl, the Ladies dance, others raffle, and some rattle; conversation is the general pleasure of the place, till it grows late, and then the company draws off’.
During the summer season then, Epsom became a commuter’s paradise (as it is today?) ‘for tis very frequent for the trading part of the company to place their families here, and take their horses every morning to London, to the Exchange, to the Alley, or to the warehouse, and be at Epsome again at night’.
Defoe continues, ‘the pleasures of nature are so many round the town, the shady trees so every where planted, and now generally well grown, that it makes Epsome like a great park fill’d with little groves, lodges and retreats for coolness of air, and shade from the sun; and I believe, I may say, it is not to be match’d in the world, on that account; at least, not in so little a space of ground’.
Those were indeed the days – or were they? Not apparently in winter, for Defoe laments that ‘In the winter this is no place for pleasure indeed… good houses shut up, and windows fasten’d; the furniture taken down, the families remov’d, the walks out of repair, the leaves off the trees, and the people out of the town; and which is still worse, the ordinary roads both to it, and near it, except only on the side of the Downs, are deep, stiff, full of sloughs, and, in a word, unpassable; for all the country, the side of the Downs, as I have said, only excepted, is a deep stiff clay; so that there’s no riding in the winter without the utmost fatigue, and some hazard’.
The controversy as to whether Dr. Livingstone, who opened the New Wells in the centre of Epsom to attract people away from the original wells, was a rogue and a charlatan and responsible for the downfall of Epsom as a Spa town has been debated at length for many hears. The articles by F.L. Clark and Dr. H.L. Lehmann in the Surrey Archaeological Collections contribute much to the debate and add a great deal to our knowledge of the Spa period. F.L. Clark’s article (vol 57, 1960) contains a plan showing the site of the Bowling Greens, the town centre, the new wells etc. and apart from referring to the Assembly Rooms as the New Inn again, is very useful in locating these sites today. The site of the old Wells has been marked with a plaque in the centre of the Wells Estate by Epsom Council and a photograph of this is held in the reference collection at Epsom.
Defoe, Daniel, A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724).
The Diary of John Evelyn.
The Journeys of Celia Fiennes.
Macky, John, A Journey Through England (1722).
The Diary of Samuel Pepys.
Toland, John, The Description of Epsom, with the Humors and Politicks of the Place: In a Letter to Eudoxa (1711).
von Uffenbach, Zacharias Conrad, Memorable Journeys Through Lower Saxony, Holland and England.
Andrews, James, Reminiscences of Epsom (1904).
Aubrey, John, The Natural History and Antiquities of Surrey (1718).
Brayley, Edmund, The Topographical History of Surrey (1850).
Clark, F.L., New Light on Epsom Wells (1953).
Clark, F.L. ‘The history of Epsom Spa’, Surrey Archaeological Collections 57 (1960).
Edwards, H.L., ‘Information from a fire-mark’, NAS Bulletin 2ii (1965).
Home, Gordon, Epsom, Its History and Surroundings (1901).
Lehmann, H.L., ‘The history of Epsom Spa: additional notes’, Surrey Archaeological Collections 69 (1974).
Malden, H.E., History of Surrey (1900).
Manning, Owen, and William Bray, The History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey (1809).
Nail, Norman, ‘Epsom ‘Spa period’: new evidence’, NAS Newsletter 1974/4.
Pownall, Henry, as ‘An Inhabitant’, Some Particulars Relating to the History of Epsom (1825).
Swete, C.J., A Handbook of Epsom (1860).
The Victoria County History of Surrey (1904).
White, Reginald, Ancient Epsom (1928).
Willis, C.S. ‘Old houses in Epsom and Ewell’, Surrey Archaeological Collections 51 (1949).