Travel and Health

Celia Fiennes, from The Journeys of Celia Fiennes (1697)

One of the main reasons people travelled during the eighteenth century was to "take the waters" of a certain spring for their health. Water cures were prescribed for diseases ranging from scrofula to gout to melancholy. One could take the waters internally, by drinking them, or externally, by bathing in the spring; most water cures involved both. In Tobias Smollet's novel, The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker (1771), the character Matthew Bramble complains about this practice to his doctor, who has recommended a water cure: "I can't help suspecting, that there is, or may be, some regurgitation from the bath into the cistern of the pump. In that case, what a delicate beveridge is every day quaffed by the drinkers; medicated with the sweat and dirt, and dandriff; and the abominable discharges of various kinds, from twenty different diseased bodies, parboiling in the kettle below" (40). Travelling to take the waters was not only a medical but a social experience; in between treatments, spa towns such as Harrogate, Bath, and Tunbridge Wells amused their guests with a giddy whirl of diversions including plays, concerts, and balls.

Celia Fiennes (1662–1741) was the unmarried daughter of aristocratic Nonconformist parents; her grandfather was the first Viscount Saye and Sele, and her family supported Cromwell in the English civil war. Her travel narrative is replete with observations about politics, religion, mines, and other commercial activity, gardens, and architecture. Fiennes's journeys, she writes, were undertaken "to regain my health by variety and change of aire and exercise" (1).

As Fiennes observes in a note "To the Reader," her travel journal was not designed for publication, but for private circulation within her family:

As this was never designed, soe not likely to fall into the hands of any but my near relations, there needs not much to be said to excuse or recommend it. Something may be diverting and proffitable tho' not to Gentlemen that have travelled more about England, staid longer in places, might have more acquaintance and more opportunity to be inform'd. (1)

Yet Celia Fiennes clearly regards her own travels as a potential example to others. She recommends travel and the study of one's own county to ladies, as a means of improving their conversation, and of passing away "tedious dayes" in the care of "the poor among whome they dwell" (2). It is not water, but travel, that Celia Fiennes prescribes to her reader as the ultimate cure for a variety of ills:

Now thus much without vanity may be asserted of the subject, that if all persons, both Ladies, much more Gentlemen, would spend some of their tyme in Journeys to visit their native Land, and be curious to inform themselves and make observations of the pleasant prospects, good buildings, different produces, and manufactures of each place, with the variety of sports and recreations they are adapt to, would be a souveraign remedy to cure or preserve from these epidemick diseases of vapours, should I add Laziness? It would also form such an Idea of England, add much to its Glory and Esteem in our minds and cure the evil itch of overvalueing foreign parts; at least furnish them with an equivalent to entertain strangers when amongst us, or inform them when abroad of their native Country, which has been often a reproach to the English, ignorance and being strangers to themselves. (1–2)

It was not until 1888 that Emily Griffiths published Celia Fiennes's Journeys under the title, Through England on a Side Saddle in the time of William and Mary.

In the excerpt below, Celia Fiennes describes her often-repeated visits to springs near Harrogate and Copgrove. She creates a composite account of her spa experiences there — writing from memory, not writing to the moment. Fiennes recalls the medicinal and natural properties of various springs with considerable sensory detail, and enthuses about the excellent effect that plunges in St. Mungo's Well seem to have had on her persistent headaches.

["Travelling to take the Waters"]

From "The Northern Journey and the Tour of Kent" (1697)

From thence we went over to Haragate [Harrogate] which is just by the Spaw, two mile further over a Common that belongs to Knarsborough, its all marshy and wett and here in the compass of 2 miles is 4 very different springs of water: there is the Sulpher or Stincking spaw, not improperly term'd for the Smell being so very strong and offensive that I could not force my horse near the Well, there are two Wells together with basons in them that the Spring rises up in, which is furr'd with a White Scumm which rises out of the water, if you keep it in a cup but a few hours it will have such a White Scumm over it, notwithstanding it rises out of the Spring very cleare, and so being a quick Spring it soone purges it self cleare againe, it comes from Brimstone mines for the taste and smell is much of Sulpher, tho' it has an additionall offenciveness like carrion or a jakes; the Ground is Bitumus or the like that it runns over, it has a quality of changing Silver into the coullour of Copper, and that in a few minutes, much quicker than the Baths in the West County in Somersetshire; it's a quick purger and very good for all Scurbutick humours; some persons drink a quart or two — I dranke a quart in a morning for two days and hold them to be a good sort of Purge if you can hold your breath so as to drinke them down — within a quarter of a mile is the Sweete Spaw or Chalibiet [Chalybeate], a Spring which rises off Iron and Steele like Astrup [Astrop] or Tunbridge and like the German Spaw, this is a quick Spring and the Well made up with a bason, and a cover of stone over it like an arch; this opperates as all iron springs does, tho I could not find them so strong or spiriteous as those at Tunbridge; one thing I observ'd of the Stinking Spaw tho' its taste and opperation was like the Sumersetshire Bathes, yet this was not warme in the least as those Bathes are. Just between these two Spaws is a fine cleare and sweete Spring of Comon water very good to wash eyes and pleasant to drinke; the fourth Spring which is but two mile off these, is of a petrifying quality, turnes all things into stone, it rises in a banck on the top of a hill and so runns along in a little Channell about a foote over, and all the ground it runns over is moorish and full of holes, with water standing in it, which stincks just like the Sulpher Spaw, and will turn Silver to the coullour of Copper as that does, notwithstanding this clear spring runns through it with a swift current to the brow of the hill and then it spreads it self all round the hill, which is a Rock, and so runns down all over the brow of the hill continually, like a hasty shower of small and great raine, and so it meetes in the bottom and runns all into the river Knarsborough; and this water as it runns and where it lyes in the hollows of the rock does turn moss and wood into Stone, or rather crusts or candys wood; I saw some which had a perfect Shell of stone about it but they tell me it does in tyme penetrate through the Wood, I took Moss my self from thence which is all crisp'd and perfect Stone; all the Grass Straws or any thing that the water falls on it does convert to hardness like Stone; the whole rock is continually dropping with water besides the showering from the top which ever runns, and this is called the dropping well; there is an arbour and the Company used to come and eat a Supper there in an evening, to have the pleaseing prospect, and the murmuring shower to divert their eare; in a good space of tyme it will harden Ribon like Stone or any thing else.

From Harragate to Cockgrave [Copgrove] is 6 mile, where is a Spring of an exceeding cold water called St Mongers [Mungo] Well, the Story is of a Child that was laid out in the cold for the parishes care and when the Church Wardens found it they took care of it, a new born Infant, and when it was baptised they gave it the name of Amongust because they said the Child must be kept among them; and as the papist sayes he was an ingenious Child and so attained learning and was a very religious man and used this spring to wash himself; after sometymes that he had gotten prefferrment and so grew rich he walled the Spring about and did many cures on diseased bodies by batheing in it, which caused after his death people to frequent the Well which was an inconveniency to the owners of the ground and so they forbad people coming and stopped up the Well and, the Story sayes, on that severall judgments came on the owners of the ground and the Spring broke up all about his ground which forced him to open it again and render it usefull to all that would come to washe in it — thus farre of the fable — now the Spring is in use and a high wall round it; the Well is about 4 or 5 yards square, and round the brimm is a walke of broad stone round; there are 4 or 5 steps down to the bottom, it is no deeper at some places then a little above the waste not up to the shoulders of a woman, and you may kneel on a flatt stone and it comes to your chin, this the papists made use of very much; at one corner the Springs rise they are very quick and there is a Sluce that it continually runns off so as to keep just at the same depth, and it runns off so fast and the Springs supply so fast that it clears the Well presently after any body has been in; I allwayes chose to be just where the springs rise that is much the coldest and it throws off any thing in the well to the Sluce.

Setting aside the Papists fancyes of it I cannot but think it is a very good Spring, being remarkably cold, and just at the head of the Spring so its fresh which must needs be very strengthning, it shutts up the pores of the body immeadiately so fortifyes from cold, you cannot bear the coldness of it above 2 or 3 minutes and then you come out and walke round the pavement and then in againe, and so 3 or 4 or 6 or 7 as many tymes as you please; you go in and out in Linnen Garments, some go in flannell, I used my Bath garments and so pulled them off and put on flannell when I came out to go into the bed, which is best; but some came at a distance, so did I, and did not go into bed but some will keep on their wet Garments and let them drye to them and say its more beneficial, but I did not venture it; I dipp'd my head quite over every tyme I went in and found it eased a great pain I used to have in my head, and I was not so apt to catch Cold so much as before, which I imputed to the exceeding coldness of the Spring that shutts up the pores of the body; its thought it runns off of some very cold Spring and from Clay, some of the Papists I saw there had so much Zeale as to continue a quarter of an hour on their knees at their prayers in the Well, but none else could well endure it so long at a tyme; I went in 7 severall seasons and 7 tymes every season and would have gone in oftener could we have staid longer.


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