Cheltenham Spa

Pittville Pump Room in Cheltenham, Cotswolds
Pittville Pump Room in Cheltenham. Photo by Jame Phillips, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Cheltenham may not have existed as a spa town if it were not for some sharp-sighted observers who noticed a flock of particularly healthy looking pigeons pecking around in a field at the outer edge of the settlement in 1715.

On further investigation, it was discovered the area where the birds were flocking contained a mineral spring and the salt was attracting the birds. In honour of the pigeons, three are included in the town’s crest. The site where the waters were first discovered is now occupied by the famous girls school Cheltenham Ladies College.

The discovery of this mineral spring resulted in many small and large spas being set up by anyone who could bore a hole. Each proprietor offered different mineral compositions, cold bath treatments, and tepid medicinal baths and naturally charged for the privilege of taking the waters.

Recommended by doctors, the waters were lauded as a cure for all kinds of afflictions, from pimples, ulcers to those mysterious “female diseases”. Gout was prevalent and although it was probably due to the excesses of Regency living, it was believed the waters were a cure. All ailments were deemed suitable for taking the waters. The waters were also famed for stimulating the bowel regions! The patrons of the spas would for the sake of modesty and form wear quite a lot of clothing in the water although there was bound to be shenanigans behind closed doors! A thriving social scene to rival Bath added to Cheltenham’s fortunes as people would take houses for five or six weeks to effect their “cure” and in the meantime enjoy balls, lavish dances and entertainments combined with a dip or two in the spa.

Royal patronage triggered a massive building boom in the town and transformed it from a minor town into an elegant spa resort with some iconic period architecture. For a hundred years, Cheltenham boomed as a spa resort but gradually it lost its popularity and fell into decline. Sadly, many of the wonderful spa buildings were demolished but the legacy remains in one of the most complete Regency towns in Britain. The jewel of this Regency legacy is the Pump Room the grandest surviving spa building in Cheltenham. Overlooking the ornamental lakes and lawns of Pittville Park, you can step back in time and try the mineral-rich spring waters for yourself. It tastes somewhat unpleasant but reputedly has the power to cure any ills you may have!

If you have a few creaks, aches, or pains, there will be no harm at all in visiting Cheltenham while you are staying here in Cooks Green Holiday Cottage and taking the waters. You never know, it might just do the trick.

Read more on the history of Cheltenham here. Read our guide of 50 things to do in Cheltenham.

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