Horley Green Spa, Halifax, West Yorkshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 10263 26561

Also Known as:

  1. Horley Green Well
  2. Spa Well

Archaeology & History

William Alexander’s 1840 sketch of the Spa house

The historian William Addison (1951), in his history on the subject, told how “the spas began as holy wells”; and although no direct accounts are left of early dedications here, the remnants of Mayday traditions tell us there were more archaic goings-on before the waters were taken by the aristocrats.  Once it had been designated as a spa, the waters were covered and a typical Spa House constructed over them.  From hereon, for more than a century, the waters were accessible only to those with money who wished their ailments to be treated.

Between the end of the 18th to the end of the 19th century, the Horley Green Spa was a very prominent ingredient in the history of Calderdale.  A chalybeate or iron-bearing spring, its waters were directed into a large underground cistern covered by metal.  Thomas Garnett (1790) was the first to write about it, telling us:

“The Horley Green water is quite pellucid—sparkles when poured out of one glass into another—and has a sharp, aluminous, styptic taste, not unlike ink. The taste is not unpleasant when the water is taken from the springhead and drank immediately.”

He went on to espouse the waters to be good in healing bone and rheumatic diseases, giving many first-hand accounts from people in Yorkshire and beyond who used the waters here with apparent success, including one case of curing diabetes!  Its reputation was later reinforced in a book by William Alexander (1840), who told us how,

“I unhesitatingly affirm that the Horley Green Spa possesses a very strong claim to be regarded as a powerful tonic and chalybeate.”

By the time those words were written, it had already gained a considerable reputation and many were those who’d received treatment.

Spa House on 1894 map

A years after Alexander, the roving doctor A.B. Granville (1841) visited Horley Green—who described it as “a renowned steel-water Spa”.  But at the same time he reported how its popularity had started to decline.  But, via one Mr West, he did leave us with a greater chemical analysis of the Horley Green waters in an attempt, once more, to certify and prove its curative properties.  Their results found the waters to possess, in varying quantities, lime, magnesia, silica, iron oxide, sulphur and silica—all of which further attributed the science of its medicinal actions.   A number of case histories of the people cured here can be found in the works of Granville, Garnett and Alexander.

The well-house that stood here eventually fell into disuse.  When it was eventually restored as someone’s home in the the late 20th century, the disused spring was found beneath the foundations, filled with stones.

Folklore

Horley Green’s spa well came about as a result of local people visiting the site around Beltane, probably for centuries before the aristocrats and early pharmacists took their hand to the place.  But once the spa became renowned, people could only gather here “on the first Sundays in the month of May,” with Sunday being that legendary ‘day of the lord’ crap, to which the people would abide to save them from prosecution.  It is obvious though that it had been used as a place of magick thanks to the snippets of lore which have found their way into local history books.  We read how, at 6am, people gathered here, to such an extent that the roads were completely crowded.  Those who arrived first were given bags of nuts: an archaic traditional motif found at many pre-christian wells in Britain.  Occultists and ritual magickians amongst you will note the time when folk frequented the well, at 6am: the time when many nature-spirits are invoked for full effects.  We find this time echoed in the ritual gatherings at Lady or St. Anne’s Well in Morley, just a few miles to the east.

References:

  1. Addison, William, English Spas, Batsford: London 1951.
  2. Alderson, Frederick, The Inland Resorts and Spas of Britain, David & Charles: Newton Abbot 1973.
  3. Alexander, William, The Horley Green Mineral Water, Leyland & Son: Halifax 1840.
  4. Alexander, William, “On the Mineral Springs of the Parish of Halifax,” in Proceedings Geological & Polytechnic Society, West Riding, Yorkshire, volume 1, Edward Baines: Leeds 1849.
  5. Crabtree, John, Concise History of the Parish and Vicarage of Halifax, Hartley & Walker: Halifax 1836.
  6. Garnett, Thomas, Experiments and Observations on the Horley-Green Spaw, near Halifax, George Nicholson: Bradford 1790.
  7. Granville, A.B., Spas of England, Henry Colburn: London 1841.
  8. Hembry, Phyllis, The English Spa 1560-1815, Athlone Press: London 1990.
  9. Short, Thomas, The Natural, Experimental and Medicinal History of the Mineral Waters of Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, privately printed: London 1724.
  10. Short, Thomas, A General Treatise on Various Cold Mineral Waters in England, privately printed: London 1765.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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