Healing Wells (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – TQ 3094 7889
Also Known as:
- Lambeth Spa
- Near Well and Far Well
Archaeology & History
This once famous healing or spa well has long gone. It was located where the buildings that now constitute 104-105 Lambeth Walk presently stand: an area which the great London historian William Thornbury (1878) told was already “a favourite resort of Londoners, and celebrated for the variety of sweet-smelling flowers and medicinal herbs growing there,” complementing the healing waters before and during the spa craze. The great herbalist John Gerard did his collections here.
I can find no information regarding its early use by our peasant ancestors, so its written history simply begins when it had been appropriated by those well-to-do up-market types who took this medicinal spring for their commercial gain in the early days of the trendy spas. Supplied by two separate springs known as the Nearer and Farther Wells respectively, the Well House built here was “formally opened in April 1696” and subsequently had almost daily accompaniments of music, including French and country dancing! But as the popularity of the Lambeth Spa increased, so did its problems. Phyllis Hembry (1990) told that by July 1715, one visitor to the spa,
“was so depressed to find that the many people there were mostly rakes, whores and drunkards, idlers such as Guard officers, or young pleasure-seeker like attorneys’ clerks, mingling with loose women of the the meanest sort. The Lambeth Wells also became a public nuisance, so a dancing license was refused in 1755.”
The so-called Great Room which had been the place of great occasions by spa users ended up being the meeting place “for Methodist meetings.” Oh how the winter nights must have flown by…..
There was a decided improvement in the years that followed and social events at the spa increased again. It became what Thornbury said “was another place of amusement.” The Lambeth Wells, he wrote,
“were held for a time in high repute, on account of their mineral waters, which were advertised as to be sold, according to John Timbs, at “a penny a quart, the same price paid by St. Thomas’s Hospital.” About 1750, we learn from the same authority, there was a musical society held here, and lectures, with experiments in natural philosophy, were delivered by Dr. Erasmus King and others. Malcolm tells us that the Wells opened for the season regularly on Easter Monday, being closed during the winter. They had “public days” on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, with “music from seven in the morning till sunset; on other days till two!” The price of admission was threepence. The water was sold at a penny a quart to the “quality” and to those who could pay for it; being given gratis to the poor. We incidentally learn that there were grand gala and dancing days here in 1747 and 1752, when “a penny wedding, in the Scotch manner, was celebrated for the benefit of a young couple.”
By this time, a rival St. George’s Spa of had been created a short distance away on the parish boundary and with it, the popularity and attendance at Lambeth Wells began to decline. By the end of the 18th century, the rot had truly set in and its days were finally numbered.
As for the medicinal properties of these wells, little seems to have been recorded. Aside from repeating the common description of them being mineral waters, William Addison (1951) simply added that they were also purgative.
- Addison, William, English Spas, Batsford: London 1951.
- Allen, Thomas, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth, J. Allen: London 1827.
- Allen, Thomas, A History of the County of Surrey – volume 1, Isaac Taylor: London 1831.
- Foord, Alfred Stanley, Springs, Streams and Spas of London: History and Association, T. Fisher Unwin: London 1910.
- Hembry, Phyllis, The English Spa 1560-1815, Athlone Press: London 1990.
- Nichols, John, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth, J. Nichols: London 1786.
- Rattue, James, The Holy Wells of Surrey, Umbra: Weybridge 2008.
- Sunderland, Septimus, Old London Spas, Baths and Wells, John Bale: London 1915.
- Thornbury, William, History of Old and New London – volume 6, Cassell: London 1878.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian