Mid Wales Spas & Mineral Springs
Why Spas and Mineral Springs?
Most spas are either rich in iron (chalybeate), sulphur (with hydrogen sulphide gas) or saline (mainly sodium chloride). The iron and sulphur probably come from the breakdown of fool's gold (pyrites) resulting from water movement through the highly faulted local rocks. The high levels of sodium chloride are difficult to explain but may be due at Builth (as in parts of the West Midlands) to salt deposits in the nearby Downtonian rocks.
Although Powys has most of the Welsh spas, there are others scattered throughout Wales. Most are iron, sulphur or saline, but Taff's Well, near Cardiff, produces water at about 20°C. There are many Holy Wells, only a few of which produce any mineral rich waters.
Llandrindod Wells contains many different mineral springs, some of which were probably used by the Romans. The first documented discovery occurred in 1736 when a Mrs. Jenkins found a saline spring and a sulphur well. After curing her daughter's ulcerated head with one of the waters, her cures became famous and she treated many local people with various ailments. The spas grew in popularity due to the publication in 1747 of "A Journey to Llandrindod Wells in Radnorshire", and a poem in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1748, both of which praised the mineral waters of Llandrindod Wells. A hotel was built at Llandrindod Hall near the parish church in 1749, and was crowded with visitors from Easter to November every year until in closed in 1787.
Llandrindod's popularity declined from then until the 1820's when several large boarding houses were built. In the second half of the nineteenth century, more mineral springs and wells were found and bath houses and pump rooms were built at the Rock Park Hotel and Pump House Hotel (now Powys County Council offices). Thus, at the turn of the century, Llandrindod Wells could supply a large number of medicinal waters "with every form of spa treatment, high class accommodation, concerts, entertainments and dramatic attractions" Charges for the spa water were then 6d per day for any amount, ld per glass, 2/6d per week or 1/11d per gallon with 11d back on the bottle. A regular visitor of the time was Lloyd George. The spas declined after the 1950's although the Rock Park stayed open until 1972. This spa is now being renovated by Radnor District Council.
A saline spring was said to have been discovered in 1830 by a party of mowers. The steamlet formed by the spring was called 'Nant yr Halen' (Salt Brook). The waters were soon exploited commercially and eventually two wells were set up, one at Park Wells and one at Glannau. Saline, chalybeate (iron) and sulphur vvaters were present; the saline, being exceptionally strong, contained barium and lithium.
This spring is supposed to have been discovered one dry summer when a cotter was out looking for a pig. He noticed it welling up from the dry bed of the River lrfon, drank some but found it had a vile taste. A well was constructed to elevate the water to a bath house and provide a supply for drinking. The barium well has recently been rebored to provide a better supply of spa water to the Lake Hotel.
This spa was popular in the second half of the eighteenth century and first half of the nineteenth century when it was almost as well known as Llandrindod Wells. The Cambrian Balnea (1825) recorded that the very strong sulphurous spring lies in a meadow opposite the inn, whilst the chalybeate is a few yards to the west on the bank of a brook, and canopied by the trunk and branches of an old alder clump. The spa fell into disuse in the 1930's and all that now remains is an old wooden shack and a ditch containing the white filaments of sulphur bacteria.
This was discovered in 1732 by the Reverend Theophilous Evans who was looking for a cure for his 'radicated scurvy' ' Having been told of the existence of the sulphur spring, he found it easily because of it's strong smell. He was cured of his scurvy after taking the water for two months.
Originally called 'Ffynnon Drowllyd' (Stinking Spring), it was renamed Dolycoed Well after the spring had been diverted into a well and bath houses were built. Another sulphur well was built at Victoria Wells in Llanwrtyd Wells. Both wells were very popular in Victorian times but closed earlier this century. Although derelict, the spa buildings at Dolycoed are still standing in the grounds of the Dolycoed Hotel, and the impressive wellhead can still be seen. As 1982 is the 250th anniversary of the spa's discovery, some restoration work is taking place to enable the public to visit the Dolycoed site.
Other Notable Welsh Spas
Many mineral springs were of only local significance and some, such as the chalybeate spa at Aberystwyth now known only as a street name, never made a lasting impact. Two in North Wales do, however, have an interesting history and are worthy of mention:-
Caergwrle Wells, Flintshire
Caergwrle Spa became a popular resort with people from Manchester and Liverpool at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, like many other Welsh watering places, nothing is left of the spa, except one very solid, but boarded up, red brick building.
Trefriw Wells, Gwynedd
This was first discovered between 190 and 250 A. D. by a Roman Legion, but the first bath house was not built until 1743. Trefriw Wells closed in 1952 but was reopened in 1977 and visitors are able to see the ancient caves and purchase bottles of iron and sulphur water.
Claimed Medicinal Properties
Although some claims were undoubtedly exaggerated (e.g. the ability to cure plague), others were based on fact. Although sulphur is probably good for some skin complaints and possibly iron for anaemia, and saline for constipation, mineral waters were often used to treat scurvy, ulcers and eye troubles with varying degrees of success. They were also recommended for asthma, debility, and generally washing out the system. Some contained barium which was claimed to be good for heart trouble.
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