We found the well at the centre of a radiating development of low houses. It was enclosed in a newly designed monument and surrounded by lavender. This was the source of the famous Epsom Spa.
Henry Wicker, a villager, was grazing his cows on the common during the very dry summer of 1618. He saw a water collecting in a hoof print on the dry ground. The next day a hole he had dug was full of water. The parched cows wouldn’t drink the water, but Wicker tried it. He found that it was salty and soon felt its purgative effect. With proof of its cleansing qualities, he then set out to tell of its curative powers. In this way, the cow herd Wicker was the discoverer of magnesium. The story reminds me of the farmer and his wallowing pigs, in the German spa town of Bad Oeynhausen, whose foragings were the start of the salty resort.
The ‘Epsom Salts’ in the water are magnesium sulphate. It is abundant in seawater and effects the way sound travels through the sea; it allows only low frequencies to travel a long way underwater, like the sounds made by whales.
As visitors came from Europe to take the waters, by drinking and bathing in them, a circle of shops and refreshments grew around the well. After this came the inns, taverns, gaming rooms (casinos are often connected to spa towns), a bowling green, a cockpit and the assembly rooms.
Celie Fiennes in her travel journal notes the ‘ raceing of boyes, or rabbets, or piggs; in the evening the Company meete in the Greenes, where are Gentlemen bowling, Ladyes walking, the benches round to sitt, there are little shopps, and a gameing or danceing-roome”.
Some visitors drank 16 pints of the water a day from stoneware jars and followed this with a walk as the effects took place. In 1750s you could buy Epsom water at the Mineral Water Warehouse in Fleet Street.
Nemiah Grew was the author of The Anatomy of Plants, Seawater made Fresh, and The nature and Use of the Salt contained in Epsom and other such waters. He began to produce the salts to sell in chemists and there was no need to travel to Epsom common to take them. Epsom was also out run by other fashionable spa towns like Bath Spa and Tunbridge Wells. The spa was in decline but the gaming and racing lived on.
A RELAXING BATH
Put 2 cups of Epsom salts in a bath. Soak for more than 15 minutes.
You can buy 1kilo bags of Espsom Salts from the chemist.