In 1841 Dr. Augustus Bozzi Granville published a three volume series of books titled The Spas of England and Principle Sea Bathing Places. They are beautiful books, describing Granville’s tour through England and documenting life at the end of the Regency Era.
Granville was a fascinating character who led a full and colourful life. ‘It has been the experience of few to see in their youth Napoleon Bonaparte in Milan, or as a medical student to witness the early experiments in electricity by Volta in Pavia, or to hear in Malaga the distant boom of the guns at the battle of Trafalgar, or as a postgraduate doctor in Paris to be present at Laennec’s invention of the stethoscope. Yet all of these events, and much else, occurred in the colourful life of Augustus Bozzi Granville, who was born 200 years ago in 1783. He is not now remembered for any major medicoscientific discovery, but during the ninety years of his eventful life his quicksilver personality had an impact on many fields..’ Alex Sakula. His interest in spas stemmed from his desire, as a medical doctor, to improve public sanitation, he was a great advocate of sea bathing and spas as a means of restoring health.
Granville’s tour of our region begins with a visit to the spas at Croft and Dinsdale. He then travels to Stockton and comments on the rise of the new town of Middlebrough and its four thousand inhabitants. Granville is full of praise for Middlesbrough but does not hold back in criticising Stockton and its people.. ‘squalid and ill-dressed, discontented and not well-looking.’ Granville’s low opinion of the citizens of Stockton may have been coloured by the political and social upheavals that were happening at the time, he writes ‘The people at Stockton must have been inclined to the dolce far niente when they turned chartists, shortly before the time of my visit, and set about grumbling in good earnest, wandering in groups, the very picture of indolence and wretchedness.’
Granville leaves Stockton and its grumbling Chartists and travels to Guisborough. He describes the journey from Stockton to Guisborough as one of the richest treats in England to the lover of landscapes. The purpose of his journey is to visit the spa on the road to Slapewath.
After a drive of a mile and a half on the south-east road from Guisborough, skirting the lesser Cleveland hills, my friendly companion and I entered a narrow carriage-way, which presently plunged abruptly into a thick and intricate wood. Following here a very tortuous path, hardly wide enough for a two-wheel carriage, and keeping along the brink of a murmuring beck on an alum-shale-rock bed, noisy and turbulent, we reached at length a most romantic and rocky nook, enlarged from what nature had made it by former alum-miners, but most solitary and retired.
At a spot where the torrent sweeps along a projecting mass of slatey rock, by the side of which it has scooped out its own shallow channel, and under impending portions of the rocks which hang over from the opposite bank, a stream of the most beautiful and transparent water is seen to spout immediately from the shale strata, and being conducted through a stone pipe, issues conveniently for the use of the drinkers. The taste is slightly sulphuretted, as is its smell; but this removed (and nothing is so easy) the water tastes as sapid as pure spring water. Perhaps after a little while, and on reflection, one can fancy the presence of a little of the bitterness of muriate of lime, but such a taste is very faint indeed.
The stream flows at the rate of thirty pints in a minute; its temperature was 50°, while that of the air was 63°. It is probable that while the alum-works (now wholly abandoned) were rife in this secluded spot, which can boast of having been the place where alum was first manufactured in England in Elizabeth’s time, the workmen may have noticed this water; but its introduction to public attention was due to the Rev. James Wilcocks, as I before observed, and is of as recent a date as 1822. Since then, it has acquired a certain degree of local celebrity. A rude bath-room for using the water, either as a cold or a hot bath, has been erected under the rock, and during fine weather a woman attends from Guisborough to supply the wants of the visitors.
The approach to, and situation of, this spring, are the most romantic I ever beheld in England. Its vicinity, also, to Redcar, as well as Whitby on the coast, besides a multitude of country-seats of great importance by which it is surrounded, invest the place with much additional interest. It will not, however, become very readily a fashionable Spa, there being many difficulties to overcome for that purpose, many wants to be supplied, and improvements to be suggested. Around the spring the fractured shaly-rock is covered with aluminous efflorescence.
John Walker Ord visited the spa site in 1844. Ord’s comments reflect the changing times, where Granville belittles the Chartists, Ord slates the ‘pseudo-Christians, perhaps he was attacking the moral sensibilities of the Nonconformist and Dissenter movements, both of whom were active in the 1840’s.
Ord’s description of the Bath house.
We regret to state that this house, with the bath rooms, is quite untenanted; and to the disgrace of the proprietary, the whole building is permitted to run to ruin. When we consider the exceeding beauty and seclusion of the place, the medicinal value of the spring, and the great advantage to the town of such a pleasant and much-frequented promenade, we consider it our duty in this work to enter our protect against the gothic and barbarous spirit which can permit the present state of things to remain. The interference of spiritual cant and hypocrisy, so prevalent with pseudo-Christians, has, we believe, had the effect of closing the place on Sunday; but those who know how intimately physical health and morals are connected should beware how they meddle with the innocent recreations of the artisan, peasant and working man. It is not through healthy robust exercise that the mind becomes corrupt and criminal!
Granville and Ord’s descriptions of Spa Wood are wonderful as first-hand accounts of the spa site but more importantly they unwittingly capture a period of transition and great social upheaval. Middlesbrough had just been founded and iron ore had yet to be discovered in the Cleveland Hills. Stockton had lost its status as the principle port on the River Tees. Politically, the Chartist Movement was gathering pace and a new religious zeal threatened the authority of the established Church. The two decades that followed Granville’s visit would probably be the most important in the history of the development of modern Teesside.
OS Map surveyed 1853
OS Map surveyed 1893. Ironstone was discovered in the Eston Hills in 1850. There are at least 10 ironstone mines operating within a three mile radius of Slapewath.
Many of the industrial remains of Spa Wood and the surrounding area are documented on the excellent Hidden Teesside Website
Articles on Chartism on Teesside from the wonderful People’s Republic of Teesside Blog
Augustus Bozzi Granville (1783-1872): London physician-accoucher and Italian patriot. Alex Sakula. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine Vol.76 October 1983
The Spas of England and Principle Sea-Bathing Places. Vol. 1 A.B. Granville 1841
The History and Antiquities of Cleveland: Comprising the Wapentake of East and West Langbargh, North Riding, County York. John Walker Ord. Pub. 184