Wonder Waters

Issue 31: June 1986

Feeling off? One degree under? Something wrong somewhere?

Here is The Visitor Guide to the Wonder Waters of Somerset. Drink up and be merry.

Alford, near Castle Cary. The spring was first discovered in 1670, flocks of pigeons being observed to frequent the spot and drink ’til the cows came home. It was analysed by an expert: ‘Of a nauseous taste; curdles with soap; yields a white clotted sediment. This water was highly recommended in gouty cases, and bilious colics.’

Ashill, near Ilminster. A medicinal spring called Skipperham Well. In about 1780, a Doctor Farr of Curry Rivel found it ‘very cold but never freezes; after standing two months it deposited a tenacious green sediment upon the sides and bottom of the bottle, of a putrid smell and which felt like grease.’ The Good doctor suggested you drink it on the spot.

Bath, the hot springs. The principal diseases benefited by these waters, according to Sir George Gibbs in 1800, are ‘chronic gout, rheumatism, palsy, affections of the liver, dyspepsia and skin disorders.’ Dr Joseph Hume Spry went further in 1831: ‘The internal use of the Bath waters is recommended in rheumatic, gouty, and paralytic affections; in all those disorders originating from indigestion or acidity of the stomach; biliary and glandular obstructions; hypochrondriac and hysterical affections; and in short, almost every disorder accompanied by great debility.’

Queen Camel. Looks like Guinness, smells foul. Once much frequented on Sunday mornings by the common people desiring a remedy for leprous and skin disorders, its waters were said to be similar to those at Harrogate! Identical spring water can be found at Stock, West Lydford and Lottisham.

Glastonbury. Once called the Tor Hill Spring, now romantically called the Chalice Well, it had its heyday around 1751 when a man named Chancellor dreamt it could cure all ills. Across the road in a building called the Pump Room all could drink of the healing stream, and one Ann Gallaway advertised its proven cures (and her lodging house) in the Gloucester Journal – George Hunt, Mayor of Romsey, was cured of a paralytic disorder, deafness, dropsy and leprosy, and his servant was cured of fits. Mrs Willoughby of Salisbury was cured of an eye inflammation; Thomas Wager of Salop recovered from asthma, sore legs and rheumatic pains; many were the persons ‘cur’d of the king’s evil’.

If the Chalice Well waters are so wonderful, how wonderful are those of the Holy Well discovered in St Joseph’s Chapel in 1825? ‘ No doubt can be entertained of the appliction of this secret chamber and sacred well to the purpose of miraculous cure; for tradition speaks of the holy water as well as the holy thorn of Joseph of Arimathea’ wrote the historian Hutchings.

Burnham, The Rev David Davies excavated this mineral spring, and at a depth of 75 feet he found the equal of the famous Cheltenham water, a tonic ‘invigorating the whole animal fabric, and partly by its salutary action on the stomach in particular, giving it a tone, and rousing the impaired appetite.’ As long as you drank on the spot before the gases escaped. And in 1836, Dr G. Henning praised the waters as a bath – ‘Its efficacy in the relief of glandular and skin diseases has been experienced.

East Chinnock. A slat spring, recommended for cleaning discoloured teeth. From the pool beneath, narrow drains were cut to a house erected for the purpose of making salt from the water. ‘Chinnock men are salty sorts’ is no longer a common saying, unless Chinnock ladies know better.

Shapwick, near Glastonbury. Northbrook or Holywell is famed for its ‘perculiar and powerful properties in the cure of skin diseases in animals. Dogs afflicted by the mange would recover their healthy appearance by being thrown into the spring.’ People who did not fancy a dip should note the words of Mr Brande of the Royal Institution who analysed the water in 1827 – ‘The full efficacy taken internally requires it to be drank at the spring. It contains sulpheretted hydrogen, sulphate of soda, muriate of soda (common salt), a slight trace of magnesian salt, and a portion of sulphate of lime.’

Goathill, Dorset, near Milborne Port. On the south of the church are two springs with the road passing between them. The one to the west is pure and said to be good for the eyes. The other is an excellent purgative.