Some 187 years after it was opened and became one of the most popular attractions in the country, drawing crowds of 10,000 and being visited by Queen Victoria and the future monarchs of Britain and Germany, the Beulah Spa in Upper Norwood is to get a fitting commemorative marker.
The 14-foot deep well in Spa Woods, off Beulah Hill and not far from the pub that took its name from the spa, was filled in during the 1960s, left unmarked, its history neglected and largely forgotten.
Now, interest in the feature’s Regency period and Victorian past has been revived thanks to a book, The Beulah Spa 1831-1856 A New History, written by Chris Shields.
Shields has founded The Beulah Spa History Project to secure funding and council approval for the installation of a pictorial history lectern and ground level granite marker stone – “The Beulah Stone”.
Ward councillor Pat Ryan and The Norwood Society have backed Shields’s efforts.
The Royal Beulah Spa was quite the thing in the 1830s and 1840s.
The natural saline spring was said to have water more pure than that to be found at the fashionable west country spas, Bath and Wells, and containing more salts than the health-improving waters of Cheltenham.
Local legend had it that the owner of the Manor of White Horse took pity on a poor old horse that was fit only for the knacker’s yard. He turned the horse loose in a meadow that had a pool of water. The tired old horse grew sleek and fit. The owner, a John Davidson Smith, concluded that the change in the horse’s health must be due to the water.
So he sent a sample of the water to Professor Michael Faraday for analysis. Faraday sent back the analysis with his comparison to Bath and Wells, and this prompted Davidson Smith to have the idea of creating a spa.
A 25-acre pleasure gardens, designed by Decimus Burton, was created as an attraction around the spa. Visitors included Lady Essex, the Duke of Gloucester, Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray. Even Queen Victoria and her children attended, the queen on four occasions – the first with her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, the last with her son and heir Prince Bertie – the future Edward VII.
On one occasion, 10,000 people stood on the grassy slopes listening as Johann Strauss Snr conducting his band while society figures danced the latest craze – the Waltz – in the specially created dancing area. The spa staged grand fetes and galas, balloon ascents, tightrope walking, military bands, archery, a camera obscura, an octagonal reading room, gypsy fortune-telling and a singing minstrel, before falling out of fashion soon after the Crystal Palace was re-erected nearby in Sydenham.
Shields captures this history in his book, and now has liaised with locals and the Friends of Spa Woods to arrange for the site’s grand history to be commemorated with the stone.
The grand unveiling of the stone and an illustrated lectern, to be conducted by the Mayor of Croydon, will take place from 11am on September 29, when a brass band will play and the scene will be set by some wearing clothes from the Regency and Victorian periods.
“This long-forgotten and very important piece of Croydon’s history is finally being recognised and remembered and getting the attention it so deserves,” Shields has said.
Shields’ book is available from The Bookseller Crow shop in Crystal Palace, from The Norwood Society, or from the author.
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