According to the legend, in 1716 the locals discovered a
flock of pigeons pecking on the salt deposited by the chalybeate spring
which gurgled to the surface on the land of Bayshill meadow, at a spot
close to what is now Cheltenham Ladies' College and that's how they became
aware that the water from this particular spring had an unusual healing effect.
Original Cheltenham Spa, 1786
land was originally owned by Mr. Higgs, who sold it to a Quaker William
Mason in 1715. He enclosed the spring and began to charge for the waters.
He developed the spa by adding a bowling green and in 1721 he leased the
well and retired to Bristol. After his death in 1725 his property passed
to his daughter Elizabeth who married Capt. Henry Skillicorne (1678
- 1763), flamboyant and well traveled Merchant Sea Captain and adventurer,
whom she met in Bristol.
THE FIRST CHELTENHAM SPA
In 1738 the couple returned to Cheltenham to exploit the
business opportunity that opened for them. First they dug the spring
out to make a well and later pumping aparatus was added with a brick canopy above it. A small assembly
room was built, where people played billiards and cards and danced at balls,
and the area was landscaped. To connect the spa to the town he planned to plant
an avenue of limes and elms, later known as the Well Walk. He first planted in 1739 an avenue south of the well, the 'Upper Walk', the following year the 'Lower Walk' of elms was planted leading from a small rustic bridge over the Chelt to the well. The inspiration for the avenues were the walks in Bath.
In 1740 Dr Short's History of Mineral
Waters was published,
declaring Cheltenham's best in England. The
waters were bottled and sold as far afield as Bristol and London, and the
spa itself received and average of 600 paying visitors each year, among
which were many people 'of great fortune and nobility'. The composer
George Friedrich Handel and the writer Samuel Johnson were among those.
By the late 1750s the fortune of Cheltenham turned. The roads
to Cheltenham were in a poor state and there were no direct coaches. There
also wasn't enough inns and private houses in the town. In addition to
this, there was an epidemy of small pox.
Even so, the visitors did come
and there were signs of progress from the mid 1770s. Henry Skillicorne's son, William, continued the Spa's development, building a new Pump Room in 1775. He secured the partnership with Henry, Earl Fauconberg, a courtier and Lord Lieutenant of the North Riding of Yorkshire, who having experienced the benefits of the well waters, built himself a mansion at the top of Bayshill, facing south, with a coach road leading straight to the well.