Horley Green Spa, Shibden

In a small copse on the flanks of the Shibden Valley, no great distance from the Godley Cutting, stands an incongruous building with a Classical facade and some forty yards above it, a three-storey Georgian-style edifice. These structures are the legacy of a spa resort popular in the 18th and 19th Century which exploited a natural mineral spring in the hillside, known as one of the strongest in the country. A variety of medicinal benefits were claimed for it and it’s recorded that people travelled from miles around to take the waters.

The spa house itself was built circa 1780 by landowner James Drake (although it is interesting to speculate whether its use for healing had an older provenance as a holy well). Local physicians such as Dr. Robert Alexander would recommend its use to treat a range of complaints including diabetes, poor circulation and digestive complaints. Such was draw of the resort, Upper Spa House had to be constructed around a decade later to accommodate the growing number of visitors coming from across the north of England.

Dr. Thomas Garnett of Harrogate visited the establishment in 1790 and subsequently published the pamphlet “Experiments and Observations on the Horley Green Spa, near Halifax” in which he observed, “The Horley Green water is quite pellucid – sparkles when poured out of one glass into another – and has a sharp, aluminous, styptic taste, not unlike ink. The taste is not unpleasant when the water is taken from the springhead and drank immediately; but if taken only a few yards from the source its taste is more disagreeable”.

The popularity of the spa in the late 18th Century was clearly short-lived and it had apparently fallen into dereliction by 1840. However, the Victorian craze for hydrotherapy led to its restoration in 1840 by Dr. William Alexander, grandson of its earlier champion Dr. Robert Alexander. The reopened spa also included a bath-house for full immersion in the waters, enclosing the spring in a trough 14 x 12 feet long and 3.5 feet deep. The floor of the trough was flagged, beneath which there was a course of cobbles to further aid filtration.

Alexander published his own pamphlet titled “The Horley Green mineral water: its new chemical analysis and medicinal uses”, in which he somewhat unsurprisingly declared “I unhesitatingly affirm that the Horley Green Spa possesses a very strong claim to be regarded as a powerful tonic and chalybeate”. Analysis of the water at the time found it held a constant temperate of 48.5°F and contained “carbonic acid gas, nitrogen, sulphate of iron, sulphate of lime, sulphate of magnesia, chloride of calcium and aluminium”.

It is not recorded how many years the site operated under William Alexander’s guidance but inevitably, the spa fell into dereliction again once modern medicine had largely discredited the efficacy of hydrotherapy treatments. The building was restored sometime in the late 20th Century as a domestic residence, despite containing a limited number of rooms. The spring itself was discovered choked with stones but owner Philip Reid stated his intention to maintain the spa, albeit for historical rather than commercial purposes.

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Published in: on April 24, 2010 at 13:37  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi,
    so which came first the lower or upper building?

    • The lower building. This housed the spa itself and was built in 1780. The upper building was constructed around ten years later to accommodate the growing number of visitors.


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