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The Pump Room Bath
Bath’s Hot Spa Water
‘Of all things, water is best.’
The Geological Source
Bath spa water fell as rain up to 10,000 years ago on the nearby Mendip hills. Driven down though carboniferous limestone cave systems by pressure from the high water table on the Mendips, the water has reached depths of 2 to 3 kilometres.
The water penetrates overlying strata of impermeable Lias clay through fissures and a fault to rise at three points in Bath. The greatest source is the King’s Spring. Here the flow is 13 litres per second of 1,106,400 litres (c. 250,000 gallons) per day. The water temperature is 46 degrees C (115 degrees F).
The Mineral Content
There are 43 minerals in the water. Calcium and sulphate are the main dissolved ions with sodium and chloride also important. The water is low in dissolved metals except for iron which gives the characteristic iron staining around the baths and contributes to the waters distinctive flavour. The mineral content is 2.18 grammes per litre.
In medieval times a cure for conditions such as paralysis, colic, palsy and gout was sought from bathing in spa water. Lead poisoning as a cause of many of these afflictions. Many occupations involved exposure to lead. Alcohol, especially port, was adulterated with lead as a sweetener and fungicide. 18th century records from Bath Mineral Water Hospital show that patients benefited from the cure. Today it is fashionable to be sceptical about the curative properties of spa water although spas in Europe remain popular.
Taking the Waters
The fashion for drinking spa water arose from new medical ideas in the later 17th century. The Pump Room was opened in 1706 to provide a place to drink the waters.
The water was taken in the morning. For most visitors a pint or two was sufficient, but as much as a gallon a day could be prescribed! It is hardly surprising that the new Pump Room, opened in 1795, was criticised as lacking facilities for “when the waters begin to operate.”
There has been a charge for taking the waters since the opening of the first Pump Room in 1706. The position of Pumper was leased by the Corporation and following the opening of the present Pump Room the lease cost was 800 pounds per annum. Visitors could take out a subscription to the Pump Room which entitled them to take the waters. In subsequent years, the value of the lease fell and for a period water was distributed free of charge. Today the water is dispense without charge to disabled visitors and residents of Bath and North East Somerset.
The present Pumper is a staff member of Searcy’s, which provides the catering service to the Pump Room. Refreshments can now be taken throughout the day, at times to the accompaniment of the Pump Room Trio.