The Spa Baths

The following article is taken from Croft, Hurworth, Neasham, Middleton and Dinsdale ‘Back in Time’ by Vera Chapman.

People had begun to bathe in the Stinking Pits known to cure cattle and horses, so circa 1670 Sir William Chaytor built here a cold Bath House. By the early 18th century ‘nothing could be more primitive or of ruder aspect’. A pipe from the source fed the bath at a constant 51°F and a tank outside, from which visitors ‘drank three to seven half pint tumblers’,finding the water strongly diuretic. Sulphur deposits encrusted the surroundings. Later, the Sweet Well was found in the wood to the north and the Canny Well to the south. By this time, however, a new well had been bored in 1827 and the New Spa established.

A woodland walk along Spa Beck connected the Old and New Spas. The Canny Well spring rose in these woods and was piped to the cold plunge bath at the New Spa. The direct route from the village was via Richmond Lane, up a few stone steps and alongside Croft Hall grounds, through the high side of Echo Field where wooden benches allowed a rest, and into the New Spa drive. A double or even treble echo came from the four-arched skew bridge which, from 1841, carried the railway over the Tees. The workmen boring in 1827 for Sir William Chaytor’s new well, fled when the water burst forth with great  force.  It  rivalled  Harrogate  in  sulphur  content  and numerous  analyses  of  Croft  waters  were  made. They were believed  to  alleviate  rheumatism,  gout and  ailments of  The New Spa designed by Ignatius Bonami was opened in 1829. Croquet was in progress in front of the Bath House, with the coach house and keeper’s cottage alongside. Behind the verandah was the central pump room. The strongly sulphurous water emerged from the New Well at a constant temperature of 52ºF and was drunk with an added teaspoonful of common salt if warmed. Opening off a long corridor were six warm baths lined with Dutch tiles, a vapour bath, a cold plunge bath lined with stone flags and paved with slate, an attendant’s room and a boiler room. With each bath was a dressing room. ‘All the doors painted white lead colour developed a jet black coating from the effluvia’. Silver became tarnished.

In Edwardian times the trellised verandah of the New Spa was festooned with roses and rustic seats. A penny in the slot music box played ‘Whisper and I shall Hear’ and ‘Boys of the Old Brigade’! The water came opaque like jelly fish, turned milky white on  exposure to air and left a sulphurous deposit. A half-pint was to be drunk two  or  three  times  a  day.  The  dressing  rooms  had carpets, chairs, dressing tables, mirrors and clean whitewalls. The ‘husbands’ train reunited businessman’s families who stayed for weeks on end. The Visitors’ Book named the entire Sunderland Football Team of 1901. In the 1920s daily bus excursions ran from Tyneside. Opening at 7a.m., hot sulphurous baths cost 2/-, cold baths 9d, the cold plunge 6d and water 2d per glass. By the late 1950s, however, when the proprietress died, it was little used, closed soon afterwards and was demolished.