The Chalybeate spring was in the centre of the Spa and had long been known to local people, possibly as far back as the reign of King John. Eminent physicians, such as Sir Benjamin Brodie and Sir Astley Cooper praised its qualities and during a Court case it was established that the water contained more salts than the water at Cheltenham Spa.
A map of 1800 shows that the area was known as Bewlye Coppice, adjacent to Bewlye Farm.
Like many spas it could not rely entirely on the proceeds of the ‘taking of the waters’ and the invigorating air, and on August 1st, 1831, when the grounds were owned by Mr. J.D. Smith, it was opened by Lady Essex as a place of entertainment. The gardens were laid out by Decimus Burton, the noted architect, who also designed the Spa House and The Lodge.
Fine views were to be had from the 30 acres of grounds and many ‘rustic edifices’ were constructed. There was a circus ring, a rosery and an upper and lower lake with water fowl, a maze or wilderness and an ‘orchestra’; and also a camera obscura with a telescope powerful enough to see Windsor Castle.
Entertainments, controlled by the clerk at the Lodge, included minstrels who serenaded lovers, concerts daily by military bands, dancing, astrology, acrobatics, archery (bow and arrows were provided, fireworks and illuminations with myriads of polychromatic lamps.
Picnics and Exhibitions
Floricultural exhibitions were also held, the first being the Metropolitan Horticultural Society, ‘open to all England’. Visitors and also gypsy parties were encouraged to bring their own food and wine, hiring cutlery and plates on the site. Such picnics could be eaten on certain lawns or in tents and marquees.
A publication, ‘The Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction’, describes in 1832 the entrance by a lodge of ‘ornate rusticity’. Carriages had to draw up inside the gate entrance and set down their company there. A path then led down to a small glade where stood a circular rustic building used as a confectionery and reading room. A refreshment list was displayed here and at the Lodge.
Taking the Waters
The spring was nearby, within a circular rockwork structure under a thatched, wigwam-shaped roof. The water, which rose up some 14 ft., was drawn up in a glass urn-shaped pail. The water was bottled as Beulah Saline Water and sold at 2s. a gallon. It was also sent frozen in bottles by Masters Freezing Apparatus and in blocks.
Madam Vestri’s Olympic Theatre brought out a ‘New and Original Burletta’, entitled ‘The Beulah Spa’. The first performance was on November 28th, 1833, and this certainly helped to popularise the Spa.
Subscriptions varied from £3.3s. per annum to 10/6d. per week for a family, although other references state £2 per annum. The charge for one person was £1 a year or 10s. a quarter. The gardens were also open to non-subscribers at 1s,, or 6d. on Mondays. Servants in livery were not admitted.
Coaches ran three times a day from Charing Cross, but in 1839 the London and Brighton Railway opened and visitors were disembarked at ‘ The Jolly Sailor’, now Norwood Junction.
Events in the Grounds
To give some idea of the atmosphere created in the Spa and Gardens, the following are notes from posters advertising events in the grounds:
A Grand Fete was held on August 20th, 1838, in aid of the funds of the Licensed Victuallers School, Kennington Lane. A drawing shows a maypole, a windmill with acrobats hanging from the sails and a display of fencing.
A ticket invitation to a Grand Entertainment and Dinner on October 7th, 1852, calls the Spa, ‘The Versailles of London’. Two years later, in September 1854, there were fireworks and Darby’s Giant Montgolfier balloon ascent.
A placard advertised grand galas every Monday, Tuesday and Saturday with grand illuminations, a hermit’s cave, and Harry Twist, the Shakesperian clown and jester.
A later poster lists as attractions Great French Equestrians and fireworks, including asteroid or parachute rockets. On many posters a Mr. Evans is mentioned as the manager for all events.
Decline and Fall
The Spa’s popularity started to decline at the time Crystal Palace opened in 1854, and other types of amusements were provided to attract visitors.
In May, 1858, the estate was put up for auction and much was built upon. A large mansion, ‘The Lawns’, was built at a later date and was demolished after a fire in the mid-1960’s.
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