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CLIFTON HOTWELL SPA PAST AND PRESENT



1851: THE ROYAL CLIFTON SPA.
JAMES BOLTONíS HOTWELL HOUSE.






Right: The new Hotwell House (1822-1867). Designed by the architect Henry Seward, in the Etruscan style. The Royal Clifton Spa, Pump Room, Baths, and Mineral Aerated Water Manufactory. Hotwells, Bristol. Royal status probably granted in 1851. Image by E. S. & A. Robinson, Bristol.

It wasnít until November 1851, the same year as the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, London, that James Bolton is first mentioned in advertisements in the local Bristol Mercury newspaper, as Proprietor of the Royal Clifton Spa. The local papers said, with the efforts now making by the Proprietor are united the interests of the public, through whose support he trusts to restore the ancient town of the Hotwell Spring and the fashion and prosperity of the neighbourhood. In the same year, the book of Collected Poems by Thomas Lovell Beddoes (see Chapter 16) was first published.

James Boltonís Etruscan style Hotwell House was bigger and better than anything that preceded it. He made several additions and improvements which included the building of a new entrance to the Pump Room, which was tastefully decorated and harmoniously coloured. In the centre is a graceful fountain imparting a cheerful and refreshing appearance to this comfortable lounge, which is further adorned with statutory, and to its other attraction will be added the daily papers. There were marble, porcelain and metal baths, as well as vapour, shower, medicated baths and douche baths. These baths had a hot closet attached to each, are well ventilated, and completely furnished, and at night, with the whole Establishment, are lit with gas. A swimming pool was also built: a tepid swimming bath, covered with glass, through which the Hotwell will flow at a temperature from between 76 to 80 degrees throughout the year. Accommodation was provided for visitors that included breakfast and dinner.

Above: interior of the new improved entrance hall to the Royal Clifton Spa c.1851, otherwise known as the Pump Room.

Note: the giant size of this fountain, which might be compared today with those found at the Tropicana swimming pool in Weston-Super-Mare.

In November 1853, there was an advertisment in the local papers, The tepid bath is open Ďtill half-past ten at night, lit with gas, and good fires kept.

On 7th January 1854, the Bristol Mercury reported: The second full dress ball for the season took place on Monday evening last, at the above elegant rooms, and dancing was kept up with great spirit until an early hour. Our informant states that Ďupon leaving, the scene more resembled a journey over the Alps, than returning from a ball at the Hotwells'.

Above: The Tepid Swimming Bath at The Royal Clifton Spa, probably first opened in 1851, demolished in 1867.

A tepid swimming pool, covered with glass, through which the Hotwell will flow. James Boltonís Spa was very much ahead of its time and incredibly contemporary. There were no pictures of ill-looking people being winched over the side using Victorian hoist-and-pulley bath contraptions and lowered carefully into swimming pools, as was the case at Buxton, Cheltenham and Bath Spa. Instead, the swimmers looked positively athletic, and there was even mixed bathing.

In July 1864, the Baths were advertised in the Bristol Mercury newspaper:
The baths and swimming bath at Hotwell House are fortunately not dependant on the water company for their supply of water, as is the case with all the other baths in Clifton and Bristol, but the Hotwell Spring flows as copiously and pure as ever, not being in the slightest degree affected by the general drought. The swimming bath has a continuous stream passing through it, and no dirty people being admitted the water is always pure, clear and wholesome. Pure water to bathe in is equally as important to health as pure water to drink.

James Boltonís new Hotwell House was evidently popular; there were regular adverts in the local papers, not only to attract customers but also to attract numerous staff at reception and to work in the baths themselves. He was a shrewd businessman and sold a variety of artefacts relating to the Spa that included guide books with the best quality reproduction prints in Bristol, with local views, and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. There were pretty curiosities for sale, often found in the estuary at low tide, on the banks of the River Avon in the Avon Gorge and at near-by Severn beach, such as shells, glass and fossils. Fossil collecting was in vogue in the late 18th century and early 19th century, at first as a pastime akin to stamp collecting, but which gradually resulted in far reaching changes in scientific ideas about prehistoric life and the history of the earth. Mary Anningís (1799-1847) poor and tragic beginnings, as an orphaned girl selling her findings from beach combing with her brother Joseph, at Lyme Regis, in Dorset, developed into the study and interpretation of curiosities, and she became a dealer of fossils at her fossil shop. Mary Anning was also a palaeontologist, when she found the first complete skeleton of an ichthyosaur ever discovered, and worked in collaboration with the naturalist Alfred Wallace, also from Dorset. It was the relatively unknown Wallace who first conceived the theory of evolution, which metamorphosed into the better known book On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin, several years Wallaceís junior, not published until 1859.

Although a prosperous property, in 1867 Hotwell House (built in 1822) was demolished so that Hotwell Point could be removed, in order to straighten the river, so that river navigation could be made safer. Inside Hotwell House was the Pump Room, which was the main public outlet for the Hotwell Spring. This happened because, in 1865, Bristol Corporation, at the insistence of the Docks Committee, decided that the time had come to build a new and larger entrance lock at the City Docks, north of Brunelís short-lived lock designed for Bristol Dock Company in 1844 (Brunelís lock replaced Jessopís lock). In 1866, the Society of Merchant Venturers sold Hotwell Point, Hotwell House and Hotwell Spring to the Docks Committee with a lot of other property in the Cumberland Basin area, which was then demolished to straighten the approach to the 1865 lock which was completed in 1873, and the one in use today. Unknown to them at the time was the reality of moving Bristol docks to Avonmouth.

There followed a public outcry by the People of Bristol because they had lost the Spa that had been one of its chief sources of early wealth and Cliftonís early fashion, which made the city famous. There had already been a public outcry in 1822 when Old Hotwell House had been demolished. The poor had always been allowed to draw Hotwell Spring water from the free tap, which was set up in a back yard, to conform with the prescriptive right of Bristolians and Cliftonians to have free access to the Hotwell. This free tap was in fact removed in 1831, but another was set up in 1837 as a result of threatened legal action by a section of the Bristol public. However, this was lost again in 1867, when Hotwell House was demolished.



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