Episode 1: Return to Bagnigge Wells

Our ramblers visited just two spots twice on their journey: the Marlborough-Head in Bishopsgate, their starting and finishing point, and Bagnigge Wells, a resort made famous in 1757 with the discovery of mineral waters believed to be beneficial to one’s health. The Marlborough-Head marked the completion of their journey, so logically they needed to visit twice, but why did they call on Bagnigge Wells twice? What was the lure of the resort that sat not far from Kings Cross?

BevisBagniggeWellsTwo springs were found near the River Fleet and were tested by Dr John Bevis, physician and astronomer, who printed his findings in a booklet first printed in 1760, An experimental enquiry concerning the contents, qualities, and medicinal virtues, of the two mineral waters, lately discovered at Bagnigge Wells, near LondonBevis ran forty-seven experiments on the water from one well, the purging well, all of which are described in his book. For example, Experiment 33 is as follows: ‘Being mixed with syrup of violets, no new colour was produced after several hours, but the next day the mixture shewed a dirty green’. (p. 16). Another thirty-three experiments on a second well, the chalybeat well, with Experiment 11 as follows: ‘With powdered rhubarb it first took a brown, afterwards a purple brown’. (p. 40) Bevis concluded that several health problems could be solved by the drinking the water: pimples, cancers, gout, ‘corrupt humours’ (pp. 29-30) (Those experiments sound old-fashioned but in fact the syrup of violets turns green when exposed to alkalis and rhubarb has a high oxalic acid content that reacts to potassium permanganate, a compound with antimicrobial properties).

V0013667 Bagnigge Wells: the exterior, after a print made in 1780. Wo Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Bagnigge Wells: the exterior, after a print made in 1780. Wood engraving by [W.H.P.]. 1780-1877 Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Bagnigge Wells: the exterior, after a print made in 1780. (Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images, V0013667)
After the discovery of the spas, Bagnigge Wells grew in popularity. The therapeutic effects of the spas became less important to visitors than the social aspects of the resort and, before long, the grounds included tea arbours, a fun house, a skittle alley, a bowling green, a grotto, a flower garden, ponds and fountains. There was also a pump room for concerts.[1] Literary works about the resort followed its rise in popularity, with ‘Song of Bagnigge Wells’ printed in Isaac Kimber’s The London magazine. Or, Gentleman’s monthly intelligencer in 1759.[2] The 1779 ‘Bagnigge-Wells: a poem’ read:

Thy arbours, Bagnigge, and the gay alcove,
Where the frail Nymphs + in am’rous dalliance rove; 
Where prentic’d Youths enjoy the Sunday feast, 
And City Matrons boast their Sabbath’s rest…[3]

By 1794, after several decades of popularity, Bagnigge Wells had become an established part of social and leisure life in London. In 1785, Samuel Jackson Pratt wrote that ‘ the common people of London have their places of convivial resort, such as Bagnigge Wells, White Conduit House, the Dog and Duck, &c.’[4] Penny Post delivered letters to Bagnigge Wells by 1794, confirming that it was indeed a well-known spot.[6]

Well-known Bagnigge Wells became, but its reputation began to be clearly linked to frivolity and a lowering of morals as years passed, as seen in a 1793 court report from the London Packet or New Lloyd’s Evening Post:

Several witnesses were examined on the part of the defendant, to prove that the plaintiff’s daughter was a girl of great levity of manners, and had accepted the addresses of several young men, with whom she was frequently seen at Bagnigge’s Wells and other public gardens, on Sunday evenings.[5]

Our ramblers’ inclusion of Bagnigge Wells on their journey makes sense in light of their other stops and their exploration of the morals and values of London. Time spent in chapels and churches balances with time spent drinking syllabub at the Foundling Hospital and listening to gossip in Green Park. The actions they take and conversations they hold in Bagnigge Wells tell us about the location itself, as well as the role it plays in their journey.

Our narrator and Captain Lee first arrived at Bagnigge Wells after eight in the morning, our narrator convinced of the need to visit after hearing the Captain’s description:

… it is at present a place of general resort; so that we shall by no means find it barren of amusement. I have myself seen some hundreds of a morning, whose various characters and appearance must certainly furnish sufficient entertainment for a contemplative mind; And though there are several minerals in the neighbourhood not to be despised, yet the superior accommodations of this place rendered it more frequented than any other, as I think it justly deserves. (p. 18)

They did not drink the water on either visit, though the narrator mentioned Dr Bevis’s pamphlet about ‘their various virtues and effects’. In fact, the narrator explained that they did not visit Bagnigge Wells ‘in the character of valetudinarians’, and therefore ignored the water. Rather, the Captain described the elegant ‘great room’, with its fine organ and the progress of the gardens, comparing them favourably to Vauxhall.

… I proceeded to take a view of the place, which I found to consist of several beautiful walks, ornamented with a great variety of curious shrubs and flowers, all in the utmost perfection. About the centre of the garden is a small round fish-pond, in the midst of which is a curious Fountain, representing a Cupid bestriding a swan, which spouts three streams of water through its beak to a great height. Round this place, and indeed almost over the whole garden, are genteel seats for the company; which, my friend said, we should undoubtedly find quite full in the afternoon, notwithstanding their prodigious number. At a little distance from the pond is a small neat cottage, built in the rural style; and not far from that, over a bridge leading across a piece of water that passes through part of the garden, is a pretty piece of grotto-work, large enough to contain near twenty people. Besides which, there is house, and several seats placed by the water-side, for such of the company as chuse to smoke, or drink cyder, ale, &c. which are not permitted in the other parts of the garden. (pp. 18-19)

After a full description of the grounds, the Captain and narrator settle into a discussion of the wicked ways of wife of an elderly merchant, the transgressions of a young man dressed in century-old fashion, and the romantic woes of a young man from Hampstead. After relating the gossip of these three, as well as putting forth their strong judgements, our ramblers grew hungry. ‘Having sufficiently admired this agreeable place, I did not wonder at my friends encomiums, though they at first seemed to be rather exaggerated’. (pp. 19-20)

Bagnigge Wells, London: two alluring, fashionably-dressed women, one plucking rosebuds (Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images V0013668)
Bagnigge Wells, London: two alluring, fashionably-dressed women, one plucking rosebuds (Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images V0013668)

 I must not forget, however, that just as we quitted the gardens, we were presented with the address of two ladies of easy virtue, requesting our attendance by four in the afternoon; but as we did not think proper to comply with their kind invitation, we immediately returned the card, to prevent their being disappointed, and proceeded on our way to the THATCHED-HOUSE, where we regaled ourselves with a gill of red port, which my friend the Captain, who had been many years in the port trade, declared was as good as any he had ever tasted abroad.

Despite their protestations that they would not accept the invitation from those two ladies, our ramblers returned to Bagnigge Wells after 5pm. This time, they ‘entered this garden just in the height of the tea-drinking’. Over halfway through their long journey when they stopped at Bagingge Wells a second time, the Captain was quite tired and a ‘bowl of negus’ was called for. Our narrator observed that there were more people in attendance later in the day  (p. 72)

‘We scarcely sat down, before I was accosted by the noted Bob Short, the author of many short trifles, mostly useful for young folks or country families’. (p. 72) Mr Short’s presence was due to his ‘Sunday Reforming Scheme’ and among his projects was an effort to reform the women listed in Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies.

The ladies of easy virtue who constantly attend this place are too numerous to be all noticed in this place, however, as the Captain knew most of them, and Bob gave us many anecdotes of such new faces as the other did not know, we passed out time very agreeably. (p. 74)

V0013673 Bagnigge Wells: the gardens, with people taking tea, playing Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Bagnigge Wells: the gardens, with people taking tea, playing bowls, etc. Coloured process print after a drawing made in 1830. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Bagnigge Wells: the gardens, with people taking tea, playing (Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images V0013673)

 

Our ramblers had their fill of gossip and moralising at Bagnigge Wells, a location in London that provided a tableau of men and women who provided grist for our ramblers’s mill of relating their observations and even moral instruction to readers.

Tired of the scenes of dissipation to which we has been witnessed, we agreed to retire and pursue our route to Kensington, where we proposed to spend an hour in the elegant shades of the favourite retirement of his late majesty George II. (p. 76)

 

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[1] Roy Porter, London: a social history (Harvard University Press, Boston, 2001), p. 173.

[2] Isaac Kimber, The London magazine. Or, Gentleman’s monthly intelligencer in 1759. (London:Richard Baldwin, jun. at the Rose in Pater-Noster-Row, 1759), p. 332.

[3] ‘Bagnigge-Wells: a poem, In which are pourtrayed the characters of the most eminent filles-de-joye’ (London: Henry Haukins, 1779).

[4] Samuel Jackson Pratt, Miscellanies, by Mr. Pratt, in four volumes (London: Printed for T. Becket, in Pall-Mall, bookseller to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and their Royal Highnesses the Princes, 1785), p. 252.

[5] London Packet or New Lloyd’s Evening Post (London, England), March 8, 1793 – March 11, 1793; Issue 3723.

[6] London Chronicle (London, England), September 13, 1794 – September 16, 1794; Issue 5949.