Nonsuch - a Renaissance Balnea
Dr Bruce E Osborne

Renaissance medicine, Henry VIII, Nonsuch Palace, Ewell springs, healing art and balnea, Elizabeth's bath.

2.1. Lake and Grotto, echoes of the past, derelict in the grounds of Ewell Castle.

Having explored the Roman practice of bathing it is now appropriate to consider how this practice survived in mainland Europe, to return to England in the 16th century. For this it is necessary to investigate Italy during a time span roughly comparable to the English medieval period. Unlike England, the culture of the bath continued to have significant impact in key European resorts, particularly in Germany, due to the patronage of the western emperors. Charlemagne, the Christian ruler of Europe, following his coronation by the Pope in 800 AD., established his court at Aachen where they could use the hot springs.[1]

The overthrow of Byzantium by the Venetians in the 13th century led to subsequent advances in scholarship by the Italians as they re-explored the texts of the ancient civilisations and the wisdom of Islam. Byzantium became the inspirational source of the Venetian Republic, being seen as the inheritor of the Roman traditions and a model for future civilisation.[2] Constantinople had been the second capitol of the Roman Empire and the Muslims had developed their own variant of the bath. Islamic religion specified regular bathing and washing routines, often at a public facility that, in modern parlance, we would call a Turkish Bath. They had preserved the Roman style warm, cool and hot rooms but avoided bathing, preferring to sweat away impurities. This gave rise to the hammam.[3]

By the end of the fifteenth century the revival of ancient learning had reached its zenith in Italy before spreading northwards into Europe. The Venetians had rediscovered the wisdom and skills of the classical physicians including new approaches to medicine and healing by late medieval times. A major factor in the dissemination of this knowledge throughout Europe was the French invasion of Italy in 1497. As part of the Renaissance movement,[4] alongside other cultural revival, the new regard for the use of mineral waters in bathing and healing can therefore be traced back through the Venetians to pre-medieval Europe and Byzantium. Both sources of inspiration had their roots in ancient Greek and Roman doctrines. The subsequent re-utilisation of Ewell springs and the discovery of Epsom Wells followed this Renaissance flow of knowledge.

Italian authors, such as John Michael Savonarola (died 1431), physician to the Duke of Ferrara, had been amongst the earliest Renaissance writers to expound on mineral waters, a century or more before English doctors started to publish their theses.[5] The medical fraternity of the Italian University of Padua (Padova) near Venice, set out to recover, translate and study the texts of the ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome. The new technique of printing greatly enhanced the dissemination of knowledge. By the 16th century it was considered the premier medical school in the civilised world. The fact that Padua possessed nearby numerous celebrated hot natural mineral springs used for bathing was no coincidence.[6] Abano, Montegrotto, Gazignano and Teolo all form part of what is now known as the spa resorts of Terme Euganee, reputedly the oldest spas in Europe.[7] The University attracted scholars from throughout Europe and the Tudor physicians Linacre, Chambre and Edward Wooton all held Padua medical degrees.

The Renaissance movement spread to England about this time, particularly under the enterprising influence of Henry VIII (reigned 1509-1547) who set out to restructure the then art, rather than science, of healing from the former, rather dubious collection of operatives and practices of the time. Henry VIII took a direct interest in advances in medicine and his knowledge was at least equal to that of his advisers.[8] In 1511, two years after Henry come to power, the Medical Act determined that practitioners of physic and surgery should be qualified at university or licensed by a bishop after examination. Shortly afterwards, Thomas Linacre, translator of Galen and one of the King's physicians established the Company of Physicians, later to become the Royal College of Physicians. Similarly Thomas Vicary amalgamated the barbers and surgeons into one united company.[9] Amongst Henry VIII's doctors was Augustine de Augustinis, also personal physician to Cardinal Wolsey until Wolsey's death. Augustine was born in Venice, which held political authority over Padua, and in 1531 he bought English naturalisation which he enjoyed for twenty years until his death. In the role of semi-official Ambassador to Charles V and the Holy Roman Court, he achieved considerable influence. He often travelled with the Court throughout Europe. Charles V, who suffered a leg abscess, is known to have sought relief for his condition through mineral water bathing in various locations. His dominions and the perambulations of his court encompassed the Netherlands, Ghent, Brussels, Spain and Germany and included the town of Spa in the Ardennes, which was becoming a centre of excellence in mineral water healing. It is apparent that Augustine was involved at the highest level in medical practice as well as political maneuvering between Henry VIII and the Holy Roman Court.

In England, Augustine's patients included Lady and Sir John Russell, the Countess of Sussex and the family of William, Lord Sandys. By 1537 Augustine was one of four physicians on Henry VIII’s medical staff. The King had already established the Royal College of Physicians in 1518, to which Augustine was elected in 1536.[10] This coincided with Henry VIII suffering ill health.

“…hys Highnes waxed hevy with sickness, age and corpulences of body, and might not travayle so readyly abrode,…” [11]

His chronic leg ulcers were to plague the last ten years of his life. First noted in 1528, the condition was likely exacerbated by a fall from his horse in 1536. His ceremonial armour was suitably modified to accommodate the painful infirmity. In 1538 Henry's life was threatened by a fever, probably not linked with his leg condition and which has been suspected as syphilis. The disease was prevalent in the 16th century and Anne Boleyn was one possible source of infection. This situation repeated itself in 1541. With hindsight the diagnosis is now considered to possibly be a thrombosed vein with a detachment of the clot leading to pulmonary embolism. The King was also considerably overweight; his girth was fifty-four inches.[12] It is apparent that the King was not in good health often staying in bed for several days. Quality medical attention would have been high on his priorities. Furthermore the importance of the classical crystalline spring had been instilled in Henry from childhood, as this verse by his tutor John Skelton records. This early awareness was to underpin his later adoption of Renaissance bathing techniques. Something that we take for granted in modern social habits but at the time an exceptional practice that would be seen as part of an holistic healing process.

"The honour of England I learn to spell... I gave him drink of the sugared well, Of Helicon's* waters crystalline, Acquainting him with muses nine." [13]

* Helicon was where the spring of Hippocrene rose, fabled to have been created by the hoof of Pegasus.

Evidence that Henry VIII pursued a Renaissance lifestyle, which included bathing, emerged from the excavations of the royal palace in Whitehall in 1939. It was not until the re-examination of the finds in the 1990s however that it was recognised that Henry had a bathing facility reflecting the latest Renaissance dialectic. This included a steam room and substantial tiled sunken bath, which had green tiles and was about three feet deep with steps down at one end. This was later identified by this author as a cold plunge pool.[14] In addition there was a Continental style ceramic tiled stove, based on designs installed in Germany which heated both the water and the bath chamber. The new ideas and technology were soon to spread to those who could afford such luxuries. Soon after, in 1587 William Harrison in his Description of England observed the developing new fashion of stoves and commented on their application for sweating. Of particular importance to Surrey, the fashion for such stoves also stimulated the earthenware industry. Cheam, which is adjacent to Ewell, became noted for production of stove tiles contemporaneously with Henry VIIIs reign, using clays extracted from the Reading Beds. The value of the potters’ earth near Nonsuch is noted by Camden (first edition 1586) who commented on the production of crucibles.[15] This potters’ earth came from the same strata in which Epsom Salts, then known as alums, are found.[16] At Whitehall we have some of the earliest archaeological evidence in the UK of what would later be described as a spa. Although the Whitehall stove tiles came from Cove in Hampshire, the production of Cheam tiles has obvious implications for the adoption of the new bathing technology locally. The Whitehall bathing facility was in situ during the last decade of Henry's life and this coincided with the construction of Nonsuch Palace.[17]

The link between potters earth and the use of alums, both from the Woolwich and Reading beds is particularly important and indicates that there was an awareness of both minerals at the time Henry VIII built Nonsuch. The King elsewhere “laid his sacred hands” on alum extraction confirming his awareness and interest in the compound.[18]

In 1537 the King “became possessed” of the manor of Epsom[19], a legal formality to resolve the acquisition of monastic lands. By 1538 it is recorded that Henry VIII had acquired the site and started building Nonsuch Palace, within three miles of Epsom and within an arrow shot of the Ewell springs. This area was part of a Royal Forest. The state of the art doctrines of healing and bathing by water re-emerging from Italy at the time, through Augustine and the other Royal doctors, were applied in the planning of the venture. The pure air off Epsom Downs and the extensive and prolific springs were instrumental in the selection of Ewell as the site.[20] Cuddington, a village cited by Camden for its healthy aspect, was demolished to make way for the palace.[21] A spring to the south, supplemented by wells, was to supply the palace and its infrastructure.[22] The spring was an adjunct of the main Ewell outflows, which enjoyed the reputation for healing by bathing discussed earlier.

Detail on the water sources in the locality of former Cuddington is given by Pownall (1825) who observed the rising of a seasonal Bourne in a pit in Nonsuch Park.[23] Other detail comes from Whitaker (1912) who identifies springs in Nonsuch Park and Cheam Park, quoting Lucas. This is in addition to the main Ewell springs which were, and are still, located either side of the road by the Dog Gate to Bourne Hall.[24] The issue of water here was enormous. At the Upper Mill the flow was measured at 4,500,000 gallons per day. Formerly many houses had shallow wells for pure spring water and the Earthbourne rose seasonally in numerous cellars.[25] Many of these sources have now been lost due to changing water tables and drainage schemes. For example the site of Warren Farm, which was southeast of Nonsuch Park, now flaunts a borehole water pumping station.[26] Other water sources included the “Boney Hole” in Lovers Lane, Cheam, once a seasonal “bourne” and pond but subsequently pumped by the Sutton District Water Company[27] and its successors.

It has been shown in Chapter 1 that the Ewell springs had arguably been regarded in pre Christian times as a healing or Holy Well and that this tradition had likely extended right through into the medieval era. The veneration of such, particularly by Catholics during the period leading up to the Reformation, was an amalgam of superstition, religious fervor and medicinal healing, which in turn was a God given gift. The church traditionally rejected the scientific study of medicine as this threatened the universally adopted premise that illness was ultimately divinely inflicted and therefore supernaturally alleviated.[28] Henry VIII's desire to systematically eradicate the monasteries and place himself at the head of the Church rather than the Pope, was in tandem with the removal of shrines and sacred relics. The ancient Holy Wells were caught up in this onslaught against idolatry.[29] The Holy Well at Walsingham had its statue of the Virgin burned in London while Ewell became the focus for different attention. The outcome was that Henry VIII brought about a new way of thinking about Ewell’s springs that he encompassed in his imaginative and innovative schemes for Nonsuch.

Henry's intention to encapsulate the modern Renaissance thinking was reflected in the employment of Italian architects and craftsmen for the new palace.[30] An aqueduct carried water from the springs to the basins and fountains. These included a grotto, a griffin fountain and landscaped spring, a Venus fountain with gushing breasts in the Privy Garden and an Italian Mannerist pyramid (a fountain rising to a point) which deluged the visitor.[31]

It is useful at this juncture to consider the then close relationship between healing, pleasure and beauty. Tivoli, near Rome was a foci for the re-enactment of the Roman traditions of healing and bathing. This was the ancient location of Hadrian's Villa with its celebrated nymphaea. In the 16th century the Villa D'Este represented the most spectacular revival of classical water culture, with a point of convergence on Diana of Ephesus. Started in 1550 by Ippolito II d'Este, Cardinal of Ferrara, it encapsulated all the elements of bathing, pleasure, mythology and art linked to the celebration of water, particularly as a means of purification.[32] Many of the statues from the nearby Hadrian’s Villa were redeployed in the Villa D’Este.[33] By modern standards this combination of elements would appear strange. But it was a tradition of the ancient Romans being revitalised and such combinations of spiritual and physical elements can be traced to the great classical healing resorts such as Baia and Viterbo, which boasted revered grottoes where the mystic waters issued.[34] The concept had great longevity and application in England, particularly as its introduction was pioneered by Henry VIII at Nonsuch.

2.2. Diana of Ephesus at Villa D’Este (courtesy Sue Berry 1998).

Clues as to the nature of the water installations at Nonsuch come from the remarks made by Willis although the geography is sometimes unclear. The long canal, which survived the buildings, was known as Diana's Ditch and likely once contained a cold bath with statues to Diana and Actaeon. In the Privy Garden, a walled enclosure within the Inner Court, we are told that there was "a large marble boule or basin, over which stands a marble pellican fed with a pipe of lead".[35] Malden (1911) identified the remains of the bath, which was dedicated to Diana, in the grounds of Ewell Castle.[36] One can not help speculating that perhaps the marble bath enjoyed re-use in Ewell when the palace was decommissioned. The original location of the bathing facility was within the later Castle grounds that once extended to the further side of the Banqueting House site - a point that will be returned to later.[37] There is also the certainty that both magnesium sulphate impregnated water and the more prolific chalk aquifer water provided a dual supply for the installations. This would have considerably extended the medicinal potential for bathing application, especially for ulcerated legs, which the Sovereign had.

The Grove of Diana was the focus for the celebration of art, mythology, healing by purification and leisure through water at Nonsuch Palace. Dent gives a clearer account of the Grove, based on researches conducted after the archaeological excavation of Nonsuch in 1959. A woodland walk led to something described as the piper, assumed to be a statue of Pan, at the entrance to the Grove. This was a copse or glade with topiary arches, walls and shady sandy walks. A natural landscape feature named the Vale of Gargaphy included a natural spring and near it a well. This took the form of a fountain in rocks around a well, possibly including a basin, with flowers and fruit growing among the rocks and a spray of water rising and falling. Round the fountain stood the statues that gave the Grove its name - Diana and two nymphs, painted in flesh colour, with Actaeon transformed as a stag with his three hounds, in accordance with the legend. Having been discovered prying on the goddess of hunting, Actaeon was transformed to a stag to be devoured by his own hounds. There was also a maze and formal fountain to Diana. Wooden steps nearby and post and rail fencing guided the visitor to a "statelye bower for Diana" a woodland palace just past the fountain, in the form of a small vaulted temple. Nearby was the equivalent of a bandstand for musicians and, through the area known as the Wilderness, a Banqueting House. The arboretum, in which all this stood, also contained pyramids or fountains, one with birds disgorging streams of water, another with hidden pipes to drench the unwary.[38]

This implies that sixteenth century Nonsuch was a demonstration of England exercising its supremacy over Rome, adopting the celebration of healing, pleasure and beauty through its utilisation of the mineral waters, landscaping and buildings, yet taking its inspiration directly from Italy. As such it endorsed HenryVIII's personal supremacy over the Italian church by demonstrating comparable opulence. A century later the newly discovered English spas were looking to Spa in the Ardennes for their inspiration. When Nonsuch was built, the more scientific notions of the medicinal use of mineral waters, which epitomised later spa developments, were yet to be formulated. Healing was still an Art and what today we would see as unnecessary embellishments were then an essential aspect of the total healing process. Nonsuch Palace encapsulated the Italian traditions, all at the instigation of Henry VIII. German, Italian and French medical science was more advanced during the early 16th century than that of England. Moves to ameliorate the plague and to develop sewers, based on European mainland models, were examples of innovative thinking instigated by Henry VIII’s administration, as the new ideas were adopted.

Unfortunately the healing potential of Nonsuch was not to be realised in time to avert Henry's early demise. Albeit the last two years of his life were spent there. At the age of 55 he died of an illness traditionally associated with his leg ailment. Although Nonsuch was started in 1538, it was after Henry VIII's death in 1547 that the Earl of Arundel completed the magnificent palace. The Palace attracted the nobility and their followers to the area. The Earl received Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603) at Nonsuch in 1559 and thereafter it became a regular resort of the Queen. At first the Queen’s interest appears to have fluctuated in line with Arundel’s apparent interest in her and with later intrigues, involving Mary Queen of Scots.

In 1567 Arundel was in Italy to investigate cures for gout and this prompted Elizabeth’s further residency at Nonsuch.[39] She eventually took over the Palace in 1592 in lieu of debts following Arundel’s confinement by house arrest at his other properties. During this period the Renaissance movement continued to impact on art and science with its altered perceptions of nature and medicine. The Italians had inspired a new naturalism, based initially on the ancient texts. The result was that the doctor was also the naturalist. William Turner, after travelling to Italy and being made Doctor of Physic in Ferrara, published his Herbal in 1551, subsequently extensively revised and republished. In 1568 he published the first edition of 'A Booke of the Natures and Properties as well of the Bathes in Germanye and Italye for all syche persones that can not be healed without the helpe of natural bathes'.[39] This was a development of his 1562 publication, the first book in English on the use of natural mineralised springs for healing. As such it encapsulated the new approach to natural phenomenon and was to become the first textbook available for the establishment of spas. It is no coincidence that it discusses extensively the value of baths and the value of Alum in healing baths.

2.3. Nonsuch Palace in 1568, from Swete 1860.

Tradition states that Elizabeth used the water facilities in the Grove of Diana for bathing.[41] She even insisted on a daily supply of the water from the Ewell springs.[42] To Elizabeth, Nonsuch offered numerous state-of-the-art health facilities and benefits. Elizabeth's very existence was one of continual threat to her life and the monarchy. Her mother and her mother's cousin lay headless in their graves and her domineering father had died when she was 14 years old.[43] In those formative years Elizabeth was schooled by experience in the art of survival. A further threat was to her health, in the form of smallpox, from which she recovered. In Elizabeth the Great it is recorded that in 1562, at the age of 29 years, Elizabeth had felt unwell for about 5 days. She took a bath, a practice that she was fond of, to restore her health. Washing was customarily carried out in basins and total immersion in a bath was considered a treatment for health and pleasure. A marble bath that Elizabeth once used survived at Ashridge "within living memory" and an oval building which stood where Trafalgar Square is now sited, was known as Queen Elizabeth's Bath. This appears to have been a fine stone building.[44] In fact her poor state of health was due to the onset of the pox and the Privy Council made arrangements for a successor as her life was seen to be seriously threatened. Following treatment by Dr Burcott of Germany she recovered. Burcott had initially been admonished for his diagnosis, but under dagger point was forced to attend the Queen further, in spite of his reluctance to administer to the antagonistic monarch.[45]

Only by being ruthlessly diligent in all aspects of her survival was Elizabeth able to successfully reign from 1558 to 1603. Nonsuch played an integral role. Hentzner, a German tourist, described it in 1598 as "a place pitched upon by Pleasure herself, to dwell in along with Health".[46] In particular Nonsuch was a haven from the plague, which broke out frequently, but erratically, during the 16th century.

In September 1513 a Venetian envoy noted 200 deaths a day. In the ensuing years the Court periodically decamped to various safe locations including Greenwich, Southampton and Thornbury in Gloucestershire.[47] The following data for London illustrates the scale of the problem.

It is recorded that the monarch's bathing was carried out at least once a month as part of her healthy regime.[49] Elizabeth’s awareness of the benefits of natural waters for health is further endorsed by her willingness to allow the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots, to attend Buxton in 1573 with further visits in the ensuing years. Buxton was second only to Bath as an English healing spa and attendance there caused the Monarch some amusement.[50] Also in 1573 Elizabeth dispatched the ill Earl of Oxford to Spa in the Ardennes under the direction of a Dr Julio, the court physician.[51] Elizabeth without doubt took bathing and healing by water seriously but was also amused by the practice, she having no use for the public waters, no doubt due to her access of the private facilities at Nonsuch and elsewhere.

In the first half of her reign her progresses around England had satisfied Elizabeth's instinct to explore. Such an exodus from the London palaces enabled her to avoid the plague, particularly prevalent in summer and provided an opportunity to clean the palaces. During the second half of her reign however she spent the summers at Nonsuch.[52] Turner, in his pioneering 1568 book, had set out the bathing regime required for baths in great detail. Under the general rules he recommended May and September as the best time and then outlines ancillary requirements such as purging, diet and exercise. He also detailed the effects of alum mineralised baths, which is particularly relevant to the purging wells in the vicinity of Ewell.[53] Elizabeth seems to have been giving herself the opportunity to follow Turner's prescriptions at Nonsuch as the need and occasion arose.

The Palace at Nonsuch and its facilities were regularly used by Elizabeth and by other Royalty thereafter, until the Commonwealth was declared in 1649. The Duke of Buckingham in 1625, was one of a number of court favorites who used the palace to recover their health.[54] A costrel found in the garderobe pits during the excavations of 1959/60, implies a continued use of the waters for health. A costrel is a small pottery flask or a leather container for water, either of which hung from the belt. "Costryls" are quoted by Nash as being for sickly stomachs in the case of Malvern waters, in a reference predating 1628. Their use was separate and different from regular bottling of waters, which Nash also alludes to.[55]

Nonsuch survived the Commonwealth unscathed.[56] In 1665 the Exchequer was removed to Nonsuch to escape the Great Plague of London. This was the last time the palace was to be used as a health resort. Pepys visiting the Exchequer on 21st September 1665 noted the gardens of Nonsuch in ruins.[57]

2.4. Nonsuch Lodge c.1810. Brayley's History of Surrey.

Difficulty in managing the natural spring flow, together with new scientific notions on the efficacy of mineralised waters, may have resulted in the eventual demise of any 17th century ambitions to utilise the waters of Ewell as a celebrated Royal health resort.[58] When Charles II disposed of the palace to Barbara Villiers in 1670 its bathing facilities were obsolete having been superseded by 17th century spa developments elsewhere. With the destruction of Nonsuch by George, Lord Berkeley, who acquired the buildings from Villiers, a period of neglect and decay came to an end. Many of the materials from the palace found their way to Epsom, especially Durdans, home of the Berkeleys who had earlier been keepers of Nonsuch Palace. By 1753 the Bowen map of Surrey records Nonsuch as a Royal Palace "now in ruins".[59] The local clay became a valuable resource, having been used for the production of stove tiles. Clay pits are mentioned in 1708 linked with the Court Lodge.[60] By 1897 what was probably part of Diana's bower was the site of the Nonsuch pottery, including two ponds and quarry faces.[61]

2.5. The Japanese water park at Ewell in its prime. (courtesy Bourne Hall Museum)

There is also a further possible echo of the past in the grounds of Ewell Castle where Malden (1911) identified the remains of the bath dedicated to Diana. The house was built in 1810-14 by Henry Kitchen, a pupil of Sir Jeffrey Wyattville who had built Nonsuch Mansion in 1802-6. Described as a noble castellated mansion in 45 acres, the Castle is now a school. In the grounds lies a derelict water park comprising extensive lakes, bridges, a grotto etc., once described as the most beautiful water garden in England.[62] Whilst the present day layout is relatively recent, its general site is of interest. It lies on the perimeter of the pale of Henry VIII's Nonsuch Park. Although now separated by the Ewell Bypass it is in close proximity, at the foot of the knoll, to the Nonsuch Banqueting House. In fact Brayley, in his History of Surrey (1878), described the pleasure grounds of Ewell Castle as including the Banqueting House site and Diana's Dyke in an adjacent field where the cold bath was once situated.[63] This observation has an earlier provenance from Swete (1860). Swete noted the bastions of the old Banqueting House in the grounds of Ewell Castle and then stated "It is near this the field lies, which is still called Diana's Dyke, by tradition marked as having contained the cold bath of the maiden Queen".[64] The present water garden obviously has a long history of water based landscaping. A well exists at its western extremity bank suggesting a water source nearby that would have fed the water garden. The garden in turn overflowed south west in a streamlet. Twentieth century falls in the water table have now rendered this whole facility dry. Marshall (1936) records a seasonal Bourne spring in Diana’s Dyke.[65] The hypothesis is that the Ewell Castle water garden is the site of the Grove of Diana, subsequently redeveloped out of all recognition and now divided asunder by the bypass road, separating it from the nearby Banqueting Hall and Nonsuch Palace sites.

An alternative site for the Grove of Diana is suggested by Dent (1962) to the immediate northeast of the Banqueting House.[66] This is the site where the pottery was established and where the Woolwich and Reading beds were accessible for raw materials. Subsequent quarrying is apparent in the area today. If this is the site then the likelihood is that mineral water, charged with alum or Epsom Salts, would have been readily available on this site from the Woolwich and Reading beds and possibly used for a medicinal bathing facility in the vicinity.

Nonsuch was one of the first tangible expression of Renaissance bathing and health culture to reach Britain during the 16th century. Construction commenced after the acquisition of land in 1538. The concept was introduced by a King who sought the latest innovations of thinking for his kingdom as well as having his own specific medical needs, to which a bathing facility was eminently suited. It also enabled the art of healing to be separated from the unwanted influence of the religious establishments who had managed the hospitals and Holy Wells during medieval times. Contemporaneous with construction is the first identifiable use of the name “Nonnesuche” reflecting the innovative thinking needed to create a place “a nonpareil”.[67]

Although Nonsuch has a brief life as the pioneer of the Renaissance health resort, an aspect of its history ignored by many historians, the Romanesque movement gained momentum by establishing a secular divergence in the form of the fashion for classical garden grottoes. The key elements became mythology, a natural spring and bath and substantial wealth with which the practitioner could nurture his art and leisure. Garden landscapes such as Painshill, Stourhead, Goldney, Chatsworth and others were to echo these forgotten origins. Alexander Pope created a grotto at nearby Twickenham with crystal spring and camera obscura in the 18th century. This supposedly enabled him through art to perfect nature, thus it became an expression of virtue, philosophy and true wisdom.[68] A grotto existed at Durdans meanwhile at Ewell there was an Ionic bathing temple in the Bourne Hall grounds. With a lead cupola roof it stood by the lake. Both the Hall and the Ionic temple were demolished in 1962.[69] But these were a far cry from the scientific medicinal pursuit of mineral waters through the spas and the related social scene that ensued at Epsom and elsewhere. This was a phenomenon that was to prevail for the next three hundred or more years.

2.6. The Grotto and Bath, Stourhead.

2.7. Popes Grotto on the banks of the Thames.

Thus towards the end of the Elizabethan era the scene was well set for the discovery of Epsom Wells. Henry VIII had re-established hot and cold bathing and the bath facilities into England at Nonsuch and Whitehall. Elizabeth I had used the extra-mural facilities at Nonsuch for bathing, conceivably in mineralised baths of alum, a designation that then included Epsom Salts. It will be demonstrated in Chapter 14 that she also controlled alum extraction. The palace of Nonsuch was strategically placed on the Tertiary Woolwich and Reading geological beds to give access to "alum" bearing strata for medicinal and other purposes including the raw materials for a tile industry. What was to become Epsom Wells lay on the same geological strata. When James I succeeded to the crown in 1603 the emphasis on bathing changed. The King, a firm believer in the divine right of Kings, made considerable modifications to the nature of religious worship. Recognising the spiritual as well as bodily cleansing by water, the King made its use integral with religious ceremony in the form of baptism.[70] Bathing moved from the secular to the religious and spiritual at a time which coincided with the increased drinking of spa waters. At this time Queen Anne continued to bathe supervised by Dr Edward Jorden, a Padua trained physician. Alum continued to have medical uses albeit with less emphasis on application by bathing. Instead it would have been applied by drinking and other external application. The continuing value of alum was still recognised and Dr. Jorden secured a short-lived "grant of the profit of his allum works".[71] It is now possible to put into contest the timely recognition that alum as it was then known, or magnesium sulphate as recognised today, was to be found on Epsom common. It can be seen that this was a continuation of a tradition of discovery and exploitation locally spanning the previous century.

It was also about this time that the use of the expression "spa" first entered the English language. Following William Slingsby's visit to Germany and his sampling of the chalybeate waters of Spa, he identified the Tewit spring at Harrogate in 1571.[72] Like Nonsuch., the town of Spa, embraced the Renaissance revival in healing by water circa 1540, principally as a result of the works of Dr Gilbert Lymborgh.[73] Dr. Edmund Deane of York (1572-1640) subsequently published Spadacrene Anglica in 1626 setting out the merits of the Harrogate sources.[74] The book highlighted the earlier use in the English language of the expression "spa" by Timothy Bright MD. This reflected the need for a descriptive noun that encompassed drinking at a resort as well as bathing. The adoption of the word was to initiate the epoch of the formal spa which was to last for 350 years. With it healing was metamorphosed from an art to a science.

2.8. Map of Nonsuch, showing the location of the Palace, Banqueting House, Nonsuch Pottery site and possible sites of the Grove of Diana.

Click on website below to return to Index and Introduction.

Website: Click Here



2.1. Lake and Grotto, echoes of the past, derelict in the grounds of Ewell Castle. [5 pictures]
2.2. Diana of Ephesus at Villa D’Este (courtesy Sue Berry 1998).
2.3. Nonsuch Palace in 1568, from Swete 1860.
2.4. Nonsuch Lodge c.1810. Brayley's History of Surrey.
2.5. The Japanese water park at Ewell in its prime. (courtesy Bourne Hall Museum)
2.6. The Grotto and Bath, Stourhead.
2.7. Popes Grotto on the banks of the Thames.
2.8. Map of Nonsuch, showing the location of the Palace, Banqueting House, Nonsuch Pottery site and possible sites of the Grove of Diana.
2.9. Ewell Castle ground plan showing the water garden. The well indicates the likely location of the source water spring.


[1] Roberts J M. (1993) History of the World, BCA.,London, p.317.
[2] Selmi P. (1979) The Spirit of the Venetian Civilisation, Regione Venito, p.4.
[3] Dobell S. (1996) Down the Plughole - An irreverent history of the bath, Pavilion Books, London, p.41,59.
[4] Palmer R. (1990) "In this our lightye and learned tyme: Italian Baths in the Era of the Renaissance" in Porter R. (ed.), The Medical History of Waters and Spas, Medical History, Supplement No. 10, Wellcome Inst. London, p.14-22.
[5] Anon. but believed to be Short T. (1766), "A Discourse on the Several Kinds of Mineral Waters, etc.", part ii of A General Treatise of Cold Mineral Waters in England, W. Owen, London, p.2.
[6] Monro D. (1770) A Treatise on Mineral Waters, Vol. II, Wilson and Nicol, London, p.125-147.
[7] Azienda di Promozione Turistica, (1998) Terme Euganee, p.2.
[8] Maple E. (1968) Magic, Medicine and Quackery, Robert Hale, London, p.75.
[9] Hibbert C. (1987) The English, A Social History 1066-1945, Grafton Books, London, p.155.
[10] Webster C. (1979) Health, Medicine and Mortality in the 16th century, see " Bylebyl J J., The School of Padua: humanistic medicine in the sixteenth century." Cambridge University Press; Hammond E A. (1975) "Dr Augustine, physician to Cardinal Wolsey and King Henry VIII" Medical History, Vol.19, p.215-249.
[11] Colvin H M. ed. (1982) The History of the Kings Works, Vol.4, part 2, p.180.
[12] Ridley J. (1985) Henry VIII, Guild Publishing, London, p.300/1, 348.
[13] Ridley J. (1985) p.21.
[14] Gaimster D R M. (1999) personal communication and “The Grand Amorial Stove and Turkish Bath at the Palace of Whitehall”, Society of Antiquaries, 6 Jan.
[15] Copley G J. (1789) Camden’s Britannia, Surrey and Sussex, reprinted with annotations (1977), Hutchinson, London, p.18.
[16] Gaimster D R M. (1998) ms draft "The Amorial Stove-Tiles from the King's Privy Chamber", in Thurley S, (1998) Excavations on the East Side of Whitehall Palace 1930-1970, Historic Royal Palace, Yale, London.
[17] British Archaeology, (1996) "Henry VIIIs sauna found at Whitehall", p.5. April.
[18] Hassell J. (1790) Tour if the Isle of Wight, T Hookham, London, p.27.
[19] Swete C J. (1860), A Hand-Book of Epsom, John Nelson, Collingwood, p.10.
[20] Lister L. (1992) Nonsuch: Pearl of the Realm, London Borough of Sutton Leisure Services, p.9.
[21] Camden W. (1586) Britannia, trans. Holland P. 1610, see Dent J. (1981), reprint 2nd edition, The Quest for Nonsuch, London Borough of Sutton Leisure Services, p.61.
[22] Colvin H M. ed. (1982) p.179.
[23] Pownall H. (1825) History of Epsom, W Dorling, Epsom, p.115.
[24] Whitaker W. (1912) The Water Supply of Surrey, Memoirs of the Geological Survey, HMSO., p.43/4.
[25] Willis C S. (1969) A Short History of Epsom and Ewell, Pullingers, Epsom, p.2,101.
[26] Abdy C. (1995) The Lost Farms of Ewell, Nonsuch Antiquarian Soc., p.24.
[27] Marshall C J. (1936) A History of the Old Villages of Cheam and Sutton, Cryer’s Library, Cheam, p.2.
[28] Hibbert C. (1987) p.156.
[29] Ridley J. (1985) p.312.
[30] Lister L. (1992) p.21.
[31] Lister L. (1992) p.44-48.
[32] Miller N. (1982) Heavenly Caves, George Allen and Unwin, London, p.44-47.
[33] Anon. (1978) Tivoli Villa D’Este, Studio Cartocci, p.54.
[34] Monro D. (1770) A Treatise on Mineral Waters, Vol II, D Wilson, London, p.197, 293.
[35] Willis C S. (1969) p.70/1,74.
[36] Malden H E. (ed.), (1911) "A History of Surrey", Victoria History of the Counties of England, Vol.III, Constable & Co. London, p.278.
[37] Porter K. (1996) Time to Unplug the Bath mystery, The Herald, 11 Dec., p.8.,br> [38] Dent J. (1970) second revised edition, The Quest for Nonsuch, London Borough of Sutton Leisure Services, p.122-3; Lister L. 1992, p.49-52.
[39] Colvin H M. ed. (1982) p.202.
[40] Turner W. (1568) A Booke of the Natures and Properties as well of the Bathes in Germanye and Italye for all syche persones that can not be healed without the helpe of natural bathes, 1st Edition transcribed from the copy in Bath library.
[41] Willis C S. (1969) p.74.
[42] Abdy C. Bierton G. (1997) “A Gazetteer of Romano-British archaeological sites in Ewell”, Surrey Arch. Collections, 84, p.125.
[43] Jenkins E. (1958) Elizabeth the Great, Companion Book Club edition (1959), p.15,96.
[44] Dobell S. (1996) p.50.
[45] Jenkins E. (1958) p.93-95.
[46] Abdy C. (1992) A History of Ewell, Phillimore, Chichester, p.28.
[47] Hibbert C. (1987) p.163.
[48] Rowse A L. (1972) The Elizabethan Renaissance, Macmillan, London, p.266.
[49] Dobell S. (1996) p.52.
[50] Rowse A L. (1972) p.281.
[51] Jenkins E. (1958) p.161.
[52] Williams N. (1972) The Life and Times of Elizabeth I, Book Club Assoc., London, p.143-149, 203 caption.
[53] Turner W. (1568).
[54] Clinch G. Kershaw S W. (1895) Bygone Surrey in Brown J W. 1996, Nonsuch, Local History Reprints, Streatham, p.198.
[55] Osborne B. Weaver C. (1996) Rediscovering 17th Century Springs and Spas, Cora Weaver, Malvern, p.214.
[56] Home G. (1901) Epsom, Epsom and London, p.156,163,165.
[57] Smith J. (ed.), (1924) Diary of Samuel Pepys, Vol.I, Dent & Sons, London, p.633.
[58] Dent J. (1981), p.27,51,283; A Vewe and Survey of the Manor of Codyngtone, (c.1537) PRO. E315/414.
[59] Bowen E. (1753) An Accurate Map of the County of Surrey.
[60] Surrey CRO. 2238/10/63.
[61] Drainage Plan of Ewell, 1897/99, Surrey CRO. (1897/99).
[62] Abdy C. (1992) p.30, 96-98.
[63] Brown J W. (1996) Brayley's History of Ewell, Local History Reprints, Streatham, p.5/6.
[64] Swete C J. (1860) p.97.
[65] Marshall C J. (1936) A History of the Old Villages of Cheam and Sutton, Cryer’s Library, Cheam, p.21.
[66] Dent J (1981) p.117.
[67] Colvin H M. ed. (1982) p.181.
[68] Osborne B. Weaver C. (1996) Rediscovering 17th Century Springs and Spas in the footsteps of Celia Fiennes, Cora Weaver, Malvern, p.256.
[69] Willis C S. (1969) p.42,54,136.
[70] Floyer J. (1706) History of Cold Bathing, London, see "Dedication".
[71] Jorden E. (1669) 3rd ed. A Discourse of the Natural Bathes and Mineral Waters, London, see "A Preface to the Reader" by Thomas Guidott.
[72] Hunter A. (1830) A Treatise on the Mineral Waters of Harrogate, Longman & Co. London, p.15.
[73] Crismer L M. (1989) The Extraordinary History of the Waters of Spa, S.A. Spa Monopole N.V. Spa, p.12.
[74] Osborne B E. Weaver C. (1996) p.161.

(C)Copyright The Spas Research Fellowship. To contact the SRF, email: srf@thespas.co.uk or mail to: Tower House, Tower Road, Tadworth, Surrey. KT20 5QY. UK