Penybont and District Local History Group Notes 2ND November 2015 Main Topic: Llandegley Wells Spa

Gwyneth stood in, at very short notice, for Marion who had damaged her back. Marion;s talk on the “Archaeology of the Radnor Valley” will be rescheduled for early in the New Year. Having been given 2 days’ notice, Gwyneth agreed to talk on the Llandegley Spa.
There are 3 different spas found in Mid Wales where the majority of Welsh Spas are to be found.
1. Spas that are rich in iron – these are referred to as Chalybeate
2. The sulphur springs that are rich in hydrogen sulphide
3. Saline springs that have sodium chloride, salt
Spa waters are the result of water reacting with base minerals in the ground. Most commonly there is a reaction with pyrite, (fool’s gold or Iron Sulphide), oxygen and water to release Hydrogen Sulphide, the strong smell of sulphur. The saline springs are due to water again passing through salt deposits.
Gwyneth started with the rise, fall, rise again, and, at least for the moment, ultimate decline of Llandrindod Wells as a Spa Town, which is well documented on the Web. She shared some of the material associated with the initial interest in Llandrindod Wells with us. Long before there were any aspiration within the local community the Romans did build a Bath House at Castell Collen, as mentioned in our last meeting about Penybont Common, and it may be reasonable to assume that they might have been aware of the mineral springs nearby. A few factors led to interest in the springs on Llandrindod Common. In 1736 Mrs Richards cured her daughter’s ulcerated head with the sulphur and saline springs. She went on to treat many local people with a variety of conditions. In 1747 an article in a magazine entitled “A Journey To Llandrindod Wells in Radnorshire” gave publicity to the benefits of taking the waters. It was however Dr Diederick Wessel Linden, a chemist/geologist working for the Duke of Ancaster in North Wales, came to Llandrindod in 1754 and subsequently wrote ‘A Treatise on the Medicinal Mineral Water at Llandrindod in Radnorshire’. This work was very well patronised and created quite a lot of interest in the healing powers of the waters at Llandrindod.
Dr Linden had himself come to the Spa for his own health reasons and found himself ‘cured’. He carried out an analysis of the 3 Springs and wrote:
“Cases in which the saline carbonated chalybeate, or rock water is efficacious
This water, in general, is in all such chronic cases as proceed from a lax fibre, or weakness of the vascular system; and is particularly recommended when the disease is situated in the most remote parts of the human machine, whither it is difficult, or next door to an impossibility, to convey ordinary shop medicines. In acorbutic eruptions that proceed from a feebleness in the via vitae.
• In weak nerves
• In periodical asthma, whether humoral or spasmodical.
• In St Vitus’s dance.
• In palsies, whether partial or total; whether from a resolution of the part, or a poverty, or vicidity in the juices.
• In general dibility, or weakness of any particular member; whether it be the result of a paralytic disorder, or remain after the cure of an apoplexy.
• In epilepsies, when other remedies have proved unsuccessful.
• In agues, that have baffled the administration of the bark.
• In weakness left after fever.
• In some erratic, slow nervous fevers.
• In all diseases incident to the fair sex; the fluor albus; inflations of the stomach; and hypochondria; and all the various symptoms that come under the denomination of the hysteric passion.
• In weak bowls.
• In flushings, or redness of the face.
• In all obstructions.
• In a seminal weakness of both sexes.

It is certain that in these cases other compositions will be of little service because a medicine is required consisting of extreme volatile parts, of a penetrating nature, capable of pervading the minutest ducts, and of attacking the stagnating juices in the inmost recesses of their lurking holes: and yet, at the same time this medicine must be so mild, and od so benign a nature as to be divested of all pungent acrimony. Its active parts must be sheathed and enveloped by a soft diluting vehicle, stored with volatile mineral principles. For the tender fabric, debilitated frame, and irritable nerve, will not bear the vellications of rough acrid.
(EX Dr Linden’s Treatise on Llandrindod Mineral Waters 1756)
Just in case we were uncertain Gwyneth gave us Dr Linden’s full definition of:
“The Hysteric Passion – A Disease of the Fair Sex:
The Hysteric Passion is a proteus-like disease, and includes a large train of symptoms, yet is a disorder too much slighted, and often ridiculedby those who cannot account for its perplexing symptoms. The poor sufferer is frequently deemed whimsical, fantastical, and often censured with opprobrious applellation of ill-natured. Aiat were to be wished it was so, and that the paroxisms depended upon her will and temper; but the case stands far otherwise, I have often been surprised that anyone can behold these amiable beings, this lovely and most desirable part of creation, tortured, racked, convulsed, and almost agonized, and not be struck with terror and compassion: such certainly must be divested of all humanity. The disease is a real one, and the objects merit our utmost efforts to relieve them and subdue their foe.”
Ex The Cambrian Balnea 1825
Dr Linden’s Treatise triggered interest in the spas at Llandrindod and over the next 50 years people did come to take and bathe in the waters that emerge from three different springs. The facilities available to people and transport challenges meant that the interest was limited to relatively few people who stayed on cottages around Llandrindod Common which were described by visitors and having ‘lumpy beds’ and a ‘flea pits’.
There is one very positive quotation about Dr Linden’s influence:
“As Wales has been considerably benefited by adopting the suggestions of Dr Linden in mineralogy, as well as by his analysis, we owe it to his fame, which every principle of justice and generosity compels us to protect, and without pretence to the character of his biographer to give an additional notice of him here.” Cambrian Balnea, 1825
In 1760 Lewis Morris wrote in a letter:
“It is a pity there was not a treatise wrote on these waters by an experienced natural philosopher: it would save thousands of lives. Dr Linden’s book is mere puff. I read it with great attention, but it never made me the wiser, nor will it make anyone else, for he observes neither method, nor order nor truth”.
There are many details of the waters at Llandrindod in the Cambrian Balnea, as above.
Possibly because of the limited accommodation and accessibility across the Common the popularity of Llandrindod declined and Llandegley also became a Spa of choice in the area. In 1807, in The Scenery and Antiquities of South Wales, by Benjamin Heath Malkin, he describes Llandegley:
“The village of Landegles consists of very few houses, but those few are rather interestingly placed: while the obliging manners of the people, in furnishing local information, with a degree of intelligence rather superior to what might have been expected from their condition, almost make a stranger regret, that the accommodations of the little inn are insufficient to admit of his lengthening his visit. I have more than once remarked the decency uf manners, approaching almost politeness, that distinguishes the lower classes of inhabitants in the principality. I do not know that Radnoeshire yields to any county in this particular. The addresas of the hosts and the families, both at New Radnor and Landegles, but particularly the latter, was highly to their credit, though they were in both cases very small farmers, with very little besides civility to offer their guests. Here especially, and a very considerable degree elsewhere, I observed with grace with which the women perform the office of attendance at table, always presenting any article demanded with that sort of self-collected obeisance, so much noticed by travellors through France in damsels of the same description. In both cases this superiority of deportment is probably acquired in some degree by universal and frequent practice of dancing.” page 459.
The Cambrian Balnea, from page 217, gives some early insights into the period when Llandegley became known as Llandegley Wells.
“About six miles north-east of Llandrindod, and two miles from Pen-y-Bont, on the high road to New Radnor, stands the village of Llandegley. Remarkable for its antique church and the beauty of its adjacent scenery, and still more for two mineral springs, which never have been noticed by either historian or tourist……… The Inn here is called the Burton Arms, from the proprietor Edward Burton Esq. of Shrewsbury; kept by a person named Boulter. As to the assiduities at the Inn, with the good manners and character of the people, I can myself bear witness, with the addition, that the accommodations are very superior to those above described, and the ‘little inn’, is larger and kept by different people. The reader may be assured that a few visitors who may wish to drink these waters and reside awhile, may be very creditably accommodated at the Burton Arms, or Llandegley House, as they sometimes call the inn. Mrs Boulter is not only very obliging, and her fare good, but she possesses considerable capacity in making her visitors comfortable; and it is to be regretted that so good a manager has not a better field to exert her talents in.
The wells are two; one very strong sulphoreous spring, lies in a meadow facing the Inn, the other, a chalybeate, a few yards to the west, on the bank of a brook, over which is a rustic bridge, and canopied by the trunk and branches of an old alder clump.
The sulphureous spring has a hut tiled with alates built over it, and the water is received from a spout into a large stone trough, in which people have been accustomed to bathe. If, in compliment to the established celebrity of other sulphureous springs, more is recorded of their merits, it is not because Llandegley is inany degree inferior, as I doubt much if there is a spring in Wales more strongly impregnated with sulphur than this. ……….The other spring is a strong, but simple chalybeate, neither acidulous, sulphureous, nor saline to the taste, but precisely like that spring at Aberystwyth, when it is not mixed with the sea-water, which is rarely the case, and only at the time of high tides. The spirits are excited, and the appetite improved by perseverance in its rule; and in a variety of disorders where steel may be required, it will prove of great service. It is recommended to be drank fasting at eight o’clock in the morning, and again between breakfast and dinner, gradually increasing the dose according to the age or habit. As there is no saline water here, the patient, above all things must provide himself with aperient physic, or the chalybeate water would be extremely dangerous……. If the proprietor of Llandegley, chose to build and adorn the place a little, it could not fail of becoming the resort of the fashionable and the ailing. Like Pen-y-Bont it is enlivened by the passing coaches, and travellors on the high road, and stands half way between Llandrindod and New Radnor, about six or seven miles from each. At the distance of two or three fields from the back of the Inn at Landegley commences a chain of rugged hills, called Llandegley Rocks, from which, on a clear day, there is extensive prospect. ”
By 1829 the Burton Arms Inn, Llandegley had a new Occupier, William Phillips, and as if he had taken heed of the writer, T.J. Ll. Pritchard, of the Cambia Balnea, he had made improvements to the Inn making it “more Comfortable and Commodious than ever it was before”. William Phillips was still in occupancy in 1834 when his advertising for the first time refers directly to the ‘two mineral waters’, and to the fact that the Inn has been ‘considerably enlarged and improved’.
Another change in the Occupant had occurred by 1839 when J. Griffiths announced as his main attraction
The Valuable MEDICAL SPRINGS of LLNANDEGLEY, as highly spoken of and so strongly recommended by the Faculty for the immediate Restoration of Health and the Prolonging of Life and Enjoyments
The Inn had transformed itself into the:
Burton Arms Commercial Inn
Boarding House.
In line with his evolving aspirations Mr Griffiths celebrated locally sourced food, and fishing. There is also the first mention of the ‘London, Cheltenham, and Aberystwyth Mails’ passing daily.
Over the next few years Mr Griffith’s adverts would demonstrate an evolving aspirational picture for the Burton Arms Commercial Inn and the significance of the Spas within his business. The Chalybeate and Sulphureous Mineral Springs are promoted to the title in 1840, and the language has become more extravagant – ‘amidst beautiful and Romantic Scenery and the most Salubrious Atmosphere’. He adds ‘These Powerful, Safe, and Efficacious Waters contain all the valuable properties of the most Celebrated Springs for the speedy cure of all Scorbutic and Cutaneous Disorders, relaxation of the Stomach, Gravel and Stone, and all Chronic Disorders, the Nervous System, etc. As well as the daily mail service as above there is a first mention of daily Sovereign London and Worcester Coach.
The business has leapt on by 1841 and in his advert Mr Griffiths refers to ‘HIGH AND FLATTERING TESTIMONIALS’.
In 1844 he is now celebrating ‘HOT, COLD, and SHOWER SULPHUR BATHS ON THE SHORTEST NOTICE’.
However a worrying sign could be seen in the reference to ‘The Sovereign London and Worcester Coach, every other day’.
This is the last such advert and with the coming of the trains we see the end of this glorious period in the history of Llandegley.
Having given a brief mention of the early period in Llandrindod and the story of Llandegley Wells, Gwyneth told of a third Spa to the south of Llandegley on Gwernargllyweth Farm. Again quoting from the The Cambrian Balnea of 1825 Blaen-Edwy Wells (the extremity of the swift water) had a less prestigious history page 228.
‘These springs lie two miles to the south of Llandegley, and eight miles north-east of Builth. They are two in number but of the same quality, although one is very foolishly called “the eye-water”. It has been asserted that this is a sulphureous-vitrolic water, but since ascertained to be merely sulphureous, yet very strongly impregnated. It has both the taste and smell of the Llandegley water, so much so, that it would be difficult to discover one from another, although each of the tenants claims the superiority in strength and efficacy of their own spa. The water here also is conveyed by spouts into a large stone trough, used for bathing; over it is a straw thatched wooden hut, much dilapidated, which, with its venerable fringes of white moss, bespeaks its erection to have been of no recent date. It is on a poor farm belonging to Thomas Franklin Lewis, Esq. M.P. Forrester of Radnor, and seated on a bank beside, and washed by the Edwy, a brook, which by the accumulation of other waters, as it proceeds, becomes a river that empties itself into the Wye, about five miles to the east of Builth. The trout of this little river are in very high estimation, beyond these of any of the neighbouring streams, for their firmness and superior flavour.
Blaen-Edwy waters occupy the upper end of a narrow and shallow dingle, with a marshy meadow and moorland common for immediate neighbours, and are even worse off than Llandrindod on the score of agreeable scenery. They are ill situate for becoming the resort of the fashionable, and Llandegley has much the advantage in every point. This water has been of more consideration than at present, the declension of public patronage is to be attributed to any thing but the demerit of the Spa. The poor people who fly the haunts of the wealthy, gladly avail themselves of this obscure but no less valuable water, and at an expense commensurate with their humble fortunes, find their remedies. This, like the Llandegley water has frequently has had the honor of exportation into Hereford and Worcester, and many, it is said, have come here, by high medical recommendation, and been cured of various cutaneous diseases, especially the scrophula. But the want of comfortable lodgings operates at present as an insurmountable bar to the visits of the public. The tenant of this farm informed me he could make up no more than five or six beds at the utmost, and those of humble description.
The common in wet weather, is almost impassable, and it is very difficult to attain the turnpike-road from hence, sometimes even on horseback. The Llandegley rocks, before named, extend to the immediate neighbourhood of Blaen-Edwy, and the two turnpike-roads are within half a mile of it, while a respectable house bearing its Welsh name of Gwaun yr Argwydd, the lord’s meadow (lord of the manor) is about the same distance off, and Llynhilyn about one mile. The Rev. Mr Beebee, Rector of Presteigne, informed me of a recent cure by these waters that deserves record. Two of his children had been inoculated: from some imperfection in the matter used to convey the infection, after an apparent recovery they again became victims of a disordered skin, which increased to a most frightful degree that naturally alarmed the parents. Every proposed remedy proved ineffectual till this sulphur water was tried, which, after a few immersions, removed every vestige of the disorder.’
In discussion John revealed that he had drunk the water at Llandegley a hundred times. What was unclear was whether he had drunk from the sulphur spring or the chalybeate spring. It sounded as though he may have drunk the sulphurous water meant for bathing! No doubt John, and we hope, will live forever.
Jean had drunk waters at Llandrindod which she found not to her taste! No one confessed to bathing in the waters. The stone troughs mentioned at Llandegley and at Blaen-Edwy have both long disappeared. Sadly the building ay Llandegley has collapsed. Interestingly the springs are not ‘owned’ by the farm but they are held within the deeds of Burton House, the former Inn. Neil, who now lives at Larch View, formerly the Drover’s Inn just about 1 mile south of Llangdeley, was brought up at the Mill at Llandegley which was situated very close to the spas. He was also very familiar with the spring waters.
I am very interested in Blaen-Edwy Wells as our woodland is also on the land of Gwernargllweth Farm and the site is only a few hundred yards away where there was a house very similar in style to Burton House but where there is now a square red brick building.
Geraint and Derek both thanked Gwyneth for her excellent and most interesting talk.
Geraint introduced topic for discussion for the New Year. There was general acceptance of the suggestions and Geraint agreed to firm it up and get it printed. There was also agreement to do an evening session of photographs and a couple of evening walks, one around the village of Penybont, and one on Penybont Common.
Geraint brought the good news that he has been able to publish his excellent book on ‘A History of Penybont’ through Amazon. It can be purchased for £10 at Verzons or on Amazon.
The next meeting will be on 7th December 2015 – a fun session “Games we used to Play”.