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Britain > Warwickshire > Royal Leamington Spa

A former spa town and garden paradise


Royal Pump Rooms
Jephson Gardens
Leamington In Bloom
Once upon time, this was just a small village called Leamington Priors. Then, in the late 1700s, the residents discovered the natural spa water flowing beneath their feet. They started building bath houses and luring tourists - and Leamington has never looked back.
Over the next few decades, the settlement enjoyed one of the fastest expansions that England has ever seen. Visiting spa towns like this was a favourite pastime of the upper classes, who believed the spring waters could heal their illnesses. This didn't just include aches and pains; some bathers hoped to cure themselves of gout, rheumatism and even paralysis!
Leamington's reputation was good enough to earn a visit from Queen Victoria herself. She enjoyed her time here so much that she granted the settlement a regal prefix; since 1838 it has been "Royal" Leamington Spa. A statue of Victoria is still standing next to the town hall - but just barely. It was nearly blown to bits in World War II. All the bomb actually did was shift the statue 2 inches along its plinth. It has yet to be put back.
The fashion of spa bathing turned out to be a temporary one; profits fell in the mid 19th century, and the iconic Pump Rooms complex looked likely to fall into disuse. Thankfully that's not the case; after a spell as a medical centre, it has now reinvented itself as a hub for both visiting tourists and the local community. Inside its walls is a museum, an art gallery, a library and a café.
The museum explains the spa's former uses, and its medical treatments. It gives an idea of why some people would travel all the way from Europe to spend time here. The water wasn't only for bathing in; it was for drinking too. You can have a try for yourself, and see if it really does make you feel better. As you explore the exhibits, keep a particular eye out for the rather unusual tools from the old physiotherapy department!
After their treatment, visitors would usually take a walk in the Royal Pump Room Gardens. The word "garden" might be a bit of an exaggeration now; these days it's more of a park, with a large open lawn. There are plenty of interesting details, though, like a traditional bandstand, and gas lamps.
A more varied selection of plants can be seen at Jephson Gardens, just a short walk away. It's organised into various sections, including a sensory garden and the temperate glasshouse. This was another place that was popular with 19th century tourists. They'd take walks, watch fireworks displays and play croquet.
In summer, the whole town becomes a garden. Leamington is a fierce competitor in the Britain in Bloom awards; it puts flowers in places other settlements wouldn't dream of, from lampposts to the fire station.
Standing among the flowers are the other pieces of the spa's legacy: dozens of beautiful Victorian and Georgian buildings, erected when the 19th century tourism boom was at its height, and money seemed inexhaustible. The wide, straight roads are still lined with trees. Visitors can enjoy the same elegant atmosphere that only 19th century aristocrats were previously able to experience.
Visitor Information
Leamington Spa Tourist Information Centre, The Royal Pump Rooms, The Parade, Leamington Spa, CV32 4AB. Tel: 0870 160 7930

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