Category Archives: Handbridge

Towneley, a health spa to rival Harrogate – 1700

Charles_LeighCharles Leigh (1662-1701) visited Towneley around 1697 and gave an account of the spring water there in A Natural History of Lancashire, Cheshire, and the Peak in Derbyshire, published in 1700.


Leigh described a number of places in Lancashire with chalybeate springs (water containing iron). Early in the 17th century, chalybeate water was said to have health-giving properties and many people have promoted its qualities. Among the first places to establish a health spa around a chalybeate spring was Tunbridge Wells in Kent. Leigh highlighted the spring that enters the Calder on Towneley Holmes and was shown to him by Richard Towneley (1629-1707). Leigh compared the water to that at Bourbon-l’Archambault, a spa town in the Auvergne, and described in  Observations sur les eaux minérales published in 1675 by  Samuel Cottereau du Clos (1598-1685). There was a copy of the book by du Clos in Richard Towneley’s library and Richard impressed Leigh with his knowledge of the subject.

Burnley_1787In the 18th century it was Harrogate rather than Burnley that became known as ‘The English Spa’ and the influx of wealthy but sickly visitors contributed significantly to the wealth of that town. Towneley’s mineral water was not completely forgotten as can be seen in the map of Lancashire published by William Yates in 1786 with a Spaw (spa) south of Handbridge.