Ilkley, West Yorkshire

White Wells C David Spencer

In the seventeenth century White Wells Bath House was constructed close to a hillside spring. The water there gained a reputation for purity and softness. Early bathing processes involved ten minutes immersion into a plunge-bath (4 degrees Celsius) and a brisk rubdown by the health attendant.

Like many spa towns, Ilkley became a fashionable place in the nineteenth century. The opening of Ben Rhydding Hydro in 1844 was key in this.

Charles Darwin stayed in Ilkley in 1859 – the time when On the Origin of Species was first published. Darwin visited the Wells House Hydropathic Establishment, which opened in 1856. Darwin was essentially an outpatient, living in rented accommodation. He described resident physician Dr Edmund Smith as caring ‘very much for the fee and very little for the patient’! Nevertheless, tourists flocked to ‘take the waters’.

The Ben Rhydding Hydro fell into disuse after World War Two, and was demolished in the 1950’s. Wells House has been converted into luxury apartments. But White Wells House remains as a hydro building – and it can be visited on the edge of the moor.

Read more about spa towns in our feature here.

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