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spas were places with springs or wells containing salts which were claimed to improve the physical, mental, and spiritual health of people drinking or bathing in the waters. The term became current during the 17th cent. to describe towns which emulated Spa in the Ardennes in Belgium which had just risen to fame. Several British towns owed their prosperity to the benefits of health-giving waters long before the 17th cent., for example, Bath, whose hot springs were used in the Roman town of Aquae Sulis and which regained fame in the Middle Ages, and Walsingham in Norfolk, a centre of pilgrimage in the later Middle Ages.

Fashionable visitors, including royalty, gave prestige to Bath and Tunbridge Wells in the 17th cent. but these and other towns grew in prominence later. They had lodging-houses to let to wealthy patrons in the season with space for their servants to sustain comfortable living. In the early 19th cent. Cheltenham offered the first purpose-built luxury hotel. ‘Taking the Waters’ did not occupy all the time and energies of visitors. Elaborate provisions were made: theatres, ballrooms, libraries, specialized shops and services, excursions to places of interest, and religious devotions. Elegant buildings, residential, religious, and public, were set in well-maintained, lit, and policed streets. Success attracted imitators for the growing health and leisure business. A late entrant was Buxton in Derbyshire which remained popular throughout the 19th cent. Failed projects included Glastonbury in Somerset during the 18th cent. and Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire in the 19th cent. Most British spas declined in popularity during the 19th cent. because of competition from foreign resorts which catered for a much more diverse clientele.

Ian John Ernest Keil

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SPAS Fellow of the American Philosophical Society (Latin Societatis Philosophicae Americanae Socius)