THE HISTORY OF BIRLEY SPA

A SPA IN SHEFFIELD

Birley Spa House, Sheffield circa 1912

I came across just recently the following press release from Sheffield City Council dated 2 December 2002

RECOGNITION ARRIVES FOR BIRLEY SPA RESTORATION

A commendation is being made today for Birley Spa Bath House and Community Hall - a Victorian Grade II-listed building – acknowledging the £500,000 renovation work that recently restored it to its original glory.

The council-owned building has been recognised in the Countryside Design Awards from the Council for the Protection of Rural England. The restoration project was a partnership involving the Sheffield City Council’s Planning and Housing sections together with community groups such as the Shire Brook Conservation Group.

Re-opened in July this year, the building is secluded by a ravine in a woodland setting off Birley Spa Lane at Hackenthorpe.

Thought to be the only Victorian Bath House intact with its grounds in South Yorkshire, the building dates back to 1843. Its architectural features have been reinstated, with security measures and disabled access added to make it a community, educational and cultural heritage resource for our area.

The Bath House improvements allow sunlight into an atmosphere of quiet dignity, whilst renovation of the community hall’s windows make for a more attractive public facility.

Cllr Gill Furniss, Cabinet Member for Development, said: “The City Council are delighted to receive this award, a recognition of all the hard work that’s gone into this important project by the community, local organisations and the council.”

These lovely amenities are once more open for the public to enjoy. Guided tours of the Bath House take place on the first Saturday of each month between 10am and mid-day

It jogged my memory of a small booklet in my possession that was written by  T.L. Platts detailing the history of the Spa. There were no details at all in the booklet  with regard to publisher, date or even author. The only description in the book was that it was printed by W Bishop (Sheffield) I made a few enquiries but drew a blank and then decided that it was a shame for such a wealth of information not to be more widely available. (see post-script at the end of the article)

I have transcribed the booklet and posted the information to the site. If the copyright holder, author etc wishes to contact me I shall only be too pleased to put the appropriate acknowledgements

Birley Spa, Hackenthorpe 

Maybe Sheffield has grounds to count itself as a Spa Town in addition to its other claims to fame since it took over the above watering place when its boundaries were extended in 1966.

Stone-Age Finds

Birley Spa has been alongside trade routes dating back into the stone-age.  Middle stone-age implements were found by the late L H Butcher on two sites at Birley Spa and these are displayed in the Sheffield City Museum.  The stone implements were found near to the footpath which went from the Birley Hotel at Frecheville to Hackenthorpe Christ Church.  One of the sites was just about where the Golden Plover public house now stands.

Roman Bath

There is a strong tradition and legend that a roman bath existed here and old local people still talk of this.  To support this story one may consider that the Roman Ricknield Street is now, after post war excavations, considered by some authorities to come from Chesterfield through Hanley, Ridgeway, High Lane and across Birley Moor to a point west of Woodhouse on its way to Templeborough.  This route brings the road alongside Birley Spa.

Certainly this wooded glen contains wells and a stream fed by an underground medicinal spring.

The place is shown and marked Spa on the earliest maps.

To consider the more recent buildings here, there was a headstone in the grounds bearing the date 1701.  One reports says that it was built by a Quaker named Sutcliffe, wither Robert or William and there was certainly a Robert Sutcliffe living in 1786.  The report goes on - the building was of stone and almost square.  In the interior was a bath of very cold clear water which was fed by an underground spring.  There were rings round the sides for persons to take hold of and at one part a place to dress and undress in.  At first it required permission to and bathe, but at the latter part of its existence anyone went who desired.  A bolt was fixed on the inner side of the door to keep out intruders whilst it was being occupied.  The bath was in order in 1793, later a hollow filled with large stones marked the site.

A Nineteenth Century Watering Place

The year 1843 saw a revival of interest in the Spa and Earl Manvers, lord of the manor, developed a "commodious establishment" here which was even used by the aristocracy.  A Leeds chemist named West analysed the waters giving the following report which confirmed that the water contained beneficial and tonic properties.

The Large Plunging Bath

Sulphate of soda

7½ grains per Imperial gallon

Chloride of calcium

1 grains per Imperial gallon

Carbonate of lime

½ grains per Imperial gallon

 

Total

9 grains per Imperial gallon

     

This is almost pure water, such as it now sought after for the Hydropathic method of cure.

The Chalybeate Spring

Sulphate of soda

40 grains per Imperial gallon (equal to 70 grains of crystallised Glauber's salts)

Sulphate of lime

22½ grains per Imperial gallon

Carbonate of lime

½ grains per Imperial gallon

Protoxide of iron

4

 

Total

67 grains per Imperial gallon

     

The proportion of iron in this water is rather large.  The sulphate of soda present is a valuable addition, tending to prevent constipation and other injurious effect which Chalybeate  (impregnated with iron) Medicines sometimes produce when taken alone.  The carbonic acid present (11 1/4 cub ins per gallon) will increase the tonic powers of the water, as well as cause it to agree better with the stomach.

An administrative committee was appointed consisting of Thomas Staniforth Esq., of Hackenthorpe, Edward Hobson of Birley Spa, George Cox of Beighton and John Tillotson, school-master of Beighton.  To manage the place, named the Bath Hotel, George Eadon was selected from eleven applicants for the post of manager at a salary of twenty pounds with free rent and coal.

A Bath Charity was started so that poor people could benefit and take the waters.  Annual subscribers of five shillings could recommend one poor person, subscriptions of ten shillings, three and subscribers of one pound, seven.

Other managers of the Bath Hotel besides George Eadon were, John Tillotson; William Budd, who held if for at least ten years; Alfred Lee; John Bradley and Thomas Lomas who held it in 1876.

The following newspaper advertisement appeared in 1845 -

Birley Spa

Distance 4½ miles from Sheffield;  7 from Rotherham;

6 from Dronfield;  19 from Doncaster;  10 from Bakewell;  4 from Eckington; 14 from Worksop and 11 from Chesterfield

The Committee of the above named

FAVOURITE BATHING PLACE

Beg respectfully to inform the public that it is now completely finished and fitted up in such a manner as to be ready for the reception of Visitors at any time.  They also beg to state that being determined to accommodate the Public as far as lay in their power, they have made a consideration REDUCTION in the charges for BATHING, particularly for the ANNUAL TICKETS, which they have greatly REDUCED IN PRICE, and for greater convenience to Subscribers, have changed them from yearly to half-yearly Tickets:-

For One Person from February 1st to August 1st                         6s.       0d

For Two persons of the same family                    do                    10s.     0d

For Three or more                do                             do                    12s      6d

And from August 1st to February 1st the same prices as above.  The above prices give access to all the Baths, except the Marble Bath, for

which an extra charge of Three Shillings for each half-year will be required.

Prices of Single Baths 

Marble Bath                          2s.       0d        Marble Bath              1s.       3d

Shower Bath                          0s.       9d        Tepid Bath                 0s.       6d

Large Cold Plunge Bath                             0s.       6d

Ladies Cold Plunge Bath                            0s.       9d

An Omnibus from the Commercial Inn, Sheffield

Will run to and from the SPA twice every day (Sundays excepted) and visitors can confidently rely on every necessary attention being paid them; and may be accommodated with PRIVATE APARTMENTS, by applying to the Manager of the Hotel.

 

Edward Hobson, of Birley Spa, a member of the Committee kept a diary and recorded -

May 26th 1843.  The Duke of Portland from Welbeck came to Birley Spa in his carriage with three horses abreast today.  He took a hot bath.

May 27th 1843.  The Duke took another hot bath today

May 28th 1843.  The Duke took the third hot bath today 

After a stay of over a week the Duke and his retinue left for the Tontine Inn, Sheffield where they had lunch before returning back to Welbeck.

January 6th 1890.  No bathing allowed on the Sunday except by order from a medical attendant.

The baths failed to make a profit and by 1895 only one plunge bath remained; the Hotel apparently ceased to function as such about 1878.  It is believed that Earl Manvers who owned the place removed the marble from the baths for his own use.

By 1895 John Platts had become the proprietor of Birley Spa, he was a farmer and gardener and had lived since the 1880's.

A Pleasure-ground for Children

At Birley Spa in the 1920's and 1930's a pleasure ground for children was developed, William Amith and a Mr Moulson were the proprietors.

There were swing-boats, a sand pit, with two wooden dragons guarding its entrance, a paddling pool and a fishing and boating pond.  A wishing well was near to the Roman Bath entrance.  Underground water from the bath fed the various pools and pond.  Along the wooded hillside of this glen were little walks and bench seats on which to picnic.  Amongst the trees was the ancient "wonder tree", an oak said to be over a thousand years old, its gnarled branches giving configurations of various animal heads.

At the entrance to the grounds was a courtyard and wooden sweetshop which sold candy sticks and a turnstile gate where entrance tickets were bought, the proprietor was an oldish man and he wore a cream coloured summer jacket.

At this time places of such entertainment were few, and far between.  Parties of children were brought on Sunday School outings from the surrounding villages of Mosborough, Woodhouse and Beighton.  It was very popular indeed. 

The grounds were compelled to close down with the outbreak of war in 1939.  This was due to the prohibition of assemblies of crowds of people which was introduced as a safety factor in case of air raids.  The buildings and grounds were allowed to decay and become very dilapidated.

Since the building of the Hackenthorpe Housing Estate in the nineteen fifties Sheffield Corporation have become owners of the property.

Postscript

In late June 2010 I was contacted by the granddaughter of the author who had come across this article on the internet. She kindly provided me with additional information of her maternal grandfather who sadly passed way in 1998.

"T,L. Platts (1931-1998), was a local historian who published this work in 1976 under the publisher W. Bishop. Copies of this (booklet) along with T.L. Platts' other works, are stored in Sheffield Central Library Local History Archives. The details of the T. L. Platts Collection can be found on http://library.sheffield.gov.uk/uhtbin/webcat "

And in September 2012 I received this excellent information from a reader of this article

"I lived in Birley Spa from 1953 till I believe 1966 may have been 1965

I spent many hours in Spa House with my aunt who lived there they were caretaker/bailiff for the pond below. The one thing I do remember was a carved stone matching the roof stones the ones that look like urns This was on the wall on the lower pond -  it had  the date 1721ad carved into it. Just below this was a stone, that when removed, drained the ponds level.

My family lived in Rose Cottage. We used to play in the tea rooms opposite to the main house and also the tennis courts, these were burned down in about 1961. I still remember using the wells - there were three, one was outside Rose Cottage one by the side entrance to Birley Spa house and another in between the (other) two set back near the pig-styes .

If you want to ask anything regarding this time please don’t hesitate to ask"

Notes

http://library.sheffield.gov.uk/uhtbin/webcat is the link to the Sheffield Central Library Local History Archives -  if you put T.L.Platts into the search box, you get the record of what is stored there as part of his collection.  

If anyone has any further information on the author or on the history of the spa, please contact me

Sources

THE HISTORY OF BIRLEY SPA by T L PLATTS

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