Royal Pump Rooms
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The Royal Pump Rooms (signed Royal Pump Room and Baths) is a Grade II listed building on the Parade in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England. It was the most famous of several spa baths opened in Leamington between the late-18th and mid-19th centuries. People would travel from throughout the country, and indeed Europe, to benefit from treatments using the town's healing waters. When 'taking the waters' became less fashionable after the mid-19th century the Pump Rooms became Leamington's only surviving spa facility, later also being extended to include the town's public swimming pool. After a major redevelopment in 1997-99 the building now houses Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, a public library, a Tourist Information Centre, cafe and assembly rooms.
Background and beginnings
By the time that a spring had been found at the site of the rooms in 1811 Leamington already had a reputation as an up-and-coming spa resort. Five wells had been discovered south of the River Leam in and around the village. The influx of tourists to bathe in these springs and 'take the waters' had led to speculators developing land to the north of the river. It was decided by these men that they needed to find a spring on their side of the river so that they could erect a suitably grand building to match the town they aimed to develop. The sixth spring was found in 1811 on the land of Mr Bertie Greatheed and the architectural work was passed to local man C.S. Smith (who also designed The Regent Hotel and the Upper Assembly Rooms in the town). The building named The New Pump Rooms and Baths was opened three years later in July 1814. Within months of opening however the baths proved so popular that the building needed to be extended. The building was finally complete two years later in 1816. Including the wings at the north and south end the building was 166 feet long with 17 hot baths and 3 cold baths. The total development cost was a fraction under £18,000. One of the most interesting, although not at the time most famous or notable, parts of the development were the pumps which were manufactured by the engineering giants Boulton and Watt of Smethwick, Birmingham. Although some individuals expressed reservations about the baths, most notably a doctor who claimed that the healing waters could be contaminated by soiled river water, the baths were a huge success with visitors including some of the most famous people of the time.
From the 1840s onwards the British spa town tourist industry began to wane thanks to the growing popularity of spas in continental Europe, notably Belgium and France. Faced with the decline in demand for spa health treatments the decision was made in 1860 to close the Pump Rooms with a view to demolishing them and selling the land. However a group of local investors clubbed together and bought the building in October 1861. After spending £17,000 refurbishing the building, including adding a Turkish Bath and swimming pool, it proved impossible to operate at a profit and it was sold to the Local Board of Health in 1868. Since that time the building has remained in the public sector and in 1875 the Royal Pump Room Gardens next to the building were opened to the public. In 1890 a further large public swimming pool was opened. An annexe was added to the south of the main assembly room in 1910 and another to the north some years later. Around 1950 the tower added in the 1860s was demolished. By the 1980s, now under the control of Warwick District Council, the building again faced an uncertain future. In 1989 the swimming pool was closed and relocated to a new leisure centre building in Newbold Comyn and in the following years the future of the Royal Pump Rooms became a matter of public debate.
After a number of different schemes to redevelop the Royal Pump Rooms had been considered, in 1997 work began on a major project to reuse it as a cultural complex. This opened after two years of redevelopment led by Warwick District Council in partnership with Warwickshire County Council, South Warwickshire Tourism Ltd and a catering company. The Leamington public library and public art gallery were relocated here from their former "Old Library" and annexe site on Avenue Road. The main swimming hall was used to house the library, the smaller swimming hall and Turkish Baths converted to house Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum. The Tourist Information Centre was relocated into a newly built entrance concourse, the assembly rooms were refurbished, and a cafe installed. A drinking fountain was placed outside the building so that passersby could taste the spa waters. The redevelopment cost £7.1 million.
The local history exhibition in Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, which presents the history of the town and its communities, includes several sections dealing with different aspects of the history of the Royal Pump Rooms. Items on display include medical equipment formerly used in the building for hydrotherapy and physiotherapy treatments.
- Royal Pump Rooms and Baths
- Cave, Lyndon (1988) Royal Leamington Spa, Phillimore & Co Ltd