A member of the local community brought me a copy of a publication, Historic Wells around Bradford, of which they found certain facts on ilkley and it’s wells to be dubious. I was asked my opinion and the answers are transcribed below. I have spent many years researching of our waters hereabouts, and it is difficult to accept that which is written without question. Also, being a Member of Ilkley’s Town and Tourist Management Committee, I have to think of our residents and visitors who may not be aware of the discrepancies, so shown. it should be added I have lived at White Wells for a time, so am not without knowledge of the buildings.
Let us take the ‘Large Bath’ for a start. The Author states, “....it being placed in the Town Centre in the 18th Century.....” Ilkley as a Town did not become so, until the mid to late 19th Century. Formerly being a Dales hamlet of some two or three hundred souls. Even today, older residents born here often refer to Ilkley as ‘The Village’. The ‘bath’, it’s volume and rate of fill, quite obviously the Author has mixed this up with the Plunge bath at White Wells, on Ilkley Moor. The one under the West Wing. That open for Public inspection was the Douche and shower Bath, which early photographs and memories of those who worked up there reveal.
The nearest to anything ‘bath shaped’ in Town apart from a horse trough, would have been water collection tanks ( in Mill Ghyll ), to bring water for steam engines at the Station. As the Railway did not find it’s way to Ilkley until around 1865, I hardly think this will be the ‘bath’ alluded to by the Author. Unless one knows Mill Ghyll, intimately, these tanks are easily overlooked. Mill Ghyll was not given to the Town of Ilkley as many are apt to imagine. But is on a 999 year lease from the Middleton family or their descendants. You may check this with Legal Services, Directorate of Corporate Services, City Hall, Bradford, BD1 1HY.
Nor was it supposedly given in 1852 as the Mill was still in operation. finishing flour production in 1868, it lay empty until 1870/2/4, when the Local Board started negotiations for the said lease. (Just as a side piece of information, the last miller at Mill Ghyll, became the first Landlord of the Midland Hotel) The Middleton family insisted Mill Ghyll become an ‘Arboretory without any buildings and a clear rippling stream’. The only time water gushes strongly down the Ghyll is after exceedingly heavy rain.
I and a fellow historian are puzzled at mention of a ‘drinking fountain’ atop Brook Street. There was a large ornamental fountain of which only the defunct bowl is left and now used as a flower border. However, there was a drinking fountain on the Moor below White Wells and adjacent to a flag staff. I seem to remember it had connections with Glasgow. But this and the flag staff are long since buried or removed.
The Canker Well did not lay in the gardens of Spa Hydro, but across the Grove in it’s own gardens. There were three springs on the plot prior to the gardens being landscaped. The Spa had their own outdoor ‘spring.’ a former owner of the Spa (now demolished) told me it’s supply was taken off the Spa’s main conduit. This main flow still runs to waste at approximately 2000 gallons an hour. There is a possibility Canker Well Gardens may also be under the same 999 year lease as Mill Ghyll. The ‘spring’ behind Spa Buildings was a way to use up surplus building materials to make a feature of sorts. The tiles and iron work etc., is all that is left of the Spa Hydro and it’s water supply as just mentioned, a ‘little something’ to add flair!. The Lions heads which grace the wall of this edifice were added in the past twenty years.
The Canker or Ocker Wata Well as some knew it may have been called the ‘Sore Eyes Well’. Another a spring bearing the name of ‘Eye-Bright’ runs behind the Castle or Manor House. Being now diverted underground and running beneath the cellar of a nearby house thence to the river. Once again valuable healing water running to waste. The Canker Well lost it’s natural supply when houses were constructed on the south side of the Grove. That which runs today after heavy rain is nought but top water run off. The Canker Well never having a piped source from which it rose. Tests on the water when still running showed along with certain minerals, it contained three virulent strains of bacteria. E-coli, being the major one.
The stone trough the Author alludes to is in fact a ‘stone’ bath from Ben Rhydding Hydropathic Establishment. More than adequate references are made to this in the Local History Department of Ilkley Library, the Manor House and various other sources of Ilkley’s history.
The Great Spring was a very separate source of healing water to White Wells. The ‘shepherd’ who is said to have found healing properties from the former would appear to have left it somewhat late. Especially if one follows the words of certain Romantic Historians of the day. Also, why just one shepherd? What’s wrong with the rest of the Community? They did, if we are to believe Collyer, take their water from the same spring and had done for hundreds of years previous. Irrespective of what modern historians and the Council are want to say, I tend to look at the practical side of Ilkley’s Great Spring. Perhaps living up there focuses the mind in a more positive way than visiting authors and those in the valley.
Acquainting the ‘shepherd’ in a similar light to one Alex Campbell of the Northern Courier, Fort Augustas, Scotland. Campbell it was who, when short of interesting stories, started the ball rolling about that other great money spinner or waster, a Monster in a certain Scottish Loch! If you don’t believe me, telephone the Inverness Courier’s offices and ask about Campbell’s article in the May 2nd publication of 1933? The answer to the Loch Ness mystery lies not at the bottom of a Scottish Loch, but at the bottom of some aged filing cabinet at the above paper, or it’s descendant.
It is supposed after the shepherd’s miraculous find Mr Middleton, a businessman of note had the baths built. Something of a coincidence wouldn’t you say? Might it not have been, he heard of other such springs and decided to try it in Ilkley. The water at White Wells holds no healing properties apart from being one of the coldest and purest in the Country. I often remark to visitors a Sauna in reverse. A recent analysis of the water showed it to be as pure, if not purer than a similar test in Victorian times.
The water was brought from the Well Head in stone channels not stone pipes. Until recently only one was thought to exist, that which I dug from the Moor myself and had placed in the Well House, during the early eighties. Excavations for a new water supply to the cottage revealed more and a feature was made of them to the rear of White Wells.
The Author states white Wells drew it’s water from more than one source. For once they are right. The Great Spring around the 1870’s, was supplying approx. 39,000 gallons in Summer and 110,800 gallons in winter. Calculated over a twenty four hour period. While the 1791 advertisement mentions a Robert Dale of Ilkley, it doesn’t specifically note to which baths he was referring!
Menston having a similar bath to white Wells at Goosewell and also, there was a farm nearby the latter. No mention is made by the Author of the connections between these two bath houses, nor the fact that the owner of Goosewell re-furbished White Wells ( much at his own expense ), in the mid seventies. Eric Busby! The whitish look to the water makes me wonder which spring we are talking about? White Wells are known for the purity, coldness and clarity. One would hardly say that of a supply being ‘milky white’! It’s strong diuretic nature is something regulars to White Wells would not dispute.
I take a great interest in my town’s history and wish Authors send copies of their works for proof reading by local people, before wasting time and money in printing. A prime example lately, the so-called Ilkley Town Guide Book. More like Ilkley Town Cock Up! You have a duty not only to the name of your Publisher, but to the residents of areas which you write, to their many thousands of visitors and lastly, yourself.
An article of literature is worth nought if it has no safe, solid, research to back at least ninety five per cent of it’s content. I hope the enclosed will prompt the Author to take a closer look at their work. I can only speak for this area. It does worry me though how many other discrepancies are in the book, considering the price.