The Buxton Hydro (Spa Hotel): the Story of the Spa Town's best known Hydropathic between 1866 and 1974
Peter Lomas: Ashridge Press/Country Books 2007 £14.99
ISBN 978 1 901214833
Peter Lomas is lucky, both to have a family with an out of the ordinary history and access to some interesting family documents. He says in his introduction on the back cover that this book 'started as a family history exercise and the more I researched the more I came to realise that there was a great deal of local and family history involved'. He has therefore expanded the history of his ancestors to include a great deal of information on the background to the foundation of the Buxton Hydro and the life of the personalities involved, charting its development.
In 1849 the author's ancestor, the Reverend James Shore, was imprisoned for three months for preaching without a licence having seceded from the Church of England on a matter of conscience. He was supported by many non-conformists and even some Anglicans and his persecution contributed to the Clergy Relief Bill providing legal protection for seceding clergymen, and the foundation of the Free Church of England. Shore later moved to Derbyshire for his health and eventually opened hydropathic and homeopathic establishments, initially in Matlock and then in Buxton. The author tells the story of the expansion of these , firstly under Shore and then his energetic and talented grandson H.R.P.Lomas. Like other hotels in Buxton the Hydro (now known as the Spa Hotel) flourished. During its heyday in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century there was year long entertainment and treatment for wealthy visitors both in Buxton itself and at the Spa Hotel.
Inevitably, as times changed the hotel went into decline. During World War 1 it was used as a Canadian Hospital and during World War II it became part of the Head Office of the Norwich Union. Attempts were made to operate as an hotel during the 1940s and 50s but it finally closed and was demolished in 1973.
I thought I knew what Hydropathics were but felt that a dictionary needed to be checked. Interestingly although one merely stated that hydropathy was the treatment by water both externally and internally another mentioned that the treatment is pseudo-scientific which throws a different light on the subject and may in part account for the complaints about hydropathics from those trying to run conventional large hotels in the nineteenth century. Peter Lomas goes into a great deal of detail about the history and life of the hotel and there is much of interest on staff, residents and the financial difficulties of the company. I particularly enjoyed the Appendix devoted to the different treatments available at Hydros. These ranged from simple medicated or mustard baths to worrying Electrotherapy. In the early Twentieth century the inhalation of radioactivity 'liberated' by the Buxton waters was considered a healthy advantage of a visit to the town.
This is an honourable effort by Peter Lomas to share with others the huge amount of information that he has amassed during research into his family's history. There is almost too much information and I feel that the subjects actually merit two books. The problems of those clergymen seceding from the Church of England in the nineteenth century and persecution by the then Bishop of Exeter, Henry Phillpotts, merit a separate study and discussion. This would have enabled the author to focus on the subject of the book's title. I sympathise with his eagerness to promulgate all of his findings and it is difficult to decide what to include and what to leave out. I am sure that there are many OU students like me who have been disappointed to find that some of the 'best bits' of their researches have fallen to their tutor's black pen! H.R.P.Lomas's childhood diary is indeed a find. However interesting though newspaper reports always are these were a little too long and did at times distract me from the main narrative.
Of course this is a book of particular interest to those with knowledge of Buxton but others who are researching the early leisure and tourist industries, business or medical matters would also find useful information here. The book is well illustrated, many of the interesting photographs coming from local archives. Ample opportunities for further reading are listed in the Bibliography and there is a good index.