It is understood that the Bath House in Bakewell is changing hands and this is an opportune time to remind ourselves of one of the most important buildings in the history of the town. Its importance lies in several ways. Jan Stetka has shown that the town’s early importance owed much to its agricultural strength resulting from water meadows irrigated by warm spring water. They allowed enough oxen to be kept to plough the large arable area. (From Fort to Field, 2001) The warm bath was an asset to the town, though it never developed as a spa to rival Buxton’s. Bakewell’s most famous person, White Watson, lived much of his life in the Bath House. It was a focus for social and cultural life, and his diaries, kept from 1780 to 1833, throw much light on Bakewell’s life.

In Bulletin No. 2 of the Society of July 1971 (forerunner of the Journal) Dick Allcock wrote the following notes about the Bath House, partly culled from White Watson’s writings (with my comments in brackets).

The five warm springs in Bakewell were:

  1. In Swain’s Yard (now Midco), now covered.
  2. Bath Spring- probably known to the Romans.
  3. Under RDC Offices (council offices in Bath Street) –covered 1890s
  4. At Peat Hill- Peat Well or Holywell.
  5. Bullwell in plantation near Sewage Pumping Station (near Meaden Bridge).

‘In 1637 Haddon paid £15.13.4 for making a well to the bath in Bakewell. The Bath Spring remained uncovered until 1697. White Watson, who lived at the Bath House from the 1770s to 1830, recorded that a large Bath House was erected over the tepid chalybeate spring in 1697.

‘The bath was much used until 1767 (when Buxton’s modern baths came into vogue), then became sadly neglected. Then the bath was covered with a board floor supported on sandstone pillars. Dwelling apartments were constructed on this floor.

‘In 1807 Mrs Pidcock had rooms in White Watson’s house for her Young Ladies’ Day School, giving instruction in reading, grammar, writing and needlework, charging 10/6 a quarter.

‘In 1817 the bath was restored and two shower baths and a pump installed as part of the effort to establish a Bakewell spa. Competing with Buxton, it was a limited success only. During the restoration, a cold spring was discovered under the bath steps and had to be diverted. White Watson also records ‘From the warm spring (with Cupid watching o’er) a streamlet takes the overflow through the Botanical Garden’ (now Bath Gardens). In dry weather grass circles, etc. on the bowing green locate some of his botanical garden beds. Cupid dominated the tufa backing to the outside wall and probably disappeared shortly after the First World War. (Watson re-roofed the grotto in Bath Gardens, against the back wall of Devonshire Chambers, in1826.)

‘In 1848 the Bakewell and High Peak Institute was established in part of the building- the rest was occupied by the caretaker- to be followed by the Conservative Club.

‘In 1900, 1903, 1905, 1907, the Urban District Council considered the provision of public baths; firstly, open bath by the river; secondly, covered bath by Peat Well; and thirdly, covered bath by the Bath House. In 1909 it was decided to bore for the spring below the perforated stone flooring of the old bath. This and other borings proved unsuccessful and future bath schemes came to nought when the townsfolk studied the annual cost of upkeep.

‘In 1921 the property was purchased by the Urban District Council and since 1946 has been occupied by the British Legion.

‘Use of the bath by the public, even from the surrounding villages, continued until the late 1930s. The cutting of a deep sewage trench along Bath Street about 1937 affected both the quality and the flow of the old spring water as is the situation today. However during the war period the Scouts were able to use the bath for swimming instruction.

‘After the cessation of Scout use the old dungeon-like bath had a variety of uses, ranging from storeroom to mushroom farm. Today the sluice gate is kept open to drain away rising water whose volume now depends on the water bed (water table).’


Several papers have been written about White Watson (1760 to 1835). I particularly draw on Ted Meeke’s substantial unpublished four volumes of 1997 which incorporates previous knowledge and have a great deal of source material including Watson’s writings. See also his article in the Journal for 1994 and mine of 1981. [The appendix (added later) is notes made by meeke which have relevance to the Bath House and grounds.]

On page 85 of Ted Meeke’s ‘ White Watson: Bakewell’s Only Famous Man’ is the following

                                    ‘BATH HOUSE

‘There was a hot spring at Bakewell and there probably there still is but it has vanished into the new sewerage system. Certainly Swain’s plaster store  is reputed never to freeze and the late RWP Cockerton stated that a workman had told him that, when working on the school in Bath Street, he was standing in warm water.

‘Local legend has it that the warm spring was used by the Romans as a bath but there is no evidence of this. For 1500 years after the Romans left bathing was a great rarity amongst the English and it was not until the end of the 17th century that the medicinal value of bathing become accepted. The Duke of Rutland erected the Bath House, probably for his own use, in 1697. Watson became the tenant just before the beginning of the 19th century and ran the concern. His uncle and aunt had been the previous tenants. Whether the bath was in use is not recorded.


In 1812 mechanics and servants could bathe only after 6 pm. No public baths only private ones. Fee 1/- for a fixed time. Watson’s cash book records no receipts for bathing until 1817 after a refurbishment by the Duke. Mrs Watson had a complete assortment of linen and dresses for the bathers. Silk bathing caps were supplied, having been obtained from Derby at 2/6 each. There were private baths and two shower baths. Hot and cold. Operated by a pump. After Watson’s death the Duke made further improvements in 1837.

                                    ‘BATH CURES

1798  He records of himself “23rd July bathed three times”.

1817  “George Hanby of Bolsover recommended by Mr Firth, surgeon. Hepatic and nephritic disease restored to his wife and nine children. June 29th. Began to bathe every morning until 12th July and drank the water. When he went home on foot cured attested to by Mr Firth to Mr White Watson who also saw him in good health in 1823.”

  1.   “Miss Shaw, Sheffield, for weakness and fever. Bathed a month and drank the water. Recovered.”
  2.   “Richard Swinnerton of Linby recommended by Mr Gilberthorpe, surgeon, Arnold. Bathed and drank the water for a nervous complaint. Went away July 24th well.”

1920 “Mr Skidmore of Sheffield came in a very relaxed state. Drank water for a month then went home well.”

“Many have found the benefit in weakness and it generally allowed to create appitite.” ‘


In 1742 White’s father Samuel (son of the famous carver at Chatsworth) and uncle Henry Watson rented the Bath House from the Duke of Rutland. Henry moved to Ashford in 1751, having developed water-powered marble machinery there. (Trevor Brighton’s article ‘The Ashford Marble Works and Cavendish Patronage, 1748-1905’.  Bulletin of the Peak District Mines Historical Society. Vol 12 No. 6. Winter 1995.) Samuel may have stayed at the Bath House for a while, though later lived in Edensor, Whitely Woods (where White was born) and Baslow (from where White attended Sheffield Grammar School as a boarder in 1773 and later worked at Chatsworth). His first marriage in 1749 ended soon with his wife’s death. He was married a second time, to Deborah Barker, widow of George Barker the Duke of Devonshire’s steward. Her maiden name was White, accounting for the unusual Christian name of their second son. His mother died in 1765 and his father in 1775.

By 1774 Henry Watson had sold the Ashford Marble Works and he then came to live at the Bath House and had a mason’s workshop on the hill. White moved in with him in that year, having earlier helped him at Ashford during school holidays where his interest in geology presumably developed. 

White was influenced by John Whitehurst of Derby (11713-1788) who made a study of the strata of Derbyshire and in 1785 published ‘An Inquiry into the Original State and Formation of the Earth’. Whitehurst established the fundamental law of stratigraphy, the branch of  geology which deals with the nature and order in which rocks are laid down (Stanley- see below). White’s national importance was in building on that insight, culminating in his publication of ‘A Delineation of the Strata of Derbyshire’ in 1811 and the production of many geological cross sections using the actual rocks. One of these sections is displayed in the Old House Museum and several are in Derby Museum. A Derby Museum Publication accompanying an exhibition ‘200 years of Derbyshire Geology’ at Derby Museum in 19   , by M F Stanley, discusses the importance of Watson as a geologist along with Whitehurst, William Martin, John Farey and William Smith the ‘Father of English Geology’. He describes as ‘the heroic age of geology’ as starting in 1773 when Watson probably began collecting fossils.

Trevor Brighton (op. cit.) describes White Watson as a polymath. ‘Like his uncle and grandfather before him he was a monumental mason and carver, but was also an antiquarian, museologist, silhouette artist, writer, gardener and plantsman. His botanical and horticultural pursuits earned him election as a fellow of the Linnaean Society. At the Duke of Rutland’s Bath House, where he lived in Bakewell, he not only revitalised the town’s bathing facilities, but laid out the Bath grounds in an attempt to establish a botanical garden.

‘Within his house he had created, by his death in 1835, a museum of geology, natural history and archaeology that predated that of William Bateman of Lomberdale Hall and was celebrated beyond the Peak. Minerals and fossils, first collected by his uncle Henry, were the principal exhibits of this collection which Glover described in 1833.’

Watson corresponded with notable people, such as Sir Joseph Banks, Dr Samuel Pegg, John Sneyd,  and Sir Joseph Paxton and no doubt many of them visited the Bath House. One commented that his conversational powers made him a welcome guest. Watson taught Cavendish children and was invited to the Duke of Devonshire’s birthday dinner in 1808.

Watson was probably the author who cloaked his identity under the nom de plume ‘a gentleman of Bakewell’ for this saucy poem about covering the bath when the Bath House was built over it. It is a handwritten addition to Watson’s copy of ‘The Strata of Derbyshire’ in Derby Library. He wrote other poems, including on geological subjects.

There erst from illness or perchance from whims,

Our Peakrill ladies lav’d their tender limbs,

No screen to keep them from the prying eye,

Nor any covering save the ample sky;

For here by modesty alone arrayed,

Of shame unconscious they their frames displayed;

But when refinement deemed it was unchased,

In public thus to come and wash the waist,

A mansion rose, where midst ear piercing gabble,

Their snowy frames they unobserved might dabble.

APPENDIX [added later])

Notes made by Meeke from Watson's diaries which refer to the Bath House and garden.

Meeke pageYear Description
3621687 Large bath house erected over spring
3091742 Henry Watson came and spent a good deal on repairs to bath. In 1767 Charles Wild lined the walls.
3091742 p. 319  1742 father and uncle came to live at Bakewell Bath House, purchasing Mrs Thorp's stock; 1773 Henry W returned to B and lived in Mr Buxton's house up the hill; 1774 rented Bath House
3431743 Henry W. made vase in his house, the Bath House
3681751 Mr Henry Watson commenced business in Bakewell. He established the marble works in Ashford where he lived. In 1773 he returned to Bakewell. Where he carried on his marble works
1011780 Hannah Stone came to live with us as a servant
1101785 Had little house slated by R Sellors
1301790 Pipes for water closet
1321791 Well in cellar analysis
2141797 Chimney sweep 3 chimneys
2151797 Pitch for launder under roof
2201798 Rent Bakewell to D of R 2/10/0
3691798 Joseph Hunter 'saw Mr White Watson's excellent collection of the Derbyshire minerals, fossils. Etc. most of the modern monuments in the churchyards around Bakewell are products of his taste and ingenuity.' 
1331799 Filtering cistern runs 5 quarts and pint in 44 hours
2311801 Lock for outer kitchen door to street, latch for parlour door
1381802 Mr Robinson’s filtering cistern 8 galls/ 24 hours
1401803 Bought 300 bricks. Well in garden a foot below surface all summer
3671807 Mrs R Pidcock entered upon the rooms in my house to commence teaching a day school
2461809 Subscription to baths Wm. Milnes
2541814 Leading and glazing windows
3431814 Report on wells and springs of Bakewell with temperatures and minerals
3051815 Sough from bh to river cleaned when blocked and cellars flooded. On p.312 mention of plan of sough from bath well in Watson's cellar to Wye through Mr Carrington's croft. Wooden trunk through which water flows out of house into sough.
3621817 Duke of R. reopened. Characteristics of the water. 'Two showers of different powers have been added and a newsroom established in the premises.'
2591817 Newsroom fee. Mr Birch  £1/5/3 a quarter. many bath subs. £1
3071817 Sketch of grotto and basin in Bath garden
3281817 Cold spring diverted [in 1891 article on antiquity of Bath]
3431817 Advert for re-opening bath after repairs
1701818 details of the bath and a sketch of the dome- 20 ft wide x 17ft high, 33 ft long containing 15,000 gallons. Later another calculation: 30 ft 3” long, 16 ft wide, 362 superficial feet at 4 foot 1 inch deep holds 13,280 gallons.
2601818 Bought 2 bathing caps from Derby
1701819 Planted shrubs on new border against drying ground
1711819 Ladies dressing room and kitchen chimneys swept
1711819 June Put trout in rock basin (died December)
1721819 Enlarged rock basin
1721819 Planted  .. in new border next the street
1731819 Tufa 6 large cart loads
1741820 Planted border before 'necessary'
2641820 Several payments for grass mowing and in subsequent years
2651821 Painting shower bath
2661821 Bought tufa
3281822 Warm bath completed
2681823 6th share of soughing and gravelling road to back yard
2691824 Nicholas Broomhead for repairing bath pipes. Tube for top of bath room chimney
1821825 The committee of gentlemen deposited the Courier in the news room to my care ...
1861826 Water for hot bath 16 quarts cold 8 boiling
2751826 Slate for grotto
1871828 8 times walking up and down the straight walk in Bath Gardens is a mile and round the grounds six times and a half is a mile being 268 yards
2771828 Plaster, painter and other tradesmen
2811830 From Duke of R. for roofing grotto in gardens*
1921831 Diagram of bath sough
3281831 Shower bath holds 36 gallons. Cold spring found and diverted
3701890 Sale of WW specimens


P 66     A large bath has been erected over one of the chalybeate springs...  It is elegant and commodious, and has been the resort of numerous visitors.       

The ancient bath …. is now in possession of the ingenious and intelligent Mr White Watson F L S, a gentleman highly distinguished for his geological researches and whose collection* of fossils has become the resort of many visitors from Matlock and Buxton.

* This rich and scientific collection merits particular attention. It is distributed into three classes.

1          The productions of Derbyshire only containing 1350 specimens of rock, ore, crystallisations, petrifactions. etc

2          Specimens of most of the known species of fossils, properly arranged and described after Werner.

3          Specimens of those minerals only which are employed in the arts and manufactures.

…  curious relics of antiquities (with examples)

P.67     A large bathing house was erected over the spring in1697. It has been rebuilt by the command of the Duke of Rutland. Two shower- baths of different powers have been added, and a news room has been established on the same premises.