We visited Royal Leamington Spa for a couple of days and at first sight, this magnificent town seems very dissimilar to our little (but growing town of Weston-super-Mare. However as we wandered around, being tourists, I began to think that in some ways the two It might be difficult to spot, I thought as we walked along the broad elegant Regency streets, with the lovely parks, the spa baths, and old bridges crossing the River Leam; however, Weston has some elegant Regency buildings, some very lovely parks, old bath houses now, of course exclusive apartments with a magnificent sea view, and instead of the River Leam, the sea itself – the Bristol Channel with views across to Wales, and down the Somerset coast to Devon.
Although there have been people living in the Leamington area, along the Leam since Norman times, and before that the Romans enjoyed the hot springs, it was only in the late 1700’s that the Spa was managed to become a tourist attraction, the Pump Rooms opened in 1814, and soon after, in the 1820’s building began – building to create the magnificent townhouses we can still see now.
Similarly there have always been people living around what was Glentworth Bay and is now Weston Bay, since earliest times, back to when the area was marshy littoral, fishing keeping animals, farming the drier areas, building hill forts in the Bronze and iron Age. The Romans were also in Weston, a temple was built on the promontory of Brean Down, across the River Axe but facing across the bay. In the same era as Leamington was developing its health giving spa, sea bathing was becoming fashionable in Weston and in 1820 John Howe of Bristol, opened his bath house which had hot and cold salt water baths, lodgings for invalids, and with an eye to more profit from the healthy tourists, tea and coffee rooms and a reading room. In 1830 Dr Edward Long Fox who was a revered and well-known Quaker and physician from Bristol, a real pioneer in the humane treatment of the insane, began to send his patients to the Weston ‘spa’. He took it over and as well as constructing an exercise area, he had fresh and salt water, hot and cold vapour, showers, sulphur and other medicated baths.
Weston is blessed with many parks, most dating back to Victorian times, most of them beautifully maintained and with some elegant structures, band stands and tea rooms for example, which sadly frequently fall prey to vandals. Grove Park, Alexandra Parade Gardens, the 1842 Ellenborough Park (which is an SSSI – Site of Special Scientific Interest, due to the range of plant species there) , Clarence Park, Ashcombe Park, and other, smaller green spaces.
Leamington’s parks are on a much grander scale, for example –
First laid out in 1831 as informal riverside walks in Leamington, the original Newbold Gardens were developed as more formal pleasure grounds after 1846 in honour of Dr Henry Jephson, who had promoted the town as a spa. The Jephson Gardens gained renown for their entertainments, military bands, promenading, croquet and tennis, fountains, illuminations, trees and flowers. They are listed as Grade II on the English Heritage register of historic parks and gardens.
… but also the Victoria Gardens and the Pump Room Gardens, among others.
Leamington is renowned for its elegant and magnificence architecture; Weston has some secret and hidden gems, sadly some of which are in quite a sorry and neglected state, and I don’t think many visitors would come her to seek them out!
Weston is now somewhat of a dormitory town with a population over 80,000 and rising. Visitors come to Weston to visit the town, it’s not on the way to anywhere else. Leamington has a population of over 56,000 people and being in the Midlands, plenty of visitors can come and drive on to somewhere else. I’m not sure many people would see the similarities in the two towns, but I did!