Taking the waters

The supposedly curative powers of water from a spring at the foot of a cliff in Scarborough’s South Bay were discovered in the 1620s, and they became widely known following Robert Wittie’s book on ‘Scarborough Spaw’ in 1660. While the spa was well frequented by the ‘quality’ both to take the waters and for amusement, its facilities don’t seem to have been quite as comfortable as those as Tunbridge Wells or Bath, as Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough makes clear in this fascinating account:

I have been at the place where they assemble to drink the waters, very different from Tunbridge or the Bath, very dirty and expresses vast poverty in every part of it. It is besides so extremely steep and disagreeable to get to either in a coach or chair, that I resolve to go no more, but to take my waters at home. But there was one thing I saw to-day which is such a curiosity that I must tell you of it. There is a room for the ladies’ assembly, which you go up a steep pair of stairs into, on the outside of the house, like a ladder. And in that room there is nothing but hard narrow benches, which is rather a punishment to sit upon than an ease. When the waters begin to operate, there is a room within it, where there is above twenty holes with drawers under them to take out and all the ladies go in together and see one another round the room, when they are in that agreeable posture, and at the door, there’s a great heap of leaves which the ladies take in with them. This sight I am sure, diverted the Duchess of Manchester extremely, but it made me very sad. And I came home as fast as I could for fear of being forced into that assembly.

This was 1732, so the sight of fashionable women with their hooped dresses and high-heeled shoes climbing up those stairs must have been something to behold.

The Duchess, who doesn’t seem to have been particularly sociable, described how she spent her day:

The morning is the best, when I drink my waters and at dinner [about 3pm] I have a very good stomach. Soon after that a little room is filled with visitors, most of which I never saw before, and to avoid having it as dismal as a funeral, in such a circle, I play at quadrille for half a crown a fish, which is well enough, for I can’t win whatever I played for, and it makes it more easy to play than it would be to have more conversation.

Quadrille was a trick-taking card game very popular at the beginning of the eighteenth century, until whist superseded it. The half-crown stake she was laying down each round was a sizeable amount, 2s 6d, which would have paid for a whole pig or dinner sent in from a tavern. Keeping oneself entertained was an expensive business!


A royal ravishment

More from Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, in a letter dated 23 September 1732. I love the descriptions – ‘a country clown’ and ‘a jolly crummy woman’. One wonders what the tabloid press would have made of it today…

I have now an account to give you that I believe will divert you… Two or three days ago, Her sacred Majesty [Queen Caroline] was in great danger of being ravished. She was walking from Kensington to London early in the morning and having a vast desire to appear more able in everything than other people, she walked so fast as to get before my Lord Chamberlain and the two princesses upon one of the causeways, quite out of sight. Whether this proceeded from their compliments to let her see how much stronger she was than they or from any other accident, I cannot say. But my Lord Grantham meeting a country clown asked him if he had met any person and how far they were off! To which he answered he had met a jolly crummy [plump] woman with whom he had been fighting some time to kiss her. I am surprised at the man’s fancy! And my Lord Grantham was so frightened that he screamed out and said it was the Queen. Upon which the country fellow was out of his wits, fell upon his knees, cried and earnestly begged of my Lord Grantham to speak for him for he was sure he would be hanged for what he had done. But did not explain further what it was. And her Majesty does not own more than that he struggled with her, but that she got the better of him. And if he should have presumed to have got a good kiss, I think it is much better to conceal it… Upon the whole I should be very glad that somebody would make a ballad of it. For when I was at Scarborough, I learned to sing and I fancy I could perform such a one very well without any graces.

The true interest of England

Self-seeking politicians are, as we all know, nothing new. Here is Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, writing to her granddaughter Diana, Duchess of Bedford in 1733:

What you say of the extremes in elections is a melancholy truth, but considering the vast power that ministers have by disposing of places, honours and money I can’t see how it is possible to keep them within just bounds, but by the help of some that have not thoroughly the principles that one wishes, and some of them may assist those that wish what is for the true interest of England, without being able to effect their own designs.

So, get into bed with people you don’t entirely agree with to achieve a consensus that’s for the good of the country. A lesson for today, perhaps?