Ben Rhydding was founded by
Hamer Stansfield, a former Mayor of Leeds. He had visited, and been
impressed by, Gräfenberg Spa in Silesia. When he returned home he formed
a small private company with some friends and built
his own establishment in Ilkley at a cost of £30,000.
Discipline was very
strict at the hydro and the Directory of Ben Rhydding noted that,
'The Scriptures are read in the drawing-room every morning
after breakfast'. But,
most unusually for the period, patients did have private bathrooms and, 'a "fresh air bath"
consisting of a closed room into which moorland air was pumped.'
In 1847, three years after the hydro
opened, Dr William Macleod was appointed as manager. First he went
to Malvern for a few weeks to work with Drs Gully and Wilson who
were the most experienced hydropathists in England at the time. He
was a born administrator and was adept at dealing with his patients.
He gradually bought all the shares until he was sole proprietor.
The original Turkish
In 1859 Macleod added a
Turkish bath to his establishment. In this, he was
way ahead of his time by comparison with most other hydropathists.
The new building, which he called—more accurately—a Roman bath, cost £2,000 and was erected barely
three years after Dr Barter's first bath at St Ann's.
had three main rooms which were
heated by fresh hot air which entered from below the floors, while
the ventilation system allowed the sweaty hot air to
escape higher up.
The first of the rooms was the
Frigidarium or cooling-room. As soon as bathers entered this room
their clothes were exchanged for a bathing dress (for women) or a
sheet (for men), together with a pair of wooden pattens which
protected the feet from the heat of the floor.
Frigidarium was 36 feet by 32 foot six inches in area, and 30 feet
high. Light from an opening at the top was filtered through stained
glass to give a soft and pleasing appearance. Ranged round
the room, were dressing rooms with couches
enabling people to prepare for, and relax after, the Turkish Bath.
The patterned floor was made of coloured encaustic tiles, with a decorative fountain
surrounded by rocks as centrepiece. Around the
walls, curved ribs—partly masked by carved corbels—supported the
coved and vaulted ceiling.
was smaller, octagonal, and maintained at a
temperature between 90-110ºF.
The pseudonymous 'graduate of Edinburgh
University' (almost certainly Macleod himself)
Round the room,
are a series of enclosed recesses, luxuriantly fitted up, which
secure the desired privacy to each visitor—while a chastened and beautiful
light is admitted, through a rose-coloured ring
in the centre of the lofty vault.
The hottest room, the Calidarium, was
maintained at a temperature
The writer continues,
From handsome carved corbels of Caen stone,
springs a ceiling of rich groined work, ornamented with bosses,
supporting a lantern light of stained glass of beautiful pattern.
The floor is laid with encaustic tiles, seats, shampooing tables,
and other requisite fittings occupy their appropriate places.
Immediately connected with this room are the Wave Douche, the Rain,
and other cold water baths--the whole forming a suite of apartments,
superior by far, for the purpose of the Roman Bath, to anything of
the kind yet erected in this Country.
The hot room temperatures adopted by Macleod were
relatively low by comparison with those of Barter, who firmly believed
(with Urquhart) that the therapeutic effects of the Turkish bath were most
efficiently served by much higher temperatures. It may be that Macleod's
more gentle approach was the result of his already having decided to relax
the strict regime which Hamer Stansfield copied from Vincent Priessnitz's
establishment at Graeffenberg. Macleod wanted Ben Rhydding to appeal to a
much wider clientele by becoming what was essentially a hydropathic hotel.
From the inception of the Turkish bath he decided
against the rough Turkish shampooing procedure considered so important by
Urquhart as a cleansing agent. Instead he adopted Ling's System of
Movements which is, perhaps, better known as the more gentle Swedish style
of massage .
To this end also, he later broke away completely
from the hydropathic tradition by obtaining a licence to serve alcohol
with meals, with the immediate result (according to Richard Metcalfe) that
'a group of some fifty quakers, who were in the house when this change was
effected, at once left'.
The new Turkish baths
It seems as though the original baths were replaced
some time around the early 1890s as they had, by then, been in use for
around 35 years. The refurbishment would most likely have taken place soon after 1891 when the
original Ben Rhydding Hydropathic Establishment Company was financially
restructured as a second company with the same name.
The new Turkish baths were augmented by Russian and
plunge baths, and the building connected directly with the main building 'so that
Patients, in using them, do not leave the house.' They can still be seen
on the extreme right of a photograph of the hydro taken in the 1930s.
The baths cost 2/6d, or 12/- for six, though
'Bath Blankets and Sheets are provided without additional charge'. The staff
at this time comprised a Head
Bathman, a Head Bathwoman, and an unknown number of supporting bath
attendants. The baths were open four times each day excepting Sunday:
from 6.30 to 8.15; 10.00 to 1.00; 3.30 to 5.30; and 8.00 to 9.30.
Unlike at Smedley's much
larger hydro, where there were separate baths for men and women, at Ben
Rhydding different days were allotted, women having sole use of the baths
on Tuesdays and Fridays, while men used them on the remaining four days.
Increasingly in the twentieth century, Ben Rhydding became less of a hydro
and more of a recreational establishment ending, finally, as a golf hotel. It is not currently known
how long the Turkish baths remained in use.
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