- Written by Historian
Last Updated: 30 May 2016
Upper Calder Valley folk had no need to travel far afield to spa towns such as Harrogate, or Buxton to “take the waters” - their own local spa was right here on their doorstep! Cragg Vale Spaw is reputed to be at least 300 years old and, with many nearby places bearing its name, has clearly been of historic importance - Spa Laithe Farm, Spa Terrace, Spa Bridge etc.
In medieval times and before, winter was a very difficult time. The long season of cold and darkness, with limited food, caused hardship and ill health. So with the coming of warmer weather in spring people looked forward to gathering at the spa to celebrate the passing of winter and to drink the water, to cleanse themselves of winter ailments, and give them strength to face the coming year. Whether the water had a medicinal effect is debatable, but there are anecdotes from a number of local octogenarians of the curative and restorative properties, attributing their long standing to regular draughts of Spa water! In the 19th century the gatherings were usually on the first Sunday in May - “Spaw Sunday”.
Children in their Sunday best 'taking the waters' in 1911.
It was said that on this day the water at Cragg Spa took on “an especial different taste”. All you needed was a medicine bottle in which, the spa water and a stick of liquorice (to make it more palatable for drinking) were thoroughly shaken together and – if you didn’t want to look like a cissy! – swigged down in one. The sulphurous water from the spa was deemed to be excellent for making tea, although some recommended a pinch of bicarbonate of soda to take the edge off the “bad eggs smell”.
Over time Spaw Sunday became quite popular: in 1906, one report noted that only 500 people went afterwards, with the Hebden Bridge band, to the White House, Blackstone Edge ! And about this time, the Independent Labour Party saw an advantage in playing an important part in “spaw” celebrations, and early religious orators gave way to politicians. The Second World War ended “Spaw Sunday “. The event was briefly revived in 1987, but soon the Spa fell into disrepair, and its presence unknown to many Cragg Vale inhabitants – until 2009 when work was undertaken to restore it to its condition at the turn of the 19th Century, with landscaping, and steps for easier access. In 2010 a simple Spaw Sunday celebration was revived, and the hope to re-establish old traditions continues!
TAKE A SMELL of the sulphourous water; taste if you wish – but at your own risk!