Leamington Spa to Radford Semele
The Heritage Open Weekend has been keeping us busy. This year it has actually stretched over two weekends and a few days in between. Sadly we only remembered it after the first weekend had passed, missing out on a few things that appealed to us. But there was still plenty to choose from.
On Thursday we joined a tour of The Pump Room Gardens and Jephson Gardens. Meeting by the Royal Pump Rooms our first guide, Archie Pitt (Chairman of the Friends), has been involved in raising funds to restore the Gardens back to their hayday for many years. The gardens were used for gentle exercise by Victorians who came to the town to take the waters.
Paths are being moved back to their originally intended positions, the Linden Arches have been restored with new lighting, these date back to 1875. The band stand has been removed for renovation leaving a low wall that has seen some work. New flower beds, the river bank tidying up and works done to York Bridge which spans the River Leam in the park. The Band Stand is due back in November when there will be a small celebration, but a bigger party will be held next year when all the flowers are in full bloom and the gardens look at their best.
Next we walked across the road to Jephson Park. A very posh park originally created in 1831 as an informal garden with walks along the river. In 1846 they were redeveloped into more formal gardens for the seriously rich and given their name to honour Dr Henry Jephson who had promoted the town as a Spa. Formal flower beds and a collection of trees were planted. Tennis courts laid (Lawn tennis was invented in Leamington), it was a place to be seen.
When it was being laid out there was a slight problem of a right of way which ran straight through the park. This had to remain, but be disguised and the poor kept out from the formal garden. So a hill was built over the top of the path and planting added so that it is almost invisible from above.
The fancy flower beds were eaten by Canada Geese, so a small fence was erected around them, which did the job. However this didn’t stop them from leaving their poo everywhere. It was then realised that Geese can only take off and land on water or very soft mud, so putting a fence around the pond would do a better job. Have to say there was very little if any goose droppings. Whilst we were there something startled the geese and a group of them took off, a few aborting at the last minute. One poor bird missed the pond, clipping it’s legs on the fence and landing on the wrong side. It then spent a long time trying to return to the water, the fence being just as effective in stopping birds from entering the water as exiting!
Our guide walked us through the gardens pointing out the interesting trees and telling tales. A very informative walk, I never knew there were so many oak trees, including evergreen ones without the typical leaves. At the far end the walk ended by a gate house now used as artist studios. The majority of people headed back with the guide to enjoy tea and biscuits , but we thanked her and went to look at the art on display. Better than your usual gallery, some work very good indeed including a photographer who specialises in close ups of natural textures and colours, these were stunning.
We’d passed the rather ornate building which once housed the Aviary and went back to have a better look. Outside was a menu for chilled medication, we had to oblige in partaking of some. White chocolate and Raspberry and Chocolate Brownie and Marshmallow. My gluten free trial may have to exclude chilled medication! Very tasty it was too.
Friday we joined the tour of The Royal Pump House. A small group was guided round the building expertly by Alan a very jolly chap who knows his stuff about Leamington and its inhabitants through the years.
The Royal Pump House was the only spa north of the river, numerous other establishments had grown up on the south side where the original town was sited. Waters flowed at the southern spas, but the geology to the north was different and the salty waters were hard to come by. Plans to build other pump rooms were stopped and soon afterwards the fashion for taking the waters at such places switched to visiting seaside resorts such as Scarborough, where you could also take of the waters.
Built for the seriously rich there was a large ballroom which was used to dispense the waters, a large well on one side and table and chairs to sit and sup your water. People would come and stay in Leamington for several weeks staying at the grand Regents Hotel nearby. They would come to the Pump Rooms and drink their water in the morning, partake of gentle exercise in the gardens, have plain food at lunchtime (fruit and veg were bad for you), swim a couple of times a week in the waters and return to their hotel to indulge for the remainder of the day. The amount of food in an average meal at the time would last most of us two whole days! They would then return home, boasting of their well being having lost maybe a few pounds and having bathed the grime off their bodies. Leamington waters have been found to have no medicinal benefit whatsoever!
The pump rooms housed boilers to heat the waters, two swimming pools (male and female) and rooms of slipper baths for the upper working class to have a dip at less expense. We were shown into a marble corridor (now tiled as the marble had deteriorated before the restoration) easy to wipe clean and resistant to fire should the boilers get out of hand.
The gents swimming pool now houses the library, the ladies the art gallery and where the slipper baths once were is now office space.
Before the renovation works were done to the building it was used as a location for Mick Jaggers video for Sweet Thing. The swimming pool is shown off along with the marble corridor. Woman meld into the tiled walls and Mick struts his stuff around the Turkish themed room. It’s worth a look at the video to see what lays behind the modern interior of much of the building.
Sunday there was an opportunity to have a tour around Leamington Spa Railway Station and gardens. About twenty people turned up including a couple we’d seen yesterday in Warwick. Two ladies showed us around the Deco station which opened in 1939. Built from granite and Portland Stone it is a very fine building. As with many buildings in the 60’s a lot of the building was covered up to make it look modern, but luckily back then this meant that the good things that laid underneath were preserved.
The first station had been opened in 1852 by GWR, it was added to through the years and LNWR built their own station next door. In the late 20’s unemployment was very high and the Government introduced the ‘Development Act 1929’ which provided financial assistance to public utilities for capital expenditure in the form of low interest loans. Great Western set about with a scheme of improvement works, quadrupling the Birmingham Main Line approaches and the rebuilding of Leamington Spa Station being two of them. The building was made from a prefabricated steel framed structure, sheathed in brickwork and then clad with stone and granite. There is an interesting article about the station here if you want to know more, it includes a lot of very interesting photographs taken through the buildings history.
When plans to revamp the cafes were suggested, action was very quickly taken by the friends of Leamington Spa Station, the building becoming Grade 2 listed. In 2008 the booking hall was sympathetically refurbished original tiles being revealed and in 2011 the two waiting rooms were also restored.
The deco doors into the cafes are particularly fine. Two running boards have been placed on the platforms to help announce your arrival at the station.
At the end of platform 2 is a garden, which in 2009 gained the title of Best British Garden. Volunteers work hard to keep it and the terraced gardens leading down to the front of the station in good order. Sadly the grass has suffered this year with the drought and most of the planting is now past it’s best. The star attraction though is the topiary hedge. An engine and two carriages with a plume of Pampas grass as steam. This can be seen from most of the station and is a treat.
Free tea was on offer at platform 3, but we decided to head on to our next visit, The Polish Centre.
Originally the Town Hall the Polish Centre sits on High Street south of the river where the town centre originally was before the town spread northwards across the River Leam. The building housed meeting rooms, a ballroom, magistrates court, police station and cells.
A lot of the building was built with Queen Victoria in mind. A small balcony was constructed at the front of the building where her short stature catered for with the view of a smart building opposite, high window frame so she wouldn’t have to see the poor people who’d come to see her. However she never visited.
When the Town Hall was moved to the Parade north of the river the building was taken over by the police. Most of the interior was gutted to make better use of the space for offices, the ballroom was split in half height wise and only the main staircase remains as an original feature. Eventually in 1968 the building was sold to the Polish Catholic Mission, Monsignor Jozef Golab loaned his own money for the purchase, funds he received after successfully suing the German Government for the years he’d spent in concentration camps during WW2.
Much of the building is now rented out as a dance school, the top part of the old ballroom now being the chapel for the Polish community of Leamington.
We had a very warm welcome with tea and coffee and some very tasty looking cakes before we were given the full history of the building and the Polish community. I think we could have spent all weekend drinking tea and eating cake at various locations around town.
Back at Oleanna we decided to move to give our second mate some quality time ashore. She really hadn’t liked it here and watching the rats on the off side had become boring. So we pushed off as soon as we could and made our way back out of town mooring up by Radford Semele for the night. Once our grid reference was noted and the trip computer turned off the back doors were opened and Tilly disappeared straight through the sideways trees. A much happier cat now.
0 locks, 1.22 miles, 4 more Heritage day venues, 3 gardens, 1 pump room, 1 station, 1 evergreen engine, 2 terraced gardens, 1 ex town hall, 4 pairs pants returned, 2 chilled medications, 1 roast chicken, 1 curry, 1 happy cat in the undergrowth.