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Chapter 8. Bagnigge Wells. - John Ashton 1888

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The gardens were pretty, after the manner of the times; we should not, perhaps, particularly admire the formally cut lines and hedges, nor the fountain in which a Cupid is hugging a swan, nor the rustic statuary of the haymakers. Still it was a little walk out of London, where fresh air could be breathed, and a good view obtained of the northern hills of Hampstead and Highgate, with the interlying pastoral country, sparsely dotted with farmhouses and cottages. The Fleet, here, had not been polluted into a sewer as it was further on, and there were all the elements of spending a pleasant, happy day, in good air, amid rural scenes.



The place, however, rapidly became a disreputable _rendezvous_, and we get an excellent glimpse of the costumes of _circa_ 1780 in the two following engravings taken from mezzotints published by Carington Bowles; although not dated, they are of that period, showing the Macaronis and Belles of that time. The first is called "The BREAD and BUTTER MANUFACTORY,[37] or the Humours of BAGNIGGE WELLS," and the second "A Bagnigge Wells Scene, or no resisting temptation," which gives a charming representation of the ultra fashion of dress then worn.

Yet another glance at the manners of the time is afforded by the boy waiter, who hurries along with his tray of tea-things and _kettle of hot water_.[38]

And there was good music there, too--an organ in the long room, on which Charles Griffith performed, as may be seen in the accompanying illustration. The name of Davis on the music books, is that of the then proprietor, and the lines underneath are parodied from Dryden's "Song for St. Cecilia's day, 1687."

"What passion cannot music raise and quell! When Jubal struck the corded shell, His listening brethren stood around, And, wondering, on their faces fell."

It went on with varying fortunes, and under various proprietors. First of all Mr. Hughes, then, in 1792, Davis had it; in 1813 it was in the hands of one Salter; in 1818, a man named Thorogood took it, but let it to one Monkhouse, who failed, and it reverted to Thorogood. Then came as tenant, a Mr. Chapman, who was bankrupt in 1833, and, in 1834, Richard Chapman was proprietor. I fancy he was the last, as public house, and gardens, combined.

Mr. William Muggins, before quoted, laments its decadence thus: "Besides the whitewashed walls, and hoctagon shell grotto, there war the tea garden, with its honey suckle and sweet briar harbours, where they used to drink tea hout of werry small cups, and heat the far famed little hot loaves and butter; then there war the dancing plot, and the gold and silver fish ponds, and the bowling green, and skittle alley, and fire work ground hall so romantic and rural, standing in the middle of a lot of fields, and shaded around with trees. Now it's a werry different concarn, for it's surrounded with buildings--the gardens is cut hoff to nuffin, and the ouse looks tumble down and miserable." That was in 1840.

It was about this time that a song appeared in "The Little Melodist," 1839--dilating on the delights of the neighbourhood of Islington, and the first verse ran thus:

"Will you go to Bagnigge Wells, Bonnet builder, O! Where the Fleet ditch fragrant smells, Bonnet builder, O! Where the fishes used to swim, So nice and sleek and trim, But the pond's now covered in, Bonnet builder, O!

_Punch_, too, when it was young, and had warm blood coursing through its veins, visited Bagnigge Wells, and recorded the visit in its pages (Sept. 7, 1843). After a description of the walk thither, it says, "We last visited Bagnigge Wells about the beginning of the present week, and, like many travellers, at first passed close to it without seeing it. Upon returning, however, our eye was first arrested by an ancient door in the wall over which was inscribed the following:--[39]

"This inscription, of which the above is a _fac simile_ was surmounted by a noseless head carved in stone; and, underneath, was a cartoon drawn in chalk upon the door, evidently of a later date, and bearing a resemblance to some of the same class in Gell's 'Pompeii.' Underneath was written in letters of an irregular alphabet, 'CHUCKY'--the entire drawing being, without doubt, some local pasquinade.

"Not being able to obtain admittance at the door, we went on a short distance, and came to the ruins of the ancient 'Wells,' of which part of the banqueting room still exists. These are entirely open to the public as well as the adjoining pleasure grounds, although the thick layer of brick-bats with which they are covered, renders walking a task of some difficulty. The adjacent premises of an eminent builder separate them by some cubits from the road of Gray's Inn, near which, what we suppose to be the 'Well' is still visible. It is a round hole in the ground behind the ruins, filled up with rubbish and mosaics of oyster shells, but, at present, about eighteen inches deep.

"It is very evident that the character of Bagnigge Wells has much altered within the last century. For, bearing that date, we have before us the 'Song of the 'Prentice to his Mistress' in which the attractions of the place are thus set forth:--

"'Come, come, Miss Priscy, make it up, And we will lovers be: And we will go to _Bagnigge Wells_, And there we'll have some tea. And there you'll see the ladybirds All on the stinging nettles; And there you'll see the water-works, And shining copper kettles. And there you'll see the fishes, Miss, More curious than whales; They're made of gold and silver, Miss, And wag their little tails.'[40]

"Of the wonders recounted in these stanzas, the stinging nettles alone remain flourishing, which they do in great quantity. The Waterworks are now confined to two spouts and a butt against the adjacent building; and the gold and silver fishes separately, in the form of red herrings and sprats, have been removed to the stalls in the neighbourhood, with a great deal more of the wag in the dealer, than in themselves.

"The real Bagnigge Wells, where company assemble to drink, at the present day, is next door to the ruins. The waters are never drank, however, now, without being strongly medicated, by a process carried on at the various brewers and distillers of the Metropolis: without this, they are supposed, by some classes, to be highly injurious. Their analysis have produced various results. Soda has been detected in one species, analogous to the German _Seltzer_, and designated 'Webb's'; others contain iron in appreciable quantities, and institute a galvanic circle, when quaffed from goblets formed from an alloy of tin and lead: in some constitutions quickening the circulation, and raising the animal temperature--in others, producing utter prostration.

"Flannel jackets, and brown paper caps appeared to be the costume of the valetudinarians who were drinking at the Wells, during our stay. We patronized the tepid spa by ordering 'Sixpennyworth warm,' as the potion was termed in the dialect of Bagnigge, for the purpose of drawing the proprietor into conversation. But he was, evidently, reluctant to impart much information, and told us nothing beyond what we already knew--a custom very prevalent at all the springs we have visited.

"Lodgings, provisions, clothing, &c., are to be had at low rates in the neighbourhood, and there are several delightful spots in the vicinity of Bagnigge Wells.

"The Excursion to Battle Bridge will be found highly interesting, returning by the Brill; and, to the admirers of nature, the panorama from the summit of King's Cross, embracing the Small Pox Hospital, and Imperial Gas Works, with the very low countries surrounding them, is peculiarly worthy of especial notice."

Two years previous to this notice, there was a paragraph in the _Times_ (April 6, 1841) which shows how the Wells had fallen into decadence.

"The Old Grotto, which had all the windows out, and was greatly dilapidated, and the upper part of the Garden Wall, was knocked down by some persons going along Bagnigge Road, early this morning."

The old place had fulfilled its mission. It had ministered to the recreation and amusement, harmless, or otherwise, of generations of Londoners, and it came to final grief, and disappeared in 1844. Its name is still preserved in "The Bagnigge Wells" Tavern, 39, King's Cross Road, and that is all the reminiscence we have of this once famous place of recreative resort.