Worcester’s medical museums are fortunate enough to be located in the same county as Malvern, an old spa town. Only a few miles from Worcester, Malvern is home to fresh spring waters which during the 19th Century made Malvern a haven of spa tourism.
Bathing in and drinking spring waters as a method of treatment has been practiced since the Ancient Greeks. In the 19th Century physicians believed that clean mineral rich water alone could cure illness. The idea that nature had an abundant wonder cure rapidly became incredibly popular.
Balneotherapy, the medicinal use of thermal water, and hydrotherapy, immersing the body in thermal water for therapeutic purposes were popular treatments that came about in the 1800s. In the 1820s Austrian farmer Vincent Priessnitz invented a treatment called hydropathy which used fresh mountain water to treat illness. His water cure was a huge success and mountain or hill-top ‘hydros’ were quickly established all over Europe. In 1842, Malvern was the first place in the U.K. to establish a hydro where figures such as Florence Nightingale, Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens were known to frequent.
Spa tourism boomed around the U.K. and spa towns such as Malvern and Bath established their place on the map. Drinking glasses like these were made for both medical use and as commemorative merchandise for visitors to the spa towns. The glasses were often graduated and practical, whilst others were fancily decorated. The term ‘taking the waters’ became synonymous with holidays and idleness.
By the end of the 19th Century spa tourism in the U.K. had rapidly declined.
These objects are on display in the Spa and Water Cures display case at the George Marshall Medical Museum.