MEMORY LANE: Buxton’s water - a source of controversy

The Pump Room, Buxton, featured on a postcard sent during the First World War.
The Pump Room, Buxton, featured on a postcard sent during the First World War.

Patriotic fervour during the First World War led to the first attempt to create a major bottled water industry in Buxton.

The suggestion to create the now iconic brand was controversial and led to a public inquiry held before Christmas 1915.

The town council, as owners of the spring, were seeking government permission to sell the waters outside the district, to bottle and market Buxton Water and to borrow whatever monies were required to set up the enterprise.

They were to be strongly opposed at the inquiry by the Devonshire Hospital’s board of governors.

Representing the borough, Cllr Cooper told the inquiry that before the war imports of bottled and aerated water had run at nearly £400,000 a year including a large amount from Germany.

Even in wartime the figure was already £128,000 for the first nine months of 1915.

The wine list of one of London’s largest restaurants listed seven foreign waters and not one British.

He appealed for the local authorities of Harrogate, Bath, and all the British spas to put aside their local rivalries, create a national bottled water enterprise and join together as Englishmen to oust the foreign waters from the dining tables of the United Kingdom.

The council was already selling water within the immediate locality, but was seeking permission to spend money on a major advertising campaign and the equipment required to bottle water on a large scale.

The supply was described as running at 118 to 130 gallons a minute and hardly changing in flow or temperature. Much of the water was currently running to waste.

The inspector asked to visit the Pump Room and nearby Thermal Baths.

There were then strenuous objections from Mr Taylor on behalf of The Devonshire Hospital. The waters formed an important part of their various cures.

He claimed that some of the spare water was already promised to the hospital and that interruption of their supply would interfere with the various water treatments for which they were so well known.

Cllr Cooper explained to the inspector that the hospital’s supply was not direct from the spring but was the overflow from the gentlemen’s pool.

Mr Taylor then requested that they have the overflow from the ladies pool as well.

Concerns were also expressed that the source of the water might run dry if too much was taken.

Humorous references to the town having an abundance of water presumably related to the weather.

Closing the inquiry, the inspector Mr Maxwell praised the council for attempting to capture the enemy’s trade.

He told Mr Taylor that he could not see how the proposal would affect the hospital’s supply and that whatever benefited the town also benefited the hospital.

He would recommend the scheme to the local Government Board provided the hospital’s existing rights were protected.

However it seems that ultimately the war and other factors meant that the scheme never took off in the way the council hoped.

Water continued to be bottled on a relatively small scale and it was many decades before the industry we now know was successfully created.