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History of the Spa Town of Llandrindod Wells

The Metropole Llandrindod WellsThe 18th Century Watering Place 

'Here were accommodation for the invalid of whatever rank and distinction, field amusements for the healthy ...balls, billiards and regular assemblies varied the pastimes of the gay and fashionable.'

Llandrindod Hall, a deserted farmhouse belonging to the Middleton-Hope family, was converted into the splendid hotel described above in 1749 by Williams Grosvenor of Shrewsbury. The wells at Llandrindod had been resorted to as early as 1696, when the Vaughans of Herefordshire stayed for 3 weeks to take the waters. The chalybeate spring, known as the Rock Water, had been used "from time immemorial"; the saline and sulphur springs were rediscovered in 1732 by Mrs Jenkins, the tenant of the lower Bach-y-Graig Farm. She began to sell the waters to travellers and the fame of their healing qualities spread. The farm became known as the Pump House, later the famous Pump House Hotel. 

The lake Llandrindod WellsThe wells were situated on a bleak common, the sight of which dismayed many visitors., Accommodation was provided at farmhouses around the common and at the Llanerch Inn, but facilities were primitive until the opening of Mr Grosvenor's hotel, which soon became fashionable with its excellent: accommodation and entertainments. In 1756 Dr. Linden published a scientific treatise on the waters, which brought them to the attention of a wider public.

For thirty years the hotel flourished as a resort for the healthy and infirm alike, but like most inland watering places declined with the advent of sea bathing as the fashionable cure. The hotel burned down before the end of the century and now a farm stands in its place. 

Although visitors continued to frequent the wells during the 19th century, development on a large scale was inhibited by the remoteness of the area and the lack of good building land. The enclosure of the common in 1862 and the construction of the railway in 1865 ushered in an era of rapid change. 

Llandrindod WellsThe first section of the Central Wales Line from Knighton to Llandrindod was opened in 1865 and the whole line completed in 1868, giving a through connection from Shrewsbury to Swansea. Llandrindod was now within easy reach of the urban centres of the North West, the Midlands and South Wales and visitors began to come in large numbers. 

In 1862 an Act of Parliament was obtained to enclose the common lands of the manor of Swydd Neifhon, which included Llandrindod Common. The Act came into effect in 1867 and the common was divided among local landowners, leaving land for footpaths and roads and recreation areas. The Rock House Estate was the first land to be offered for sale as building plots. At the sale in 1867, a new spring was discovered and a pump room and bath-house were soon erected nearby; the surrounding land was laid out as gardens and named the Rock Park 

Swans on Llandrindod Wells LakeThe area around the Rock Park developed rapidly as the centre of the new town with a church, shops, hotels and private houses. Progress was slower on the land to the east of the railway. The Holy Trinity Church was built in 1871 and some private houses and a hotel along the main road, named Temple Street after the stone circle nearby. In 1872 / 73 the marshy land near the Pump House Hotel was drained to form an ornamental lake. Llandrindod was now taking shape as a town to meet the needs of Victorian visitors. 

Between 1865 and 1914 the appearance of Llandrindod Wells was that of a boom town. Hotels and boarding houses sprang up along the new streets and shops were opened to meet the needs of visitors and residents. Many of the private houses were built on the grand scale characteristic of the era. 

The 'season' at Llandrindod lasted from May to mid-September. Outside the pump rooms at the Rock Park and the Pump House Hotel, the visitors queued each morning to take the waters, entertained by music from the orchestras. The amount drunk varied from two to six glasses at a time, depending on the type of ailment. The charge at both pump rooms was 6d. per day for any amount of water. In 1909 the High Street Baths opened, offering the wide range of electrical treatments which were expected at a modern spa. 

Sian at Llandrindod WellsThe spacious lay-out of the town meant that it could cater for the growing popularity of outdoor sports. A private 9-hole golf course was opened on the common by the Pump House Hotel in 1893, possibly the first in Wales. The 18-hole course above the lake opened as a club in 1906. Many of the larger hotels had tennis courts and croquet lawns on their grounds and horse races were held on the Rock Ddole, a meadow near the river. In the early 1880's Middleton Street consisted of wooden shanties and open-air stalls but it ,gradually replaced the High Street as the focal point of the town. The most famous shop was probably the Central Wales Emporium opened in 1881 by Williams Thomas of Penybont. It sold a large variety of goods, including a range of illustrated guide books and a type of cloth named 'Spa Flannel'. This business closed in 1927, when the spa was in decline. 

During the 18th and 19th centuries the towns of Builth Wells, Llangammarch Wells and Llanwrtyd Wells enjoyed some success as spa resorts. Like Llandrindod these towns benefited from the opening of the Central Wales Railway which passed through or near each one in succession. 

Spring at Llandrindod WellsFree Chalybeate Sping Llandrindod Wells
© Crown copyright (2013) Visit Wales

The sulphur spring at Llanwrtyd is said to have been discovered by the Reverend Theophilus Evans in 1732, who cured himself of a "radicated scurvy" by drinking the water. Two chalybeate springs were also found, but the sulphur water was the most highly regarded, being the strongest Wales and more palatable than that at Harrogate. For a time the resort was frequented by the gentry of South Wales.  In Victorian times a pump room was built and the well sealed in a massive marble pedestal. The water was conveyed to suites of baths in the principal hotel, the Dol-y-Coed.

Llangammarch, only four miles from Llanwrtyd, was a smaller and quieter resort, but was distinguished from the other resorts by the barium chloride spring, which was discovered in the early 19th century. This was considered particularly effective in heart complaints and facilities were available at the Lake Hotel for taking the waters from the spring. 

Builth was well-known in the 18th and 19th centuries for its large markets, which appeared to a visitor in 1794 "more  like large fairs, than common markets", but the existence mineral springs also contributed to the life and livelihood of  the town. The waters were chalybeate, saline and sulphur and they issued from two sets of springs, the Park wells and the Glanne Wells. Both sets of wells were frequented by the local gentry in the 18th century and in 1833 a guide book noted that dances were held in the Park Wells pump room. Despite improvements to the facilities in the 1860's the town was eclipsed as a spa by the rise of Llandrindod Wells.


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