At the foot of the Slopes stands a well with a tap continually running water. This is a modern wellhead of the famous St Ann’s Well, which is a spring continually bringing water up from the depths of the earth, and the water is warm and clear. Since before the Romans the well was held to be a miraculous healing well, and so a wonder indeed.
The spring gushes many thousands of gallons a day, not just to this wellhead but into the Pump Room next door and other outlets. The town is built on water: this was Aquae Arnemetiae and every later age has come for the waters
The Sun burnt clouds but glimmer to the sight,
When at fam’d Buxton’s hot bath we alight.
Unto St. Ann the Fountain sacred is:
With waters hot and cold its sources rise,
And in its Sulphur-veins there’s med’cine lies.
This cures the Palsied members of the Old.
And cherishes the Nerves grown stiff and cold.
Crutches the Lame unto its brink convey,
Returning the ungrates fling them away.
Hobbes continues to relate swimming in a pool of the waters, then supping well before another morning bath in the warm waters. This is a curative indeed to weary limbs.
The well today usually has a line of local people filling bottles, sometimes a row of gallon containers, as well they might as it is good, clear water.
The town itself is the finest town in the Peak. This is Bath in miniature, and the most elegant town in Derbyshire. In the Georgian and Victorian Ages, fashionable society flocked here and the town was created anew around the well and the riverside. There is an Opera House, there are theatres, and pleasure gardens: the Pavilion Gardens are at least equal to any other in any other town. It speaks of confidence and entrepreneurship: the Duke of Devonshire made the town look like an elegant resort, and it became one.
Fashions have come and gone and the resort of the gentry is democratised. The hydropathic establishments are gone – where they used to wrap patients in wet towels to cure every ailment known to man. The waters still flow unchanged.
Modernity wants to scoff at claims of the curative properties of spring water, but we should not. Today we have the incredible luxury of clean water piped to our homes, and hot water to bathe in, but it is only a few generations since this was unknown even to a wealthy household. A hot day toiling in the fields or on horseback over the moors could in most places be met only by a beer made of fœtid cistern water or a costly wine, as water was unsafe to drink on its own, and no rest for the limbs. What a wonder then there is in a flagon of clean water, or a bath, immersing and lifting the heavy limbs, cleaning off their foulness. There is no medicine in the water, but there are things that are better: cleanliness, comfort and warmth.
Now the well is still spewing forth its healing waters just as it did in ancient days, even if we now see it mainly in the flow of a small well you might pass by unseen.
The greatest wonder of this well is found not by looking at the water, but by raising your eyes and looking around: its miraculous quality is that this little well has created a town, and such a town as it the Jewel of the Peak.