Kilometre-long chain of riverside walks, gardens and parks, created at various dates between 1814 and 1903, running through the centre of Leamington Spa.
The village of Leamington Priors, at the south end of a bridge across the River Leam, began to be developed as a spa resort in the last years of the C18. The first bath houses to be erected were south of the river; urban development on a far larger scale, crucially on open land, began when a spring was discovered north of the Leam. Immediately north of the bridge the land was owned by Bertie Greatheed, whose income from his West Indian sugar plantations had been much reduced by the French wars. In 1808 he formed a partnership with Warwick businessmen to develop a new town on his land focused on a Pump Room, opened in 1814, alongside which the Pump Room Gardens were laid out. Development of the surrounding land began only after it was inherited in 1820 by Edward Willes. He brought in the London architect P F Robinson to lay out Clarendon and Beauchamp Squares and the surrounding streets, with land on the east side of the town being laid out in the later 1820s and 1830s to plans by John Nash and his partner James Morgan, and by J G Jackson, a pupil of Robinson's who in 1832 was appointed Willes' agent. Jackson's schemes included wide promenades and open spaces and what in time became known as Jephson Gardens.
Leamington doubled in size between 1831 and 1841, but growth then slowed leaving large numbers of plots still vacant. The nature of the town changed in the mid century; the fashion for spa treatments waned, the town gained a higher proportion of residential middle-class professionals, while from the 1850s day trippers came by rail. In 1862 the Local Board of Health created the New River Walk on completion of its works to speed the flow of the sewage-laden Leam by raising and straightening its banks. The town gained borough status in 1875, and using powers granted by the 1875 Public Health Act extended New River Walk to the Pump Room Gardens. Additional Powers under the Leamington Spa Corporation Act 1896 enabled the acquisition of land for Victoria Park as a 'people's park'. The final component of Spa Gardens, Mill Garden, opened in 1903.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
The Spa Gardens comprise a linked series of gardens and parks, in all c 20ha, running east/west alongside the River Leam for just over a kilometre through the centre of Leamington Spa. From either end of the Gardens there is access to further green space. West of Victoria Park is a sports ground, Edmondscote, and open fields reaching to St Nicholas Park, Warwick, and on past the Castle to Warwick Castle Park (qv). To the east, along the river, is Welch's Meadow, a local nature reserve, and Newbold Comyn, where a country park was established in 1973.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS
The original Pump Room Gardens lie on the north bank of the river in the centre of the Spa Gardens. Some 350m long from north-west to south-east and up to 100m wide, they are bounded to the north by Dormer Place and to the north-east by the Parade, at the south end of which, immediately east of the Pump Room, is Victoria Bridge (J G Jackson 1840, replacing one of 1808). The main entrances are alongside the Pump Room and at the north-west corner of the Gardens, off Dormer Place. The Royal Pump Room itself (listed grade II), which opened in 1814, was designed by C S Smith (fl 1790-1839), rebuilt by J Cundall in 1861-3 and extensively renovated with a baths extension by W de Normanville in 1890. Once its construction was completed the surrounding Gardens were planted by the nurseryman John Cullis (d 1849). Their interior is now largely open grassland with a small number of mature specimen trees. Running around the northern perimeter is the Lime Avenue. The Pump Room and Gardens were bought by the Local Board of Health in 1868, and soon after free access to the latter was granted as a 'people's recreation ground' (Hodgetts 1997). The bandstand in the eastern part of the Gardens was added in the late C19.
Immediately east of the Pump Room Gardens, and also on the north bank of the river, here broad and lake-like, are Jephson Gardens. These, 500m long from south-west to north-east and 100m wide, are bounded to the north-west by Newbold Terrace and to the north-east by Willes Road, which is carried over the Leam by Willes Bridge. The Gardens are entered by gates adjoining West Lodge, which is opposite the Pump Room. From this a straight, axial path runs north-east through the Gardens to East Lodge, on Willes Road. Both lodges are of 1847; the former (sometimes known as Parade Lodges; listed grade II), a pair in the Classical style, was designed by David Squirhill, the latter by J G Jackson in what he called his Old English style. A third gate, in the centre of the Gardens' north-west side, gives access from Newbold Terrace. Some 20m south-west of those gates is the start of Mill Passage which runs southwards through the Gardens as a right of way from Newbold Terrace to Mill Bridge. Other paths run around the Gardens' perimeter and around the 100m long Lake (dug 1846-7) east of West Lodge. East of the east end of the Lake, adjoining the north end of Mill Bridge, is the site of the Nursery. About 200m to the north-east, on the river bank, is the Riverside Restaurant. The Gardens contain large numbers of other structures, many of them commemorative. These include the Hitchman Fountain (listed grade II) 30m north of West Lodge, a neo-gothic structure by J Cundall erected in memory of Dr Hitchman (d 1867) who had had a great influence on the town's layout; the Willes Obelisk (listed grade II) of 1875, 100m north-east of the West Lodge; a stone arbour of the 1860s 50m north of the Obelisk on the perimeter walk; the JephsonTemple (listed grade II), a white marble statue of Dr Jephson by Peter Hollins which stands in the centre of the Gardens in a circular, stone, domed pavilion of 1848-9 by David Squirhill; the Aviary (listed grade II), originally opened in 1899 as a buffet, 100m east of the Jephson Memorial; and 30m north-west of the pavilion the Davis Clock Tower of 1925. Around these various structures the Gardens are well planted with mature trees and shrubs and have numerous flower beds, mostly symmetrical. The Gardens originated as a meadow which c 1831 was fenced off and laid out to a design by J G Jackson (with planting by John Cullis) as Newbold Gardens (or Newbold Wood Walks), a commercial pleasure ground. A subscription of 1846 allowed the lease of the Gardens to be assigned to trustees and for them to be improved and opened to the public in 1847 as Jephson Gardens. The name honoured Dr Henry Jephson, promoter of a moderate diet, exercise and taking the waters, who established his practise at Leamington in 1828 and subsequently drew many visitors to the town.
Willes Bridge, at the east end of Jephson Gardens, allows access to Mill Gardens, which run along the south bank of the Leam, opposite Jephson Gardens. They are 320m long and extend south-west to a gate at the west end of Mill Road. The gate adjoins the south end of Mill Bridge (listed grade II), a suspension footbridge which crosses the Leam to the central portion of Jephson Gardens. The Gardens include, in their central part, an 80m long boating pool with boathouse. Mill Gardens were created largely as a children's playground as part of the Mill improvement scheme of 1903. That included the construction of a new weir, the bridge, boathouse and boating pool, all designed by the borough surveyor William de Normanville. Previously the area had been settlement ponds, a mill and an open-air swimming pool.
York Bridge, a footbridge on the centre of the south side of Pump Room Gardens, gives access across the Leam to the south-east end of York Promenade. Bounded by York Road to the south-west, the Promenade forms a 250m long and 50m wide garden along the south bank of the river running north-west to Adelaide Road, Adelaide Bridge (1891) and the sports grounds and Victoria Park beyond. York Promenade was named after the Duke of York and opened in 1893 to commemorate his marriage. Previously the Promenade formed part of Perkins Gardens, a commercial nursery to which, since the 1830s, the public had enjoyed access.
The sports grounds west of Adelaide Road, beneath which an underpass was created c 1893, occupy a 200m long and 75m wide strip along the south bank of the river. Their east half is a bowling green, the west a tennis ground. They occupy the eastern third of New River Walk, opened by the Local Board of Health in 1862 and designed by Anthony Morgan, the borough surveyor.
The west side of the tennis ground abuts the north-east corner of Victoria Park, which is roughly oval, 350m from east to west, and again bounded to the north by the Leam. The Park is entered by gates to its north-east (off Archery Road), south-east (off Avenue Road) and south-west. Adjoining the last is a swimming bath, next to which is a lodge. The interior layout of the park is simple, and was designed to accommodate events for large numbers of people with areas for football, cricket and other sports, while around its perimeter is a track for running and cycling. North of its centre is a bandstand. The park, designed by William de Normanville, opened in 1897. It incorporated the western two-thirds of the New River Walk, to which was added land used for fifty years as a cricket and archery ground since it was leased in 1848 by the leading cricketers George Parr (d 1891) and John Wisden (d 1884), the latter later to become better known as the compiler of the eponymous cricket almanac.
C Hodgetts, Jephson Gardens, Royal Leamington Spa: Historical Report (Report for Warwick District Council 1997)
OS 6" to 1 mile: 3rd edition published 1925
OS 25" to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1886
2nd edition published 1905
OS 1:500: 1901 edition
Description written: January 1999
Register Inspector: PAS
Edited: January 2001