Monday, August 30, 2010

West Yorkshire In Ten Squares : Square 6 - Osset Spa

This project attempts to provide a flavour of what is typical in my home county of West Yorkshire by focusing on ten randomly selected squares from throughout the County. Each of the 500 square metre areas has been chosen by a random number generator and here I explore each of them in images and words.

Spa resorts are difficult things to comprehend at the best of times. The idea that people will travel significant distances in order to soak themselves in some lukewarm, mineral-enriched (or, depending on your point of view, mineral-polluted) spring-water is somewhat counterintuitive : the idea that someone might be tempted to swallow rancid cup-fulls of the bubbling brew is a challenge to credulity. But given that spa resorts exist, the least they could decently do is to locate themselves in some suitable place. The most famous British spa resort is the magnificent city of Bath. I have no problems with that. Buxton, and even Harrogate, share a neo-Georgian paradigm which can be best described by the word "posh". But Osset? 

So when the random number generator decided to send me to square 38 on page 174 my immediate reaction was amazement on discovering that Osset Spa actually existed outside the realms of a drunken game of fantasy location. For those not familiar with West Yorkshire, or Britain, or even Europe, how can I explain this. It is like an Australian discovering that as well as a Sydney Opera House there is also a Wonglepong Opera House. Or an American having to come to terms with the Grand Canyon of Florida. It just doesn't roll off the tongue in the right way, it just doesn't seem to hold water.


And if the truth is told, Osset Spa doesn't hold much water these days. I am reliably informed that if you dig amongst the nettle beds in the fields that border Spa Lane you might find the ruins of the last remain bath house, but your intrepid explorer and guide made do with the more modern interpretation of an old enamel bathtub being used as a cow-feeder.


Natural springs have existed in this area since time-almost-immemorial, but it wasn't the Romans who were the first to exploit their restorative powers, or even the Georgian Dandies. It was a couple of local Victorian chancers called James Ward and William Craven who built the competing Cheltenham Sulphurous Baths and the New Cheltenham Baths on land next to Spa Lane in the early 19th century. The idea of going to Osset (delightfully situated 'twixt Dewsbury and Wakefield) to take the waters never really caught on and even an attempt to convert the area into a more down-market pleasure gardens later in the century ended in the bankruptcy courts.


All that remains these days is the name, and even that can be difficult to spot unless you have been sent there by a random number generator that seems addicted to curiosities. When you get there you find that fairly typical West Yorkshire menu of fields, factories and terraced houses.



Anyone who has traveled through England will have probably been to Osset Spa. Some 20,000 vehicles a day speed up the M1 motorway that takes a bite out of the corner of my square. If you look out of the window of a passing car you might just see the odd factory or two or even the odd nettle patch. But you will have little idea of what might be hidden there. Such is the delight of this varied, history-soaked county that I am privileged to call home.



13 comments:

  1. Another wonderful piece of writing and photography - you have to turn this series into a guideboook! I've lived here a long time and never heard of Ossett Spa but the bath looks very enticing...not. Your Sydney Opera House sentence is inspired!

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  2. Thanks Jenny. I just hope that there isn't an opera house in Wonglepong.

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  3. I had no Idea Osset had a Spa! Funnily enough, I was in Harrogate last week & took an empty litre bottle with me, they filled it up (free!) with Sulphur Water in the main museum there.I still have some left if you want to share?

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  4. And the moral of this story is: Don't try to cut in on an already saturated market. Latecomers to an established concern of centuries never do seem to catch on, not to mention the location issue you've brought up. I have the feeling that Messrs. Ward's and Craven's enterprise was doomed from the start.

    You're really finding us some interesting spots in your home county, Alan. Great work!

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  5. I agree with jennyfreckles, Alan. You have to pursue this project in the direction of a likely publisher.

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  6. Osset Spa has a wonderful ring to it. I think I'd like to move that tub into the middle of the bucolic horse pasture for my leisurely afternoon bath with book.

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  7. Great post Alan. I could easily see someone like Ian Hislop narrating this as a BBC4 documentary. Keep up the good work.

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  8. I have to agree that Ossett Spa doesn't really grab the imagination. After all, what else is there to back it up? One can't really establish such an enterprise on a bathful of water alone.

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  9. Funny you should say that......Wonglepong is, as you know in Queensland and if it doesn't have an Opera House you've probably inspired the residents to create one.If we can have a classic music festival in the ampitheatre of a forest, all is achievable.

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  10. Tony : I'll take a rain check on that Sulphur water if you don't mind.
    Von : Wonglepong Opera House nicely illustrates the principle that fact is often stranger than fiction.

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  11. Me again..just joined the I Love Wonglepong Fan Club you might like to check out my post on The Good Life at eagoodlife.blogspot.com
    Have a fun day!

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  12. Interesting..I did enjoy the open air tub..I love your take on these squares..better than a guide book! :)

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  13. Coming from a state that's filled with hot springs (both developed & undeveloped) it's interesting to read about a spa that seems to have literally disappeared back into the earth, or the nettles at least. Another good entry in a fascinating series.

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