In the light of new research, Derbyshire Museums Manager probes into the history of what the town is most famous for.
Over to you, Ros:
Buxton Mineral Water Company – when did they start bottling water?
The new displays in the Wonders of the Peak gallery contain a section on mineral water bottles from Buxton. Hardly surprising, since Buxton has long been associated with water, both for bathing in and drinking. William Henry Robertson MD, the doctor at the Devonshire Hospital in the 1850s and 60s sets out Rules for Drinking the Water, saying that ‘it is seldom necessary to take more than two half pints of the waters every day’ and that you should ease yourself into the practice of drinking it. ‘The waters are so fully charged with gas…apt to occasion some degree of giddiness of even headache, that it is prudent at first to drink the water by sips…’ (A Handbook to the Peak of Derbyshire and to the use of the Buxton Mineral Waters; or Buxton in 1854).
What he doesn’t say is run down to the local supermarket or off licence and buy some bottles of it. William Henry Robertson MD is recommending that you need to take this water at the previous pump room at St Anne’s Well, a small Georgian temple near the Crescent. It would be served to you by one of the well women (Martha Norton was the most famous, but she was now dead) who volunteered to do this work and benefitted from the drinkers’ tips.
But the evidence suggests that at some point around this time, the Buxton Mineral Water Company with a bottling plant in Fairfield, and one Mr Tebbs, who business location is unclear, where bottling the water.
Their choice of bottle was a Hamilton, shaped like a torpedo. When sealed, it is placed on its side and the effervescence (bubbliness) in the water is retained. Hamiltons were first made in the 1840s.
But when, asked a researcher, was the Buxton Mineral Water Company established? The earliest record the museum has found have is that a trademark was awarded in 1876. These trademarks appear as diamond shapes impressed on the bottles. But this Hamilton is surely a bit earlier that that? By 1876, the Company may well have started to use the newest sort of bottle: a Codd bottle, with a marble sealed in the neck to keep by the bubbliness. It needed a special bottle opener to press the marble down and so release the liquid.
So a challenge: since the reference books are very coy about the appearance of bottled water from the Buxton Mineral Water Company – Does anyone have any evidence of the company before 1876 – can we find out when bottling water started in Buxton. And where was Mr Tebb’s establishment – I don’t think it was the main well in Buxton, but where?
Do let the museum know if you can help with this conundrum.