It’s ironic, if you think about it, a spa going bust for lack of custom in a county now associated with day spas, manicures and fake tans. Hockley Spa was built to take advantage of a natural spring discovered in 1838 by a solicitor named Robert Clay. His wife, Leticia, an asthmatic, found that she coughed less and felt better when she drank the Hockley water. On a trip to London, where she’d had to do without, she found her cough returned which was all the proof she needed to be convinced of its healing powers. When the spring water was eventually scientifically analysed in 1907 it was found to contain calcium and magnesium sulphate derived from the London clay through which the water travelled. It also had a high salt content, though not so much that it was undrinkable.
Hoping to make a fortune off the back of his discovery, Robert Clay had the Pump Rooms built by architect John Lockyer in 1842 and was soon open for business. A hotel was also constructed; what’s now The Spa pub at the roundabout in the middle of the town once provided accommodation for those taking the waters just down the road.
The spa, alas, never did well. Not everyone was as much a fan as the lovely Leticia. A Dr Granville was summoned to Hockley in 1841 to ascertain which medical complaints might be aided by the water but turned up his nose at the idea of visiting Essex which he’s said to have described as “a county with a bad name” (for invalids). On tasting the water, he was won round and commented favourably on the pure and bracing air before giving his blessing to the building of the Pump Rooms. Unfortunately, few people came, preferring the sea air at nearby Southend, and those that did visit Hockley found very little else to do. The venture failed and by 1871, the building was put to use as a chapel. It’s now privately owned.