Spa town's Victorian water cure is revived

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The Independent Online
THE VICTORIAN water cure is being revived this weekend in a Worcestershire spa town.

During its heyday, 2,000 visitors a week flocked to Malvern for the cure, including Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, the Prime Minister Lord Aberdeen and Alfred Tennyson.

At 6am every day patients were wrapped in wet sheets for an hour then, after a cold bath and rub down, they would take an exhilarating walk on the Malvern Hills, drinking 18 glasses of water from springs along the route.

Finally, the fittest patients would be treated to the notorious descending douche - a 90-second shower under icy water gushing from a tank 20 feet (6m) above.

The man behind the treatment's revival is John Harcup, who has spent 30 years researching it. About 5,000 visitors are expected to attend the Victorian Water Cure Weekend to mark the 150th anniversary of the arrival in Malvern of Dr James Wilson and Dr James Gully, whose treatment became the height of fashion.

'For the jaded Victorian who over ate, over drank and used laudanum like nobody's business, the cure worked well,' Dr Harcup said. 'They didn't bath much and suffered a lot of skin irritation and the water really toned them up. Smoking and alcohol were banished and spices were off the menu. Darwin was terribly upset when Dr Gully stopped him taking snuff.'

During the weekend a plaque will be unveiled at the Tudor Hotel where Dr Gully administered his cure. The poet and playwright Edward Lytton, writing about the treatment, said: 'I can recall no periods of enjoyment at once more hilarious and serene than the hours spent upon the lovely hills of Malvern.'