Overlooked by Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral is the city’s only natural spring, which was once said to be able to promote appetite and quicken digestion but had been discovered a year too late to deal with a major epidemic in the town.
In 1773 the Chalybeate (meaning ‘containing iron) spring was discovered by quarrymen on the eastern side of what is now St James Gardens, below Hope Street. This was in the countryside then and where much of the stone for use in the magnificent buildings appearing was quarried. The spring emptied into a basin with a capacity of about four gallons and its discovery was not such a great surprise, as veins of iron ore had been found during the quarrying process.
Medics were quick to test the qualities of the water with Dr Houlston publishing an essay that year. Referring to it as the ‘Liverpool spa’ he wrote that the water ‘oozes through the veins of that soft yellow stone.’ He described the water as being ‘cool and refreshing’ to taste and that soon after swallowing it ‘warmed the stomach and gave a cordial and inebriating sensation.’
Dr Houlston believed the best quality of the spring water was its ability to strengthen the whole habit. He wrote how it could most help those who suffered weaknesses after acute diseases and who risk losing their strength and fall away, as well as those who are at the early stages of disease. Examples he gave were for those with slight fevers, diarrhoea, diabetes or gout. Houlston concluded how it would ‘render man less liable to be affected by cold, damp or putrid air, in epidemical or other causes of disease.’ Unfortunately though the spring was discovered too late to help the town’s population fight off the consumption outbreak of 1772, which had been found by Dr John Bostock to be more fatal than many realised.
Around the same time as Dr Houlston released his findings, local surgeon Dr James Worthington released a pamphlet called ‘Experiments on the Spa at Mount Zion, Near Liverpool’. He wrote that the water was good for ‘Loss of appetite, nervous disorders, lowness of spirit, headache, crudities of the stomach, ricketts and weak eyes.’
Few took notice of the findings of the medical men though and within twenty years the spring was completely overgrown by bushes. It has now been restored and a doctor from Rodney Street was said to have gone there every day for a drink until a few years ago.