Both the Leamington Royal Pump Rooms and the Royal Pump Room Gardens have been through various renovations for different reasons, however they still finely exhibit their history, particularly through their architecture. They opened in 1814, just north of the River Leam – a perfect location.
The Leamington Pump Rooms opened in 1814 as several bath spas but proved to be so popular that it was extended and reopened 2 years later. Many renovations followed, both big and small, including the addition of Turkish Baths in 1863 and further pools in 1890. In 1899, there was another extension done by William Louis de Normanville (the borough engineer) which resembled a late Classical style. He introduced materials such as ashlar sandstone and red sandstone for columns, glass for the roof, along with slate. Some small refurbishments included the addition of side pavilions in 1926-27 and the remodelling of windows in 1956.
The most recent, and last, pieces of work done to the building were completed in 1999, and those are the ones we have today. While the building is no longer used for its original purpose, it still displays its history exceptionally.
The Pump Rooms are now used as Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, a tourist information centre, a cafe and some assembly rooms.
The Pump Rooms
Beautifully designed, the 2 storey main building has 9 first floor windows and a glass roof (on the right of the photo). Having lots of natural light streaming into the building is ideal for both of its uses: the original swimming pool benefitted from it by the utilisation of the greenhouse effect (the water heated up naturally) and the library that has taken its place enjoys the lightness and tranquility.
This photo also shows an ingenious way of creating new space within the building – by forming three separate pavilions, the new additions do not overwhelm the existing building (a chunky extensions would overwhelm its originality). Moreover, the conical lead roofs of the pavilions are charming and the choice of the black framing further ensures the subtlety of the changes.
Doric columns are also attached to this building, bringing forth a sense of stability, structure and balance. They’re very effective in exacerbating the Classical style of the building since the Doric order is the earliest of the three Classical orders of architecture. Even the smallest parts of this Leamington building hold so much history.
As you come out of the Pump Rooms, you are faced with the Royal Pump Room Gardens, which have also been through various refurbishments. The gardens, opened to the public only in 1875, are spectacular and are used by a variety of people for a variety of things, for example performing music in the bandstand.
The planners for Leamington ensured, throughout, that despite any works going on, the gardens would retain their originality, which dates back to the Victorian era. The first major alteration since 1986 was done in 2012. Linden arches (iron arches with lights in them) were introduced on one pathway, providing a more grand entrance to the area, and to the Pump Rooms.
However, the main transformation project, costing £1.4 million, began in the summer of 2018 with an initial focus on reinstating certain 19th century features, particularly the Victorian bandstand, in order to return the gardens to what they once were.
Firstly, the garden’s paths were repaved and some were realigned to match the original layout by William Louis de Normanville. This also gave them a much cleaner appearance. Secondly, a new seating area was installed which came with a small pond, some rock features and new railings. Traditional style metal framed seats were made to match the history. Also, numerous more trees were planted across the gardens.
Leamington already had some spectacular trees – they are part of the fabric of the area and help to define the place, just like the buildings. Here, nature partly functions as a design tool, for
example around the bandstand, flower beds form concentric circles providing seats and screening for listeners.
The bandstand design that existed before the project was installed in 1986 and designed by architect Walter MacFarlane & Co. The actual structure is still the same post-project and it is one of the few
left of its kind and is a much-loved feature of the gardens (music has been played there since the 1920s).
The iron bandstand was removed in the autumn of 2018 and returned to the gardens in the spring of 2019. During this time, it was taken to Lost Art Limited where new steps were added, the plinth
was restored and it was repainted.
Another amazing original feature is the colonnade next to the Pump Rooms, which has beautiful Victorian caustic tiles. They are a good choice as they are hard wearing and long lasting.
As you zoom out on Leamington from the Pump Rooms, you notice how much history the area contains and how nearly everything is coordinated in one way or another.
The All Saints’ Church
The All Saints’ Church was built between 1843 and 1849 and designed by architect J.G. Jackson. The last developments were done in 1902, making it a wholly Victorian
structure. Out of all of the Victorian gothic features in the church, the circular rose window is the most extravagant. It’s very suited to a church as they create mesmerising patterns of light which are almost ethereal. Architect Sir Arthur Blomfield designed the last developments to the church, which included a South Western bell tower and two Western bays.
You can see how Leamington enjoys staying in touch with its history, one example being a very similar circle to the rose window being incorporated on a nearby, 10-15 year old building.
It is always really nice to go on a walk around Leamington to observe its vast history that presents itself in the most beautiful, spectacular ways. Even some of the smallest walkways are delightful. The York Bridge was built in the 1890s and still stands today, overlooking the River Leam – it is lovely to walk across. There are also some hidden walkways. One of these walkways leads to the back of Spencer Yard.
Spencer Yard is a stunning building, however is a bit secret – it’s well hidden by greenery during the summer months. It’s home to many creative businesses, which makes sense as Leamington is greatly recognised as a creative town.
Speaking of creativity, the Loft Theatre in Leamington is a fascinating place. It began as a small club for drama and plays. The members struggled for years to find permanent premises. The
name ‘Loft Theatre’ is attributed to one of their premises – a rickety barn which resembled a loft. After much searching and being halted by the beginning of World War 2, they eventually found good premises in 1943: the Colonnade Theatre. This building was built in 1870 as the Victorian Grand Pavilion and had many uses before the Loft Theatre. The members undertook the refurbishments themselves involving upholstered tip-up seating and a fully raked floor to improve the view of the stage for audiences.
However, the building tragically caught fire in 1958. It was rebuilt and reopened 14 months later. In a disastrous turn of events, it caught fire again in 1964. To ensure it didn’t happen again, the theatre was again redesigned and rebuilt which took 4 years. After reopening in 1968, no other changes were made and it’s the same one that stands there today. The Loft Theatre is a great resource for Leamington however it’s often overlooked.
Leamington Spa is an enchanting place, filled with good quality buildings from many eras of time. They all match together in some way, creating a satisfying consensus across the area. Hopefully, the Pump Rooms, the Pump Room Gardens and the other buildings are all maintained effectively over time as they hold endless historical value.
Written by Eliza Mulready-Carroll