Leisured Women and the English Spa Town in the Long Eighteenth Century
: A Case Study of Bath and Tunbridge Wells

  • Rose McCormack

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis argues that throughout the long eighteenth century, a unique emphasis was placed on leisure and sociability at the English watering-place, due to a belief in their medicinal benefits. In turn, this emphasis provided the privileged woman with opportunity to participate in public life at the resort; both in terms of a public sphere of leisure and sociability and a literary and discursive public sphere. In contrast to the suggestions of Alice Clark, Peter Earle and Lawrence Stone, who argue that elite and middling women were increasingly restricted to a sphere of idle domesticity, this study demonstrates that the urban, intellectual and associational developments of the eighteenth century offered genteel women access to socially, physically and intellectually active lives; and nowhere more so than at the resort. Adopting a dual case study approach, the thesis explores the leisured woman’s experience of visiting and residing at Bath and Tunbridge Wells throughout the long eighteenth century (c.1680-1830). The study offers the first extensive prosopographical study of the eighteenth-century spa. It utilises the letters and journals of over sixty male and female visitors and residents, sourced from nineteen repositories, as well those published in edited volumes, to form an original collective history of the female spa experience. Contributing previously neglected manuscript evidence to the field, this thesis peels away the caricature of the spa-visiting woman, promoted in eighteenth-century print and argues that health was not a pretence (as suggested by Penelope Corfield, Phyllis Hembry and Roy Porter), but a genuine reason for female spa-visitation, colouring and shaping a woman’s time at the resort. Whilst emphasising the presence of the female spa invalid, the study explores the range of romantic, leisure and intellectual opportunities presented to the leisured female visitor in the public and domestic arenas of the resorts
Date of Award27 Apr 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorPeter Borsay (Supervisor) & Martyn Powell (Supervisor)

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