Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

image by Jude Montague

The natural iron brew that bubbles up in Alexandra Park.

Jude Montague takes a walk to look at this freshwater spring and its place in the features of the town’s largest garden-park.

The spa town of Tunbridge Wells was founded on a chalybeate or iron-rich spring. There’s an aristocratic story of how that fount was ‘discovered’ by Dudley Lord North, who came across those waters while riding through Kent on his way to London with a hangover, drank from the cool liquid and pronounced himself much recovered. That was in the early 1600s. This story fired up belief in the healing properties of that chalybeate spring, and this was reinforced by several royal visitors over the centuries.

Ferruginous waters occur in multiple locations throughout these isles. This Hastings source is commemorated by a plaque which says: ‘The underground spring supplies a steady flow of foul tasting iron rich water, once drunk for its alleged health-giving properties’.

It was Robert Marnock who designed the bulk of Alexandra Park in 1877, extending it from a smaller existing park that had opened in 1864 as St Andrews Gardens. He incorporated this spring that had originally been located in open farmland. Marnock was one of the leading Scottish horticulturalists and garden designers of the 19th century and the planting design that he imposed on the landscape includes many non-native species such as the specimens of red cedar from America, China and Japan and the Blue Atlas cedars from North Africa. The colour of the bark of the red cedars echoes the rust of the spring, making a very striking landscape that is most interesting to the eye. The collection of cypresses – and cedars are a subsection of cypresses – is unique and varied and the  ‘tree_walk_leaflet’  helped me identify some of them.

The word ‘Chalybeate’ comes from the Latin word for steel, chalybs, which in turn comes from the Greek χάλυψ after a people expert in iron work who lived on Mount Ida in Asia Minor. It is not in common use, so this evocative description adds a little mystery to this humble feature, tucked away in the side of the park. I would not say many know about it and the plaque description puts visitors off sampling the water describing it as ‘foul tasting’.

With an increase in freshwater foraging more are seeking out natural springs. But if you are not confident a water source is safe, do not drink from it. If you chose to drink from any spring water site, it is your responsibility.

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Posted 09:47 Tuesday, Jan 23, 2024 In: Heritage


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  1. Jane Owen Schaumloffel

    My grandmother would regularly bring me along to “Charlie Beech Spring” to drink the supposedly health-giving water when I was a small child in the 1950s. I think there was a cup on a chain or we brought our own cup. The water was extremely cold and I was sure it was very special indeed!

    Comment by Jane Owen Schaumloffel — Monday, Jan 29, 2024 @ 22:12

  2. Mandy

    Yes , my grandchildren always head for the spring for a little taster when we are in the park !

    Comment by Mandy — Monday, Jan 29, 2024 @ 13:44

  3. Robert Sears

    Since I was a young boy growing up in Hastings, I have regularly drunk the waters and even now at 80 and living in the far east, every visit I pay a pilgrimage to the park, which is a treasure, and drink from Chalybeate. I am sure the taste was better in the past but even now, no problem.

    Comment by Robert Sears — Tuesday, Jan 23, 2024 @ 19:46

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