Askern is situated adjacent to a large lake which is fed by several natural springs rich in minerals. In 1734, Dr Short – writing in his book Mineral waters of Yorkshire – described the spring water: “it smells and tastes very strongly of sulphur; it curdles soap and milk; turns silver black, brass a copper colour”.
Historian Dave Fordham looks back at Askern in the nineteenth century, when it became fashionable for people to ‘take the waters’.
Despite Dr Short’s unfavourable verdict, Askern became a spa resort to rival Harrogate.
In 1786 the first bathing house was built alongside the lake and in 1828 this was rebuilt as the Manor Baths. In 1823 the Terrace Baths opened in High Street, followed two years later by the Charity Baths. These were owned by The Askern Bath Charity Trust whose members paid a subscription. In 1827 the South Parade Baths opened nearby.
However, the largest bath house was the Askern Spa Hydropathic Establishment, overlooking the town. The ‘Spa Hydro’ consisted of 60 bedrooms, with a variety of bathing options: Russian baths, sulphur baths, sitz baths, douche showers and needle showers.
The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway opened Askern Station in 1848 and operated a daily train service for bath house visitors leaving Liverpool at 2.10pm, calling at Manchester and Wakefield, arriving at Askern at 4.22pm. Those ‘taking the waters’ could stay at the Railway Hotel, the Swan Inn, the White Hart, the Crown Inn and the Red Lion, or in lodgings in houses.
In 1911 Askern Colliery opened and changing fashions saw visitor numbers rapidly decline. In 1924, the Spa Hydro became the Miners Welfare. South Parade Baths was demolished in the 1950s and the other bath houses in the 1960s, the Spa Hydro becoming a victim of mining subsidence.