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Pulling the Plug?: An Oral History of Spa Practices and Experiences at the Royal Pump Rooms

Researcher: Dr Michael Bevan
Start date: 1 July 2007
Completion date: 31 March 2008

Undertaken in collaboration with the Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum (LSAGM), 'Pulling the Plug?' explored, chiefly through interviews, the practice and experience of spa therapy in the second half of the twentieth century, based on the Royal Pump Rooms, Leamington Spa. The project questioned how approaches to spa therapy changed over this period; the training and working practices of those providing treatment; access to services; the perceptions and experiences of patients; the organisation and management of spa provision, and the factors influencing the decline of support for spas by the NHS at the end of the twentieth century.

The second half of the twentieth century was a period of significant decline in the provision of spa treatment in Britain, marked by the withdrawal of support by the National Health Service (NHS). This contrasted with a continued interest, and, more recently, resurgence in demand from the public for these therapies, which is now met by the private leisure sector and private medical insurance rather than state run medical institutions. This short-term project (six months) built on the ongoing collaboration between the Centre and LSAGM to contribute to an understanding of the experience and meanings of spa therapy in Britain in the second half of the twentieth century.

The project used oral history as a means of exploring occupational practices and patients’ views and experiences. Research involved approximately 40 interviews (c.80 hours of taped material) with patients, medical practitioners, physiotherapists and other health care workers who had treatment or worked at the Royal Pump Rooms in Leamington Spa in the latter half of the twentieth century. The oral history research was complemented by other resources: press cuttings, the spa manager’s books, council minutes, health authority records and the large collection of photographs and objects held by the specialist museum at the Royal Pump Rooms.