HISTORY & ORIGINS
Epsom, which lies in the county of Surrey, a few miles south-west of London, first appears in records dating from Saxon times. For around 700 years it was just an obscure market town – and might have remained so, were it not for a severe drought in the summer of 1618. A local boy, Henry Wicker, was seeking water for his cows on Epsom Common, when he noticed a small pool that had collected in a hoofprint. He dug a hole around it, then took his animals home for the night. When he returned next morning, the hole was filled with clear water. Delighted with his new water source, Henry enlarged the pool, but was dismayed when his cows refused to drink from it. On tasting it himself, he realised why: the water was salty. (In so doing, he also inadvertently identified its mild laxative properties.) Others were quick to exploit the water’s commercial potential. In 1621, the Lord of the Manor cleared the area around Henry’s original pool, where several more springs had subsequently been found: the area is known as The Wells to this day.
By 1660, Epsom was a thriving spa town, with jars of Epsom Waters being sold all over England. Horseracing was first staged at Epsom around this time as an entertainment for the growing number of wealthy visitors coming from across Europe to ‘take the waters’. The first Derby – now Britain’s richest and most prestigious flat race – was held in 1780, attracting many famous dignitaries of the day.
By the early 1700s the Epsom Wells were drying up, and the town’s heyday as a spa was over. But four centuries later, its name remains famous the world over, thanks to Epsom salt.