Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Darwins at Malvern: the Water-Cures

We are on holiday in Worcestershire in the UK this week.  (By luck we are staying at one of the nicest B&B's we've ever found, the Old Country House in Mathon.  It's lovely, in a stunningly beautiful part of the country, with a lovely proprietress.  If you've ever got an inkling to make a pilgrimage to Malvern, where Darwin came to take the waters, and where he brought his 10 year old daughter, Annie, when she was very ill, this is the place to stay.)

E.g., a well-dressed well in Wyche.
We wandered through Malvern in an English spring rain, the town that drew so many people "to take the waters" (from the hills, not the rain!) in the 1800s.  The water here has been used for cures, and bottled for drinking for a very long time.  A lesser known tradition practiced around here is "well-dressing", an ancient tradition started in the 12th century. the 12th and 13th centuries the Holy Well was dressed annually with offerings, probably on August 5th, in thanks to St Oswald for water cures there. In 1615 there was a national drought, but as Malvern`s springs kept flowing they "were (well) dressed as a token of gratitude for a plentiful supply of water" (Malvern Advertiser 1870). 
We passed a long row of hotels built in the 1800s to accommodate all the people who came to town for the waters.  Including Charles Darwin, who spent several months here taking water treatments at Dr Gully's Water Cure Establishment.   This involved wrapping the poor patient in cold water-soaked sheets, much dumping of ice-cold water over the head, brisk walks in the countryside, and lots of  consumption of the famous Malvern water.  The woman at the little museum in Great Malvern told us that of course people's health improved, they were away from the polluted cities, eating well and doing exercise, perhaps for the only time in their lives. (In any case, as any honest doctor will tell you, most patients will get better on their own, treatment or no treatment.)  Darwin himself was pleased with his therapy, and continued it for a while when he returned home.

When his dearest daughter, Annie, fell ill in 1851, Darwin brought her to Malvern, where Dr Gully was sure he could cure her. After a week she seemed to be improving, and Darwin left her to return home, confident he'd soon return to Malvern to find her quite recovered, but instead he was summoned back within a fortnight because she was getting worse.  He went alone, as his wife, Emma, was heavily pregnant and unable to travel.

Annie Darwin's gravestone
Annie died several days later, and Charles and Emma Darwin were heartbroken, never fully recovering from her loss.  Darwin went home to Emma the day after Annie's death, leaving his brother and sister-in-law to fill in for them at Annie's funeral.  She is buried in the graveyard of the little church in Malvern, where, we were told, her grave is almost always surrounded with flowers.  However, and we think appropriately, there is no fanfare, no special markings, no souvenir hawkers besides this very modest memorial.  Annie really does rest in peace.
Montreal House, Malvern

It is somewhat ironic, however, that she does this in a churchyard.  This doubtlessly gave comfort to Emma, who was a serious believing Christian, but for Charles any remaining doubts about the Christian version of God died with Annie.  Her painful and pointless death served no purpose, and she had done nothing to be taken at so young an age.  Darwin wanted to believe in things which, if they had no Purpose, at least made sense.  Evolution did.

Charles stayed at Montreal House, one of the hotels in that long row of such establishments on Worcester Road in Malvern, now bearing a plaque commemorating that fact.

But, in fact it was more than Darwin that drew us to this part of England.  It was the Victorian age poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who spent her childhood at a place called Hope End, not far from Malvern and close to the Old Country Farm where we are staying.  She grew up here, and though she like Annie was plagued with an illness, it had nothing to do with Annie's disease, nor with the spas or water-cures.

However, it's late, we're tired, and that story is for another day.


Holly Dunsworth said...

"Darwin wanted to believe in things which, if they had no Purpose, at least made sense. Evolution did."

Nicely done.

J.P. Bailey, MFT said...

Since I'm one of those weird psych and science nerds who has a very strong and usually accurate intuition (whatever you science nerds call that), and my intuition tells me that the main problem (evolution vs religion) lies in the "either or" choice. We could have the "and" choice as well.
I believe/feel/think that an intelligent (patterns, makes sense, etc) "force" for lack of better word (i.e. god) - did indeed create life via intention/purpose/meaning (or maybe she was lonely) and sent that life to go live out it's purpose by changing and growing aong the way (evolution). Why can't it be both? My question to religious types is, "How can man evolve but god can't?" Perhaps 'god/creator' has been evolving all along.
There are things that don't make any sense or have any purpose in both theories/beliefs.
I feel bad that the death of a young child could influence a man's lifetime of work because of his very natural response (grief, and the crisis of 'no meaning'). See, he wanted to "believe" but he wanted to believe in something that made sense. Of course, life doesn't make much sense and there are alot of things that happen that are labeled senseless (crimes, etc.) Without meaning where is man? Without meaning where is science? Without meaning where is religion?
One does not "believe" in science. A fact is a proven fact, it does not require belief to be a fact.
Maybe the "purpose" of the child's death was senseless and meaningless - to the parents, but, perhaps there was a purpose - maybe 'god' decided Darwin needed an intense emotional push to continue his work with a renewed passion and quest for meaning.

In Psychology (my Master's degree), most problems with people and thier life events and emotions stem from the Meaning of it (all).

What if there is meaning in all of it - but we haven't found it yet. What if there are aliens - but we haven't found them yet. Keep an open mind is the best advice I've been given, as you never know what the future brings or what we'll learn next.

J.P. Bailey, MA
P.S. (If god exists - maybe he/she does not want it to be a known fact yet - if it were, it would take away our freedom of choice to believe or think what we want. It might also take away our quest for answers and it's our job to ask questions. Some lead to science (questions about the outside world) and some lead to the mysteries of a higher/inner power/god (questions about the inside).

PSS (On another topic - can a scientist give me a really good explanation of why the "law of attraction" is complete bullshit?) That would realy help my mis-guided clients. I don't believe in it but how do I explain or prove that?? The "like attracts like" theory can be disproved with a simple magnet. Like sides repel. Any other smart thoughts on that would be greatly appreciated. jpbaileyma can be found 'at' yahoo. Thanks for the Great Blog - keep up the good work!

Pauline Conolly said...

You may be interested to know that I have a narrative, non-fiction book being launched in February 2013 (in Malvern) relating to the water-cure. The Water Doctor's Daughters tells the tragic story of the children of Dr James Marsden. The youngsters were playmates of Annne Darwin and their uncle, then Vicar of Malvernls Priory Church, conducted Annie's funeral service. Soon afterwards Dr Marsden employed a new governess and subsequently two of his daughters died in Paris while under her care. Two sensational trials followed. There is more information on my website at