ABOUT DOCTOR FOX AND KNIGHTSTONE ISLAND
The history of Weston's earliest health spa
In its natural state, Knightstone is a barren island only reacheable at low tide. It used to be a well known fishing spot and legend has it that once, a huge salmon of 30lbs was landed here.
Spelt Knightstone since 1758 (although before that as Nightstone or Nitestone - presumably a reference to the black appearance of the sea-drenched rock), the island’s causeway, bath house and swimming pool were among the first developments in the newly created health and holiday resort of Weston-super-Mare.
When excavations for the first baths were made in May 1820, human bones and a pottery urn were discovered and assumed to have been of roman origin although, subsequently, these have been dated to the iron age. This discovery gave the Island Its name, Knightstone, as it was initially thought the burial place of a Roman knight. You can see a figure on the façade of the 1902 former swimming pool (now apartments) of a knight although, for some reason, he is depicted in medieval armour.
Since 1696 the island formed part of the Pigott estate and in the early 19th century it changed hands a few times before being bought by a Mr John Howe of Bristol for £200. He was a partner with Charles Taylor, a Yatton carpenter, in an umbrella and parasol factory in Dolphin Street, Bristol. In a new business venture they decided to build saltwater baths as they were considered particularly efficacious at the time.
In July 1820 Howe’s Baths opened. They comprised hot and cold salt water baths and a two-storey house, part used as lodgings for invalids, the other part for public tea and coffee rooms and a reading room. In those days the price of a hot bath was three shillings (15p) and a cold bath, one shilling (5p).
At this stage Knightstone was still disconnected from the mainland at high water. so bathers were ferried over while coal boats would unload in the shelter of the Island.
Dr Edward Long Fox (1761-1835)
The figure of a knight on the gable of the swimming pool
Enter Dr Fox.
In December 1824 the Rev Thomas Pruen took over the island and built a low causeway and an outdoor swimming pool that could be replenished by the tides.
Over the next five years several additions to the buildings on the island such as towers and turrets were made and in Sept 1830 the island changed hands again, this time purchased by Dr Edward Long Fox (1761-1835) a prominent Quaker physician in Bristol and a true pioneer of the humane treatment of the insane.
At this time the causeway was heightened using granite from a quarry near Falmouth which belonged to Dr Fox’s father, Dr Joseph Fox, and was carried round Lands end in ships belonging to a cousin G.K.Fox. Granite was also used for the characteristic Cornish bastions protecting the island from the sea. Contemporary reports state that Dr Fox spent £20,000 or more on the island.
Edward Long Fox lived in a time when people with mental illnesses were treated cruelly in asylums. His first foray into finding a new method to treat people came when he established Bristol's Brislington House in 1804, with the ambition of finding a new ‘moral treatment’ for his patients.
His methods tended towards the more humane, moving away from chain restraints and instead using exercise and outdoor activities to assist in treatment and recovery.
In 1830, he brought his methods to Weston-super-Mare. Although he was approaching 70, he continued to dedicate his life helping the town’s patients and created a therapeutic spa, with hot and cold baths at Knightstone Island.
His approach became the accepted practice within the Victorian asylum system, largely thanks to the success of Brislington House and other private institutions.
Dr Long Fox has been immortalised in Weston already – his name was given to the centre helping people with mental health conditions at Weston General Hospital – and there is a blue plaque on the two-storey part of the building that houses our tearoom..
From 1850 The Island and all it’s buildings were bought and sold several times with various buildings being enlarged, demolished or replaced with a new swimming pool and pavilion opened in 1902. As a direct result of these excellent baths, Weston Swimming Club grew into one of the finest in the country. It’s most famous member was Paul Radmilovic,an Olympic swimmer from 1904-1928
Sadly the old pool and adjacent buildings have been converted and extended into luxury flats, along with the turreted Knightsone Pavilion. Our tearoom is situated within what’s left of Dr Fox’s treatment rooms that contained the hot and cold salt water slipper baths.
From the Bristol Mirror,11 August, 1832
“Dr Fox of Brislington is engaged in erecting a spacious building on one Knightstone rock, at this place, for the purpose of introducing fresh and salt water,hot and cold vapour and shower, sulphur and every description of medicated baths”
From an advertisement of 1834
“Every kind of Bath will be found here including a ‘plunging bath’ formed on a shelving rock with a small breakwater. The ladies and gentleman’s baths are apart, each having their dressing room and toilette.”
From an advertisement of 1840
“There are also hot and cold shower baths, dry hot and vapour baths, either medicated with sulphur, iodine, chlorine or otherwise, with apparatus for the administration of the douche. There is a reading room overlooking the sea where the terms for the bathing will be found and where the London and other papers as well as periodicals may be seen.”