History of the spa

Photograph of the original facade of the spa
From a private collection
Recent photograph of the facade of the spa
From a private collection

In the early part of the nineteenth century there were spas all over Europe as they were highly fashionable. A problem for Brighton was that it lacked the natural water necessary for a spa. There was a natural spring and spa at St.Ann’s Well Crescent Gardens in Hove but this was too far away for the ‘fashionable folk’ in Brighton. Frederick Struve, a research chemist from Saxony, had invented a machine that reproduced the characteristics of natural mineral water using chemicals. He believed there was enough trade in Brighton to set up an establishment and in 1825 Struve opened the pump room of his ‘German Spa’.

A choice of waters
The ‘Fashionable Chronicle’ in the Brighton Gazette provides a description of the building: ‘The building consists of a large handsome room fifty or sixty feet in length, and of proportionate breadth and height. A fine flight of steps lead to the noble saloon, on which are placed Ionic columns, supporting a portico in the purest Grecian taste. On the side of the Saloon opposite the entrance runs a counter, behind which are ranged cocks that supply different kinds of waters.’ Customers could obtain the waters of Karlsbad, Kesselbrunnen in Bad Ems, Marienbad, Bad Pyrmont and other continental spas.

Queueing for a cure
The curative waters received considerable patronage from the upper classes. In the first season there were 333 subscribers to the spa and in 1835, ten years after opening, Struve obtained the patronage of King William IV. Struve consequently renamed it the ‘Royal German Spa’. During the 1830s the spa reached the height of its popularity and had many distinguished visitors.  Struve maintained that most of his cures would have no immediate effect and that it would take about a month before his customers would  be restored to their full heath. The spa was open between May and November from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. One contemporary writer complained that the pump room was not big enough for the number of people using it and that the number of carriages waiting in the road down to the sea ran into three figures.

From spa to nursery school
By the 1850s the practice of taking waters fell out of fashion and the pump room closed. Struve was now producing bottled mineral water and fizzy drinks. In 1891 another soft drinks firm merged with Struve and called themselves Hooper Struve Ltd. They very successfully continued to manufacture drinks still using the 150 foot well sunk by Struve. Only in the Second World War did the spa stop production when it became a fire watching station and a gas-mask issuing station.

In 1963 the company moved to larger premises, leaving the sa as a storage shed. The pump room became derelict and vandalized. The pump room was demolished in the mid 1970s but thanks to a long public campaign to save it, the spa’s neo-classical façade remains. The Royal Spa Nursery School was built on the factory site and opened in 1977. A fire started by vandals destroyed the modern building in 1985 but it was soon rebuilt. The Nursery School continues to this day on this site.

Comments about this page

  • When I was in University College Hospital off Warren Street in the 1950s having my tonsils removed (in those days a lengthy stay in hospital with few visits allowed), my dad brought me in a bottle of Hooper Struve orange squash, just for me. I felt so special as this was a whole bottle of squash just for me, but more so because it was an unknown species to me. I might also add it was a memorable taste even now, and it’s so nice to discover it actually existed. You know you can go through life never meeting up with similar memories to your own? Well Done!

    By Lynne Harris (11/01/2006)
  • My mother worked for Hooper Struve in the 1950s when we had school parties at Queen’s Park School. I used to supply all the soft drinks that my mum could buy for 3d a bottle: lemon, orange and cherryade.

    By Robert Dainty (02/06/2006)
  • I lived at 21 Park Street from 1945 to 1955 and recall ‘acquiring’ empty Hooper Struve bottles through the railings of the factory!  We would then take them back to a small shop at the bottom of the street and get 3d each for them.  A regular source of pocket money!

    By Mike Broomfield (29/01/2007)
  • My great, great grandfather’s brother was William Hooper, born in 1803. He was a pharmacist with premises in Russell St, Covent Garden. He was a founder member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and had several inventions to his name. One of his enterprises was to set up a soft drinks company and eventually he merged his interests with a Dr. Struve. I still have in my posession some advertising material for “Hooper’s Brighton Selzer Waters”.

    By Julian Hooper (26/05/2007)
  • An advertising slogan from the early 1960s had it thus: “You’ll approve, she’ll approve – Hooper Struve”.

    By Richard Irving (07/11/2007)
  • My son was recently doing work experience with his uncle. He dug up a whole Royal German Spa bottle, which was buried in the grounds of Balmoral castle. This led me to this web site as we tried to find out about it!

    By D Mitchell (12/02/2008)
  • In the first decade of the last century my family ran the Hooper Struve operation in the Spa. Robert Barber was foreman, and my Great Uncle Charlie was the ‘Bottler’. Amazingly they lived in an apartment in the building. It must have been an astonishing place to live! I remember the building very well in the 1950s – overgrown with ivy.

    By John Barber (17/01/2009)
  • My Grandfather, Frank Gilder was managing director of Hooper Struves, I think in the 1930s or 40s. He is deceased now so I do not know much about it but would like to learn more if any one has recollections from then. Also my mother, Kathleen Amor nee Gilder (deceased) worked as a secretary for a while around the same time.

    By Robert Amor (01/05/2010)
  • Hooper Struve bottles must be tough. I also dug up a whole bottle when digging the foundations for my extension. My house is circa 1910 and was built on the dumping ground for Doveridge Hall, Derbyshire. Doveridge Hall no longer exists.

    By Julian Parker (04/06/2010)
  • Clifford Probyn was head of Hooper Struve and Co in the 1890’s. He was married to Hannah Fell Harrison from Lancaster. She was daughter of James Sharples Harrison a member of the Royal Marines in the 1840’s and later Beerhouse keeper on Penny Street up to his death in 1852. Clifford had trained as a chemist in Chipping Sodbury before moving to London in the 1860’s and setting up as a chemist in St Georges Hanover Square. He became Sheriff of London in 1898, was a London County Councillor 1889 to 1918. He had interests in indian rubber as well as mineral water.

    By Paul Harrison (29/07/2010)
  • In 1861 my husband’s great uncle William Sawyers worked as a bottler of mineral water at the German Spa. From the census of 1861 it showed that he had accommodation in the Spa, along with his mother Elizabeth. William was the brother of my husband’s great grandfather Thomas who owned T. Sawyers, mineral water and ginger beer manufacturer in Margaret Street.

    By Val Sawyer (21/08/2010)
  • Like Val Sawyer’s husband’s great uncle, my grandfather, John Charles Wilkins, worked for Hooper Struve somewhere in the Warren Street area of London. He too was employed as a mineral water bottler but subsequently became a bottle washer (possible demotion?) then latterly restored to mineral water bottler status sometime prior to his death in 1918. I would be most grateful for any information that would lead to the location of Hooper Struve’s works in that locality of London.

    By Leonard Woodland (24/08/2010)
  • Today, whilst out collecting blackberries, I noticed some glass in the ground.I thought I would clear it up to keep any wild life safe. On taking it out of the ground I discovered it was a complete Hooper Struve bottle, with a lovely screw-on lid. The letter ‘S’ and number 5619 on the bottom. Fascinating!

    By De Williams (11/09/2011)
  • I have an advertising item – it is an aluminum disc 1.5″ inches in diameter with a 1939 farthing pressed into the centre. On one side of the disc it reads ‘Hooper Struves mineral waters’. On the other it reads ‘keep me and you will never be broke’.

    By Malcolm Rose (16/12/2011)
  • When I was about 9 in the early 1950s my family moved from Hove to West Drive because my parents wanted my brothers and I to go to Xaverian College at the north of Queens Park. There was many the time in the summer I have happy memories of waking (when bedroom windows were open) to the sounds of crates of Hooper Strove mineral bottles being shoved along the roller conveyors to storage or awaiting delivery vehicles. Their soft drinks were available from all the local newsagents and small shops and as children we sometimes were able to buy a bottle with our pocket money. Happy days, I have to say it was a strange setting for a factory unit, looking more like a Greek temple than a bottling plant.

    By Joseph Johnston (30/08/2012)
  • My husband showed me a bottle marked ‘Royal German Spa’ and on the other side it reads ‘To HM the Queen Hooper and Co Pall Mall East London’. Is it collectable or valuable? It is very old glass with a greeny brown tinge.

    By Penelope Minns (19/10/2012)
  • I’ve been collecting Royal German Spa, Hoopers and Hoopers Struve bottles for twenty years now – have a massive collection. And ash trays, drinks trays, letters, brass menu holders and many more items dating from 1840 to 1960s.

    By lou squillaci (16/03/2013)
  • During the early 70s I had a mate from school who lived in Kemp Town. We became very adept at “gaining access” to derelict and soon to be lost parts of Brighton, West Pier concert hall, Kemp Town station and tunnel, and the Regent to name but a few. Needeless to say, the Spa was another “cop”, and I remember the pump room was still intact, complete with the arch-topped recesses in the rear wall where the water was once dispensed. The walls were painted in a sort of bluey-green which was rapidly peeling everywhere. The pigeons had moved in through holes in the ceiling. This must have been c.1974-5, so I guess we only just caught the old place in time. I do wish we’d taken a camera around with us on our travels, though.

    By Mark Thompson (23/03/2013)
  • Hi Mark, sounds like we could have bumped into each other, with a old school friend of mine Simon, we (gained access) to the old pumping room. Around the same time early seventies, we removed the cover to the original well, that had pulley wheels above the well opening, for the water extraction, we threw a few stones down into the water (as you do) the plops were a long way down. And we stepped back from the opening, with some respect, didn’t fancy a fall down there, we pulled the cover back over and got out. But I recon it’s still there bet they covered the entrance. And then heaped the soil bank against it you see today.

    By Martin Phillips (20/05/2013)
  • My husband came across a bottle that says ‘Hooper Struves’ on one side, and ‘London’ on the other side, and then ‘Brighton’ is also on it. Its sort of green’ish and it has a “marble” type in the neck which is bent in on both sides.  Can anyone can give give me some background?
    Thank you in advance.

    By Linda Maston (18/11/2013)
  • My grandad was caretaker at Hooper Struves when my mum was a little girl.  He had accommodation on site and my mum has many fond memories of her childhood there and often tells me stories about growing up there.

    By Claire Peerless (21/01/2014)
  • I have just unearthed an old brown bottle with the inscription ‘The Royal German Spa Brighton’ and ‘Waters of Struve’s Mineral’  with a large ‘S’ on the base. This bottle must be nearly 200 years old!

    By Juliana Ruffle (13/02/2016)
  • I’m reading this with interest, especially people who mention the well. I would really like to know more or less where is was in the grounds? Martin Phillips, in particular, mentions it, and Claire Peerless – perhaps her mother remembers where it could be?

    By Elly McDade (06/02/2017)
  • I have just acquired an ornate mirror 1m x1.2m advertising Hoopers Mineral Waters from Pall Mall and The Royal German Spa….must be of some age. Is also very heavy! Happy to supply a photo by email.

    By chris morton (11/02/2022)

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