In 1782, Ben Satchwell with his friend William Abbotts found the second mineral spring in Leamington Priors ( the first had been discovered at least two hundred years earlier, but never exploited) and the Abbotts Original Baths opened a couple of years later in 1784. This coincided with a nineteenth century trend for “taking the waters” and marked the beginning of an influx of visitors to Leamington. Satchwell was ahead of his time in his astute understanding of the financial benefit to the town which was to result from the discovery of the mineral springs.
Ben Satchwell opened the first Post Office in Leamington Priors in a shabby thatched cottage at the bottom of New Street. He combined his duties of post master with his trade as a boot and shoe maker. The post office consisted of nothing more than a small black box about 10″ x 14″, which could be rapped with a tiny knocker, after which, a letter was taken in. At this time, postal charges were paid by the recipient rather than the sender. The postman rang a bell to call out the villagers, who received their mail on payment of the appropriate fee. So different from today, when we are deluged with such astonishing quantities of unwanted junk mail!
The only public house at the time of Satchwell was The Dog Inn, the village alehouse owned by William Abbotts where Satchwell held court, doubtless wearing the straw hat shown in the drawing most of us have seen. He doffed his hat only to visitors, saying,
“Some go to The Dog do go to drink
But I go there to snooze and think,
To hear folks tell, o’er cup of ale
How Leamington does wag its tail”
Some critics have suggested that Satchwell’s interests were purely and solely commercial, but it should be noted that Ben Satchwell started the first Benefit Club to help poor people as early as 1778, quite a time before the finding of the second spa spring. Ben Satchwell’s family were not at all wealthy. It appears that he had a fairly basic education and was largely self- taught. His writing skills were clearly very good, – he became a correspondent for London and Coventry newspapers, extolling the beauties of Leamington and the benefits of the Spa water.
Ben Satchwell was a modest unassuming man, always anxious to share with others. This may have been one of the reasons that he started the first Leamington Benefit Club, “The Foundation of Hospitality” – a savings scheme to help poor people obtain medical attention in 1778. In spite of the great influx of visitors from all walks of life, and the wealth of many of them, the facades of the handsome Regency buildings they inhabited concealed appalling poverty and terrible slums. Poor people, especially the old and the very young, suffered horribly when they became ill. Even in late Victorian times with all kinds of health improvements, a quarter of children died before the age of five, and Leamington was no exception.
Ben Satchwell’s Benefit Club helped a good many of the poor to obtain some help and the medicine they needed, and in 1806, he became involved in another charity, The Leamington Spa Charity, set up to help poor families obtain assistance and free baths. Over a decade it provided for over two thousand people and led to the foundation of the Warneford Hospital. He remained Secretary and Treasurer of this venture until his death in 1810.
Critics have suggested that Ben Satchwell was not really interested in people or the town, rather that he was only in it for the money, – but he did not die a rich man by any means. J C Manning, in “Glimpses of our Local Past” says that “Satchwell died poor”, while doing gratuitous work for a purely benevolent association. I think that that is the way Ben Satchwell would most like to be remembered. I am sure that he would have been pleased to have a Blue Plaque erected in his honour.