"We must get in by Christmas". Thus it was, ten years ago today, that we formerly moved into No 404, The Spa, in Melksham.
Melksham's Spa houses
were built in 1814 (or 1813 or 1815, depending on your source), for visitors coming to take the waters in two newly discovered springs. They're four story buildings with grand, tall Georgian tradition rooms - three blocks, each comprising two semidetached dwellings, on a slight curve, they were going to form a crescent, but the other three never got built.
When we bought No. 404i
in August 1999, the most southerly of the six, it was uninhabitable. After many years of decay and neglect, it was a restoration project that had been taken on, a year to 18 months earlier, by a couple who had started work on the project, but then had unexpectedly inherited their family pile and it had become surplus to their requirements. So the roof had been redone (thank goodness!) and other starts had been made - all the plumbing, both incoming and outgoing, had been ripped out save for a lead pipe coming in from the attached house that provided the only water supply to what was then a single tap.
Autumn storms showed us that we had drainage issues ... and I still recall standing outside in the pouring rain and bailing, and I also recall having several inches of water in what is now the print room where our manuals are produced. Several rooms - the room under the steps to the formal, first floor entrance, and the room that's now the "customer loo" had also had dampness problems, and the solution employed by a previous owner had been simply to build a further room within the room. The customer loo had no less that three ceilings, each collapsing onto the one below it, and above the top one was a very mature bee's nest - complete with a honeycomb the size of a big old TV, and dead bees from the ages; when we took the final ceiling down, we were literally covered with "bee's knees".
What a project ... and on a listed building too. In practice, with a desire to restore the property rather than bring it forward from pre-listing days, the planners were more advisory than anything else, but almost *everything* needed renewing - electrics, plumbing, walls, ceilings ... right out to laying in a new water and gas main and a fresh electric supply too. A major job, and I'm not going to turn this into a D.I.Y. diary; you're not going to want to read about the day the digger hit the water main and we had a fountain as high as the house, the day I answered the door and head my rights read to me by a local council officer because we had been (mis)reported for doing unauthorized work on a listed building, or the day we got home to find a letter from the vicar asking if we would like a copy of the prayer that he had said in every room of our house, having been invited by a neighbor while we were on holiday as others (NOT us) felt the place was haunted. But I'm jumping ahead there.
So - "we must get in by Christmas" and indeed we moved to the house that I'm currently writing from on 24th December 1999. Much of our stuff was here already; more came over during following months.
The first night was a memorable one. We had a loo on the ground floor, and the shower was in. And we had electric down there too. The magnificent staircase was usable all the way up, but the floors and ceilings on both the first and second floor were otherwise out, or unsafe. So our bed was on the third floor and, looking down between the floorboard you needed something of a head for heights as you saw through two more stories of the house. A series of chained multiways lead from the ground floor up to our bedroom, to give us the benefit of electric light and a little heating. And a storm blew that night, the windows rattled as they're old sash jobbies, and we overlook nothing but fields - no wind break at all. The words "what HAVE we done" came to mind!
What we had done turned out to be a good move. Nine months later, we ran our first training course here in what had been one of the reception rooms - and ideally suited to training it was too. Tall ceilings, plenty of space and light, good parking on our own driveway just outside, a separate and grand entrance to that which we use to get into the house, and a room that had plenty of room for up to eight delegates. It hadn't been our intention to run all of our own courses, but an arrangement that we had up to that point to run our courses in conjunction with another training company finished when it no longer suited that company, and we were on our own. We didn't jump .. we were puhed, but looking back we probably should
have been planning to jump anyway, and the push did us a favor.
Our course range increased. From Perl and Java, we added (first) Tcl, then PHP and Python. We got our first broadband connection when it was "bleeding edge" rather than leading edge technology - a calculated risk to see if we could actually get a Linux box and router running on the connection. How times have changed, with our connection now up to 50Mbit/sec and a backup 3G mobile connection which also puts the whole place on line even if the cable is down. And our courses have been a great success ... with delegates traveling from far and wide to learn our range of subjects.
We were thrust unexpectedly into running all aspects of our own courses - from sales and order processing, through manual production and supplying the equipment and classroom for delegates (and lunches too), helping them plan their travel and hotels ... then invoicing them afterwards, and chasing up those organizations who only pay upon stern overdue reminder. And so some of the things we had planned to do for / on "No 404" got delayed. Can you believe that we were running out of space, and added an orangary (in keeping / with listed building consent) ... and got permission while we were at it to turn the place into mixed domestic and business use so we can have staff come and work here.
But still we were running out of space, and our home became more and more a place where customers could be found for extended hours. Delegates arrived early to try out practicals, they stayed to chat and perhaps gathered in the lounge to watch a film in the evening .. we became more and more a hotel, except that we didn't actually provide the overnight rooms. We even found ourselves doing "meet and greet" runs from Melksham station and Bristol Airport. And what had been a wide range of local accommodation in 2000 had shrunk to a more limited selection by 2005 - with delegates wishing to have accommodation included in the course price, to be en suite, to have internet access from where they were staying, to be able to pay by credit card; and for all those reasons, and more we took the next big step and bought up "The Old Manor" - a B&B between ourselves and the town centre, which we have turned around into our own training centre with perhaps the best hotel rooms in Melksham ... but that's not part of todays "10 years in The Spa" story.
With us taking over the full operation of our courses from start to finish, then with us taking on another property, and hotel function and staff too, No. 404 got put somewhat on the back burner. To this day, the project isn't entirely complete; we remain with a shower on the ground floor (55 stairs fromt he third floor bedrooms) and an empty room - but ready plumbed - for an ensuite / bathroom for our main room. And in the last few days, we have taken delivery of the components for that final piece of the jigsaw - they should be installed and running before winter turns to spring.
And what else of our future here / our next 10 years? I couldn't have predicted where these last ten years would have lead, so I'm not going to make too many predictions here; I will say that there are things that are going to need maintainance in the coming year or two and we'll be on to getting those done. I can say that we're settled in much better with the routine operation of the hotel now, and an early bubble of extra staff that helped us get the place up and running over the first couple of years has slimmed down to a dedicated team of just four of us
, which works very well [THANK YOU, Chris, Lisa, Sarah ... in alphabetic order].
Extra courses? We've added Ruby, Lua, C and C++ since we moved the courses to "Well House Manor"
as we now call the hotel, and we've moved the existing courses
forward to incorporate new releases of software, new uses for that software, and new types of delegates. And no doubt that will continue.
is a friendly town. Where we lived previously (and where I had lived for nearly 20 years), the locals were just about starting to pass the time of day before we left. But what a contrast Melksham is! We crept into the town - our market is the country or the world, not local business, so there was no need to shout, but we got pulled in - slowly at first, then more quickly when I became involved in local transport issues, Lisa became involved with a local monthly news sheet, and we both got involved with the Chamber of Commerce
So I can say, with certainty, that we love it here. That we don't have ghosts (we never did have) and that we have every intention of living in The Spa, and of being a part of Melksham, for many years to come.
Appendix - historic references to The Spa
Here are short short excerts from other sources on "The Spa" ... please visit the individual sites for the full story.
Melksham ... This, like Box, is another story of a quick failure, which also must have involved considerable financial loss. The spa site is still named and the spa buildings still exist less than a mile from the market-place on the Spa Road leading to Devizes. A crescent of six houses was built on the north of the road but a projected similar crescent on the south was never begun. The baths and pump room were in the grounds of the house now called Agra. The original spring was first discovered when a shaft was being sunk to find coal about 1770 but the curative properties of the water were not 'brought to notice' until 1813. A second well had been 'very recently discovered' in 1814. In 1815 several 'respectable gentlemen' formed the Melksham Spa Company which, after a year's work, completed a new well and which, apparently, put up the spa buildings. Several advertising pamphlets were issued between 1813 and 1822, but the few later references make it clear that the spa had failed. In 1841 Granville indicates that the fortunes of the spa had not prospered and in 1845 Britton states that although the Melksham waters 'were formerly much used . . . fashion, that fickle goddess, has not given them the fiat of her approval'.
In 1813 several local gentry who had made money from the woolen industry, the Awdrys, the Longs, the Methuens and the Phillips formed the Melksham Spa Company with a capital of 7000 guineas in order to exploit the Chalybeate Spring discovered in 1770 to the south of Melksham. A well was sunk more than 300 feet deep and six large semi detached boarding houses and a hotel were built. The Spa was intended to rival Bath but unfortunately, after a few years of prosperity, it rapidly declined.
In 1815 the Melksham Spa Company was formed by a group of 'respectable gentlemen', with names such as Methuen, Long and others, all of whom had done very well from the now declining textile industry. Their aim was to promote a spa, after abortive attempts to find coal had uncovered two springs. As a consequence they built six large three-storied, semi-detached lodging houses forming a crescent, a pump room and hot and cold private baths. This suburban area at the southern end of the town is now known as The Spa, belonging to the civil parish of Melksham Without. A plan for a similar crescent on the north side never materialized. Simultaneously an Act was obtained to 'improve the pleasing town of Melksham' by paving and improving its footways and cleansing, lighting and watching the streets. The spa was not as successful as had been hoped, due in part to the popularity of the waters at nearby Bath.
(written 2009-12-24, updated 2010-01-06)
Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter http://melksh.am/nnnn for individual articlesG211 - Well House Consultants - The story of our Georgian HQ and Edwardian Hotel 
Guest Guide for Well House Manor and Melksham - (2012-09-18) 
The Accidental Hotelier - (2012-08-24) 
Memorial to a day in 1999 - (2010-10-06) 
Well House Manor - the history of the hotel - (2010-09-20) 
01225 707126 to 01225 344596 to 01225 899360 - Well House Fax - (2010-08-26) 
Bright day, snowy day - (2010-01-06) 
Ten years in Melksham - looking forward to ten more. - (2009-08-11) 
On the roof of a Melksham Spa House - (2009-05-05) 
Christmas is coming very early - (2007-11-24) 
MacFormat - Me and My Mac - (2007-03-31) 
Butterflies in a Wiltshire garden - (2006-08-12) 
Melksham in Bloom - (2006-07-22) 
Gardens, Well House Consultants HQ - (2006-05-13) 
Contrast - the storm and the calm. - (2005-01-10) 
History around you - (2004-11-15)
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