The Old Physic Well

Man: Hello Mr Pepys, Have you come to take the water again?
Pepys: Yes my man and it's worth a note in my diary!

That probably never happened but Samuel Pepys did visit the well on Well house lane back in the 17th century.
What was the well? Well it served a spring and its water was supposed to have therapeutic qualities.

In 1586 a William Camden wrote: "Upon the south border (of Hertfordshire) was discovered a medicinal spring which is of great service to the sex where there is general languor, difficult respiration, febile heat and loss of appetite. In all colds and fevers and rheumatic complaints. The Barnet whey is much recommended."

Perhaps it did not catch on as, over 60 years later in 1652, it was reported in a journal: "There is lately found at Barnet, 10 miles from London an excellent purging water. It springs from a nitre mine and half the quantity works as effectively as that of Epsom. It is much approved of by several eminent physicians and those that have occasion to use it may repair there for free."

From around that time the well became popular and in 1661 the Reverend Joshua Childrey declared in his book "Natural Rarities of England, Scotland and Wales" that The Barnet mineral waters: "Were very famous."

You could buy spirits and tobacco from a house beside the well and it seems like someone had a nice little sideline to cater for the ladies and gentlemen who traveled from London on a daily basis.

           Off to take the water at Barnet

People were allowed to take water from the well, except in casks which could have been due to this 1663 advert for The Angel and Sun, an inn on the Thames: "Constantly to be sold, all the year, fresh Tunbridge Water and Epsom Water and Barnet water and Epsom ale and Spruce beer."

In July 1664 Samuel Pepys made his first visit to the well and he drank five glasses and wrote: "The woman (the attendant) would have me drink three more, but I could not."
 Samuel Pepys 

 On 11th August 1667 he visited the well at about seven o'clock in the morning and said: "Many people were a drinking"
 From there he went into Barnet where he took tea and cakes.

The popularity of the well lasted until the end of the 18th century with sometimes up to thirty carriages on hand to take people to and from the well.
In 1808 a Mr Sorrell, a Barnet chemist, was selling the water over the counter and probably chemists elsewhere were doing the same. Perhaps it was easier to buy bottle of water rather than go to the well and by 1840 it was reported that "the well house" had been demolished, and the well covered over and that only a small pump was visible.

The farmer of the well house field where it was situated painted the pump green to deter people walking across his land. In time the well was forgotten except by a few locals.

In 1907 the Hertfordshire county analyst declared that the water was: "Unfit for drinking and did not posses any medicinal properties."

In 1922 another analysts report said that: "The water retained its high medicinal properties, was remarkably uncontaminated and safe to drink."

Either way it was not to matter as in the 1930s the Well house estate was built around the well and in 1937 the present building was erected to cover it. Although threatened with demolition over the years it still remains to remind us of a time when Barnet was the fashionable place to take "The Waters"