Leamington Spa is well known for its regency buildings and its spa but I went there in search of elephants!
The Parish church at the very bottom of The Parade is the perfect spot to start your walk. Cross the road and keep the Post Office on your left as you walk along Priory Terrace to where the houses end. There you will find a cobbled red brick slipway running into the River Leam. This is where elephants went to be washed. There is an information plaque to the right of the ramp that gives you masses of detail but we are off to find the elephants for ourselves.
A little further along the road on your left is a wrought iron bridge which crosses the river and just over the bridge on your right is a gate which takes you into the Jephson Gardens. Lying along the north bank of the river Leam the gardens are home to 140 different species of trees most of which are labelled. There is a modern restaurant and tropical glasshouse, one of Leamington’s greatest assets, and the best part – admission is free.
And then, right in front of you, three elephants! A modern stone circular bench which incorporates three kneeling elephants, all richly caparisoned and one with its mahout sat astride.
The Free Czechoslovak Army was based in Leamington Spa during the Second World War and it was from here that the plan to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich was plotted. Several members of that army were parachuted into their homeland and accomplished their mission. There were terrible reprisals carried out on the town of Lidice following the assassination and there is a memorial in the gardens to those Czechoslovakian volunteers around which there is heather planted from Lidice. The memorial is in the form of an open parachute, the names of the parachutists engraved on it, it doubles a s a fountain which when operating trickles down the chutes strings, all very emotional.
Leave the gardens by the main gate immediately opposite the Royal Pump Rooms, the source of the spa water is to the left. Here you will find a tap so that you may sample the waters; they are supposed to be good to for you, after you taste them you may wonder why.
At the opposite end of the building is the tourist information office and museum where amongst the guide books and maps is a book ‘The Elephants of Leamington Spa’, it is well worth spending 50p on the guide ‘A walk around Leamington Spa’, full of useful information.
Now make a slight diversion to discover another of Leamington’s surprises. Enter the Pump Room Gardens and keep the river to your left, cross it via the pedestrian bridge and keep left towards the tall block of flats that you can see.
Next to those flats is Manor Court and it was here that the game of lawn tennis was possibly founded. The first tennis club in the world was formed in 1872 by Major Henry Gem and Augurio Pereira, it was located just behind the former Manor House Hotel which stood where Manor Court now is. The modern rules of lawn tennis were drawn up in 1874 in Leamington Tennis Club.
There is a plaque sponsored by the Lawn Tennis Association which will give you all the information you need, but see if you spot the elephant on it!!
Retracing our steps back to the gardens head up The Parade to the Town Hall where you will meet Queen Victoria, she stands high on her plinth looking very severe staring down at us all. On the north side of that plinth is a plaque telling us that a German bomb that fell nearby during the bombing of Coventry on 15 November 1940, moved the statute by one inch, no wonder she does not look amused.
Keeping the town hall on our left we now walk the length of Regent Grove, and into Holly Walk, at the top of which is a blue plaque on the very last house.
It marks the birthplace of William Charles Renshaw (1861-1904) and James Ernest Renshaw (1861-1899), the first great stars of lawn tennis. Cross the road in front of you and turn left and in just a few yards you come to Lansdowne Crescent. It is an impressive regency crescent, one of the finest in the country, designed by architect William Thomas in 1835, and there is a very large plaque telling you all about him.
A little further on the opposite side of the roads is yet another blue plaque. This one is dedicated to Leamington born boxer Randolph Turpin who became World Middleweight Champion by defeating the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson in July 1951.There is a stunning statue of him in nearby Warwick where he went to school.
In Moreton Street there is a property called The Elephant House and on its huge doors a brightly painted board giving you the history of the circus and the elephants.
Sticking to the back streets we carry on westwards until we reach Clarendon Square, another fabulous example of Leamington’s regency buildings recently being used for the location shots in the TVs series ‘Downton Abbey’.
On the south-side is Napoleon House with a blue plaque that reads: “Napoleon Bonaparte III Emperor of the French stayed here 1838-1839”. He was the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte who stayed in Leamington Spa during his exile from France.
Now lose yourself in the back streets to our right between Warwick Street and Clarendon Avenue because this where you will find where the elephants of Leamington lived.
There are a number of houses here with unusually large double doors, you may think that these were coach houses but, you’d be wrong, this is where our elephants were homed.
Back in Victorian times three of Europe’s largest hotels, The Clarendon, The Regent and The Manor House provided accommodation for the vast number of visitors who came to take the spa waters. TVs and cinemas were not yet around so in the town was a permanent circus to entertain them and as you will have guessed The Elephants of Leamington Spa were a big part of that circus.
There is plenty to keep you occupied in Leamington, you could follow my route, or pick up a recommended walking route from the tourist office or – just follow your nose and explore.
For more information visit Royal Leamington Spa.