WILD water swimming has certainly caught on recently, but the cold water cure is nothing new – as a fascinating new exhibition at the Ilkley Manor House makes clear.

Mike Dixon launched the event at the coffee morning on 31 May, when a full house was treated to a summary of events before and after the opening of the Ben Rhydding Hydro in 1844: 180 years ago almost to the day.

Ilkley had long been known as a spa, with people going on foot or by donkey up to White Wells to take the water, but hydropathy – or more properly hydrotherapy – took the process to a whole new level and became big business. Treatments were aimed at the “worried well”, who were also wealthy as a stay at the hydro was by no means cheap.

Targeting migraine, lumbago, constipation and all ailments in between involved a rigorous daily regime of trial by water, exercise and plain food washed down by pure water. Ilkley’s water being entirely devoid of any intrinsic curative properties, its purity was the main marketing feature.

Cartoonists had a field day, lampooning patients shivering in a sitz-bath, wrapped in wet sheets, being hosed at varying intensity by distinctly gleeful attendants, deluged in showers or subjected to a compressed air treatment.

Many of these are on show in the Manor House, giving a highly entertaining view of the process, alongside informative contemporary material.

The exhibition runs until July 7, Saturdays and Sundays, 11am to 4pm. For further details, check the website ilkleymanorhouse.org