THIS strangely historic glass tap has just come back to Croft Spa from where it was rescued from some ruins 50 years ago, and it will be on display at an open garden this weekend.

For 150 years, the village of Croft-on-Tees, three miles to the south of Darlington, was renowned for having the healthiest water in the country gushing out of its soil, even if that water did have an unpleasantly eggy farty whiff to it.

People came from all over to bathe in the water and even to drink it – and if they drank it at the New Spa, it would have been delivered to their cup out of this very glass tap.

The New Spa was built in the late 1820s and demolished in the 1960s, but Billy Raw, whose family ran a corner shop on the County Durham side of the river, somehow managed to rescue the tap which could well be 190 years old.

His son, Jimmy, now lives in Newcastle after leaving the banks of the Tees when he was 16, but he returned this week to celebrate his 80th birthday at the Clow Beck House, the bed and breakfast hotel in the village.

And he brought the tap with him to return it whence it came. It will be on display on Sunday afternoon at Croft Hall, which was the home of generations of Sir William Chaytors who tried to exploit the whiffy waters on their estate.

The first of these was the Sir William (1639-1721) who inherited Croft from his uncle in 1664. However, his aunt Agnes felt she should have inherited the estate and so her husband, Sir Frances Liddell, hired a gang of colliers in Newcastle, dressed them as soldiers, and pretended to march them off to Hull to support the king. However, they got as far as Croft and took possession of Croft Hall.

Sir William, though, crawled back into his own hall through a cellar window and drove out the invaders.

Having seen off Aunt Agnes, Sir William’s sister, Anne, decided some of the estate was due to her and so she sued him. A court ordered he pay her £500-a-year. He couldn’t, so he was seized in Croft and carted off to the debtors’ prison, Fleet, in London, in 1700.

Was it just coincidence, then, that the impecunious Sir William began to try to make money out of his whiffy waters? He claimed that since the 1670s they had been miraculously healing all sorts of nasty ailments – from skin complaints to scrofula, from indigestion to constipation. He built the first spa so that tourists could visit to the take the water, and by 1713 he had Croft water for sale in expensive flasks in the Golden Key hotel in Ludgate Hill, London.

His grandson was the next Sir William (1771-1849) who tried to make money out of the waters. He was born in Spennithorne Hall, in Wensleydale, and he worked his estate’s leadmines until they were exhausted. Then, in 1816, he bought Witton Castle near Bishop Auckland to see if he could apply his mining skills to winning coal – he became the first chairman of the Stockton & Darlington Railway to help him transport it to market.

He also tried to exploit the family’s whiffy waters, building the first hotel beside Croft bridge in 1808 to accommodate guests and hypochondriacs.

But he wanted more. He remembered his grandfather’s belief that, due to the geology of the area, there could be an even better source of water.

So he began drilling, and in 1826, he punctured an aquifer 26 fathoms down (that’s 156ft or 47.5 metres) which sent up such a high pressured spurt that the drilling rig was blown out of the ground.

By happy coincidence, this water was found to be even more efficacious in treating a variety of health problems than that in the Old Spa, and there was an endless spurting supply of it, so Sir William got Ignatius Bonomi to build the New Spa buildings over the top of it.

He channelled the waters from one of the other wells, the Canny Well, down to it through lead pipes and out through glass taps.

So now Sir William had an early health resort: you could bathe in the heated spa waters, you could plunge into the cold bath and you could drink the waters to your heart’s content. In 1835, he got Bonomi to build a larger hotel beside the bridge ready for the opening of the first stretch of East Coast Main Line between Darlington and York in 1841. In 1846, the railway brought 800 visitors to experience the health-giving effects of Croft water.

The Hurworth doctor, Dr Thomas Dixon Walker, a great proponent of the waters, described this health resort: “The New Spa consists of 12 rooms opening off a long corridor and including shower baths and a fine cold plunge 5ft deep which is supplied from the Canny Well spring in the wood behind. Bathrooms and dressing rooms are kept in admirable order with every comfort and convenience in the way of carpets, chairs, dressing tables, mirrors etc. The hot baths consist of strong sulphur water pumped from its source into a cistern after which it is heated by steam.

“This water is considered to be the strongest in GB. In colour it is a very peculiar dull blue tint, almost like the colour of a jellyfish and of the same opaque appearance. If a glassful is exposed to the air, it becomes almost milk white and forms a deposit of fine white sulphur. Its constant temperature is 52 degrees when cold.

“The sulphur water should be drunk shortly before meals, before breakfast by preference, one half pint at a time. This should be repeated two or three times a day when in a short space of time the drinker ought to feel like a giant refreshed.”

Perhaps it was because of the mineral content of the waters that the taps had to be made of glass rather than a corrodible metal.

In the 20th Century, the rather farty waters of Croft fell out of favour, and the New Spa was demolished in the 1960s – but, fortuitously, Billy Raw rescued the cold water glass tap. It will be on display at Croft Hall on Sunday afternoon when the grounds are open to the public as part of the National Open Gardens Scheme.

The hall has been the home of generations of Chaytors dating back to the 13th Century. Part of it is 15th Century although the Georgian frontage that you see as you crunch down the gravel drive towards the gardens was probably added by Bonomi, the Durham cathedral architect, at the same time as he was building the New Spa for Sir William.

l The five acre garden at Croft Hall is open on Sunday from 2pm to 5pm. Admission is £5 for adults, with children free. All proceeds go to St Peter’s Church in the village. There will be plenty of tea and cake, and one extremely old glass tap…