Cabinet de lecture

Musée de la Ville d’eaux, Spa


28/08 – 14/11/2021,

03/04 – 13/11/2022


Part of 7 Walks (resolution), a research project by Vermeir & Heiremans



Vitrine #03

Water Sources in Spa


The waters of Spa can be subdivided into two categories. On the one hand there are the ferruginous sources generally named ‘pouhon’. The initial exploitation of these sources had a medicinal purpose. Spa was the first to export its sparkling water to nearby regions and then across the whole of Europe, thereby proliferating the growing reputation of its cures. Its healing qualities were promoted in numerous publications since the 16th century.


In 1863 the City of Spa tried to give the communal water sources in concession. All efforts failed because the new concession holders lacked the capital to create a modern bottling company. There was also growing competition. A collaboration between Company de Vichy and the local company Schaltin, Pierry et Cie, created severe competition with the exploitation ambitions of the City of Spa. The use of the words Spa or Pouhon as brand names was also disputed. Issuing certificates and the use of a specific seal, the City hoped to avoid what it considered an act of ‘piracy’.


At the end of the 19th century the pure quality of Spa Reine was discovered, and this is the second category of water in Spa. This slightly mineralised water would form the basis of bottled table water. The First World War had disrupted the Belgian market for bottled table water. This dire situation allowed for the industrial distribution of bottled table water to be organised in Spa. The medicinal reputation of its water gradually transformed into a mere branding quality for its bottled drinking water: natural, pure and healthy.


In 1912 the leasehold of the sources and the thermal baths, that had opened in 1868, had been obtained by the Compagnie Fermière Des Eaux de Spa. In 1921 the Compagnie Fermière became Spa Monopole. As its name indicates, the company was offered a monopoly on the exploitation of the local municipal springs. Former rules of exploitation and taxation that had secured a fair distribution of the income from water as a common among the City, the Church and the poor, were now redefined in a long-term concession between the company and the City of Spa. With each renewal of the contract, a new discussion flamed up questioning to which extent the royalties paid over such a long period of time are a fair contribution to the city resources.





24_Register of the Commune of Spa – 1897


25_Anonymous, Le Perroquet de Spa (Theux, 1785)


26_L.-F Dethier, Le guide des curieux qui visitent les eaux de Spa (Liège: Collardin; Spa: Wolff 1818). Table comparée des divers principes fixes et des proportions de gaz, que présentent les eaux des cinq principales Fountaines minérales de Spa, avec leur différente pesanteur spécifique, suivant le docteur anglais John Ash, d’après les analyses multipliées qu’il en a faites sur les lieux, pendant l’été de 1887.


27_Henry Eyre: Purveyor for Mineral Waters to her Majesty, An Account of the Mineral Waters of Spa, commonly called the German Spaw: being a Collection of Observations from the most eminent Authors who have wrote on the Subject. (London: Roberts, 1733). Facsimile.

Eyre was one of the importers of water in England. The publication is a vivid description of all the qualities of the water of Spa, as attested to by different writers, used as a publicity for his import business.


28_Victor Scheuer, Traité des eaux de Spa. (Bruxelles: Manceaux, 1881)

Image of the Source du Pouhon du Prince de Condé à Spa. This private source was exploited by the Cie Schaltin, Pierry et Cie, in competition with the exploitation of the communal sources on which the City of Spa tried to establish leasehold that offered a monopoly of exploitation.


29_Ville de Spa – Règlement sur l’exportation des eaux minérales (1863)


30_Albin Body, Mémoire à l’appui de la pétition adressée à la Chambre des Représentants par l’Administration Communale de Spa sollicitant un Périmètre de protection pour la source minérale du pouhon (Liège, De Thier, 1877).


31_Gaston Dugardin, Histoire du commerce des eaux de spa (Liège, Vaillant-Carmanne, 1944). Périmètres successifs assurant la protection des sources d’eaux (1889, 1925, 1927, 1934, 1937)

Local historian Albin Body advocated the necessity to protect the water from the sources against different forms of pollution in an essay that he published and distributed among the members of parliament. His arguments were heard and in 1889 a protection perimeter around the Pouhon Pierre-le-Grand was established. At the instigation of Charles de Thier of the Compagnie Fermière, a Technical Committee for the Monitoring of Spa Waters was set up. The Committee intervened effectively to extend the benefits of the protection regime, established in 1889 for the Pouhon, to other sources and above all to the Marie-Henriette source which directly supplied the Etablissement des Bains. All royal decrees on the protection of the communal sources of Spa have been brought together in a portfolio accessible in the exhibition.


32_Seal Pouhon, belonging to M. Jean Lezaack.

From 1634 a type of tax (droit de cachet) compensated the community of Spa, the poor and the church for the use and export of its common resources.


33_City of Spa: Service of the mineral fountain pouhon

34_Tarif: list of prices for the service of mineral drinking of the pouhon

35_Three photos of the Pierre-le-Grand building

In 1717 the Russian Tsar Peter the Great visited Spa to take its waters. His visit made the renown of the city and its sources even greater. Honouring his visit the City named its ‘pouhon’ in the centre after the Russian emperor, Pouhon Pierre-le-Grand. On 4 July 1880 a new building was inaugurated, consisting of a refreshment bar set up in an octagonal pavilion alongside a large room that was for a long time a winter garden frequented during the season.


36_Share of the company Spa Monopole (date unspecified)


37_The most ancient, richest and most celebrated ferruginous springs are the sources of Spa Belgique water.

Folder promoting the quality of the water with a scientific analysis by the universities of Liège and Ghent; description of the curative properties; promotion of the baths of Spa; listing its water sources and different entertainments such as the casino, concerts, public feasts, theater, sports and horse riding. Spa is in direct communication with the whole of Europe by the great railways.


38_Les intérêts communaux Spadois: Un contrat imbuvable (La vie Spadoise, 27 May 1973)




39_Decree of Son Altesse Prince-Bisshop of Liège, 1779.