ONCE described as “a little, old and ragged village” Ilkley changed dramatically in the 19th Century to become an elegant spa town.

As the rich and famous flocked to the town to take the “water cure” Ilkley was soon unrecognisable from the place described in Calvin Colton’s Four Years in Great Britain, published in the 1830s.

Imposing hydros sprang up, with the Ben Rhydding Hydropathic Hotel ultimately giving its name to the area then known as Wheatley. The equally impressive Wells House Hydro counted Charles Darwin among its visitors. Among the many other Victorian visitors to the town was Madame Tussaud.

The town’s reputation as a health resort flourished, and its prosperity was aided by the arrival of the railway in 1865.

An image of Wells House, opened in 1856, can be seen top left, while photographs taken well over a century ago show what life in the town used to look like.

Three scenes are from the Sally Gunton collection. One shows Station Road and the others show The Grove. The Spa Hydro can be seen in one of the images - only a pair of white gate posts are left today. The bottom right photograph, from historian Alex Cockshott, shows visitors to the town enjoying a game of croquet, with the White Wells in the background.