Royal Leamington Spa…proud past, exciting present, fascinating future
In 1838, Queen Victoria granted the Royal Warrant to Leamington Spa. From that day onward it was Royal Leamington Spa.
In 1988, Queen Elizabeth II visited the town to unveil a plaque commemorating the 150th anniversary of the charter. The plaque sits proudly in the Town Hall, overlooking the Parade along which both monarchs travelled.
If either of their Majesties revisited Royal Leamington Spa in 2023, they would still recognise much: the handsome Town Hall; the Parade with its broad sweep of shops and cafes; magnificent Jephson Gardens; the elegant Pump Rooms. But they would also find a town which is fast-evolving. A place which embraces the future as passionately as it celebrates its history.
It was the creative entrepreneurial spirit within Leamington that first put the spa into this spa town. Acquisition of the Royal Warrant was driven not by the pursuit of status but by a culture of health and wellbeing. That culture still resonates. Creativity is threaded through the town’s history. It has a resounding track record of innovation, from automotive design to abstract art and from developing World War II camouflage to leadership in the 21st century digital creative sector.
Leamington Spa has a strong economy and vibrant business community and the reason for that transcends economic factors. It’s also about quality of life with a remarkably broad hospitality and shopping offer – 70 per cent of the town’s businesses are independent.
“It’s a town with excellent DNA,” said Stephanie Kerr, executive director at BID Leamington. “It really is a lovely place to live and work, and a wonderful place to visit. We are very lucky here because the town is so well-connected, externally and internally. It is very walkable and its wider links to cities, airports and universities are excellent.
“Of course, we are not immune to the challenges that are facing all town centres these days, but we are reacting to them. Businesses here are positively responding in a very creative and proactive way. There are also a number of exciting developments coming down the track for Leamington.”
Those developments include major projects powered by £10 million from the Future High Streets Fund. These improvements to the Town Hall and transformation of the Grade Two-listed United Reformed Church into state-of-the-art workspaces. Meanwhile, private investment is flowing into the town centre. Video game giant Sumo Digital has leased the top two floors of the newly renovated former House of Fraser department store on the Parade in a move which will bring 400 jobs later this year.
Supporting this investment is the legacy of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022. The town hosted the bowls events at the Games and thousands of visitors were greeted by new signage around the town centre and an attractive new railway station forecourt.
Nearby, the green spaces of the ‘Spa Gardens’ extend through the heart of town alongside the River Leam. The Pump Room Gardens stretch from the historic Pump Rooms which were recently refurbished with a £1.4million Heritage Lottery Fund grant. The public realm space at Livery Street has become a renowned foodie hub while Jephson Gardens offer architectural features of a grandeur which convinced rock band Ocean Colour Scene to pose there for the cover of their 1996 album Moseley Shoals. Overlooking all is a Corinthian-style temple housing a marble statue of the eponymous Dr Henry Jephson whose mission, during 60 years as a Leamington resident (1818-1878) was to promote the healing properties of the towns’ spa waters. That drive for wellbeing continues to shape the town today.
Sport and leisure has long been integral to Leamington life. Victoria Park has hosted many national and international bowls tournaments. In 1872 the world’s first Lawn Tennis Club was formed in the town and ten years later Warwickshire County Cricket Club was founded at a meeting in the Regent Hotel. Leamington Football Club, nicknamed ‘the Brakes’ after a core product of industrial giant Automotive Products which employed thousands in the district for decades, is a great example of a small business supporting the local community.
Leamington also benefits from supportive local authorities. Warwickshire County Council, principally through its towns and regeneration teams, and Warwick District Council are deeply involved in numerous programmes and initiatives around the town. These include the Mill Street Exchange, an advice shop staffed by members of the County Council’s Economy & Skills team set in the public area at One Mill Street, a privately-run co-working space which has an immensely positive and supportive community of entrepreneurs and small businesses.
For centuries, Leamington has drawn visitors from across the world for both business and leisure purposes. In the last 30 years, another string has been added to its bow as it emerged as a hotbed of digital creative excellence and the Video Game Development Sector, in particular. Leamington’s tech sector has been entrusted with the legacy of some of the most famous characters in the world. Mickey Mouse, Shrek, Sonic the Hedgehog and Pac-Man have all continued their adventures in video game studios in the centre of town. With over 3,500 employees across 83 studios, Leamington Spa is the largest games cluster outside London & the South West in the UK, equating to well over 10% of the total game development employment in the country. There’s no doubting that Royal Leamington Spa is a global powerhouse of video game development. Queen Victoria might need a bit of time to gen up on the subject, but she would definitely approve…!