Nostalgia: The fount of Harrogate’s enduring appeal

If any one person could be said to have put Harrogate on the map, it was perhaps William Slingsby. He it was who in the late 16th century, having developed a fondness for spa water during a Grand Tour of Europe, happened upon a mineral spring with salts of iron on what is now The Stray.

Harrogate Hydro in Yorkshire, later to become the Old Swan Hotel, pictured circa 1890. It was here that British crime novelist Agatha Christie was found, following her eleven day disappearance in 1926. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

These rarely-seen archive photographs of Harrogate are, of course, of a later vintage but they bear witness to the remarkable development Slingsby set in train.

He had named his source Tewit Well, after a local word for the peewits that flocked to the area, and though it became less well visited than the sulphur springs of Low Harrogate, it can be considered the fount of the town’s enduring appeal.

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In the 18th and 19th centuries, the different waters found in Harrogate were recommended for the treatment of everything from epilepsy to ulcers, and as people flocked there to sample the remedies for themselves, the town mushroomed. Eventually, the Royal Pump Room was built on a grand Victorian scale to replace the earlier Thomas Chippendale structure that had covered the Old Sulphur Well. That was then relocated to Tewit Well, where it remains today.

circa 1928: Harrogate in Yorkshire. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Meanwhile the Pump Room acquired a ritual of its own. Visitors arrived between seven and nine in the morning and drink one or more glasses of water before joining promenaders outside and taking breakfast. The chronically sick would then have hot bath treatments, whilst others went shopping, sightseeing or to a party or two. This went on for at least three weeks at a time – the minimum course doctors recommended.

But it was a privileged way of life that could not survive, and the coming of free healthcare for all after the Second World War, as well as antibiotics and other modern treatments, saw the wells abandoned, one by one.

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circa 1925: A busy street in Harrogate, Yorkshire. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
circa 1910: The new baths in Harrogate, Yorkshire. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A street scene in Harrogate, Yorkshire, circa 1910. (Photo by Alfred Hind Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Aerial view of Harrogate, Yorkshire, circa 1960. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The Hotel Majestic, Harrogate, Yorkshire, circa 1910. (Photo by London Stereoscopic Company/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)