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How Harrogate became the home of Health and Wellbeing

Outside Pump Room

As we approach the 450th anniversary of the discovery of Spring Water in Harrogate, the Royal Pump Room’s 180th anniversary and Turkish Baths Harrogate celebrates 125 years of welcoming visitors to unwind and enjoy treatments, we take a look back at the history of health and relaxation in our district.

Boggy beginnings

It was William Slingsby, in 1571, who first realised that the natural waters on the boggy land near High Harrogate had similar healthy properties to the waters of the Belgium town, ‘Spa’. It was Spa that gave its name to the mineral waters that are widely believed to have healing powers. 

The waters of Harrogate rise through ancient underground layers of rock before emerging as springs. More springs were discovered in what was known as Low Harrogate making a total number of eighty springs in the town centre, each producing water with a different mineral composition and therefore recommended for different treatments.

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By the late 19th century Harrogate had developed into an elegant spa town, offering the latest treatments and a lively social scene with pump rooms, grand hotels, assembly rooms, shops and theatres. The classic spa became popular with wealthy and aristocratic visitors from across Europe.

Taking the waters

Hygeia Poster Medium

Harrogate was a popular and fashionable place for “taking the waters” a therapeutic activity that involved following an individual prescribed course of treatment usually during a break from your home location. The core treatments would consist of a regime of drinking and bathing in the mineral waters. exercise, fresh air, diet and other elements would also commonly be included.

Originally the waters were taken outdoors in the fresh air in the belief that a cure was more likely if you drank and bathed as close to the spring source as possible. In time, for reasons of modesty, comfort and fashion, more luxurious indoor facilities were built, although an outdoor tap on the Royal Pump Room building still remains today which gave free access for the poorer population.

The Royal Baths

Royal Baths cropped

Towards the end of the nineteenth century Harrogate’s public baths developed with the New Victoria Baths, consisting of treatment rooms, eighteen bathrooms and a bathing pool each for men and women opening in 1871, and the opulent Royal Baths opening in 1897. Harrogate was now at the height of its popularity and one of the most sought after spa resorts in Europe.

Present Day Harrogate

Pump Room Exterior

You can visit the Royal Pump Room Museum in Harrogate today and take a walk through Valley Gardens where you will see the covers that close off many of the springs that rise there. Visit the earliest public spa building, the 1806 Promenade Rooms now home to the Mercer Art Gallery and the last remaining site of Harrogate’s links to its past: the Turkish Baths.

Turkish Baths PSE

Housed in part of the original Royal Baths building and fully restored this relaxing spa experience is both unique and restorative. The district continues to attract visitors looking for a relaxing break that makes them feel good, whether that’s a luxurious spa retreat, a refreshing outdoor activity or finding sanctuary in one of our glorious gardens.

Find inspiration on how you can benefit from a break in the Harrogate district, the perfect place to feel good.

If you are visiting, we love seeing pictures of you exploring the spa heritage of the Harrogate district, be sure to tag us using #MyHarrogate

See more of our spa heritage

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