A Brief History of Harrogate
1332 - Earliest surviving documentary evidence of the “Harrogate” name.
1399 - The whole of Harrogate became Royal property when the possessions of the Duchy of Lancaster merged with the English Royal Crown.
1496 - Appointment of the earliest known Harrogate Constable, Robert Mathew.
1571 - William Slingsby of Bilton Park discovered the Tewit Well and declared that the spring waters had health giving properties, similar to the waters in the spas of Belgium. He notified his friend Dr Timothy Bright personal physician to Queen Elizabeth I.
Travellers began to make diversions to visit the Spa located in High Harrogate.
1596 - Dr Bright dubbed Harrogate “The English Spa” the first such application in England.
1626 - Publication of Edmund Deane’s Spadacrene Anglica began to spread the fame of Harrogate Spa.
1631- A second well was discovered close to the Tewit Well by Michael Stanhope. This well was a “Chalybeate” or Iron Spring.
1960 - The town of Harrogate Spa rapidly expanded.
1663 - The first public bathing house was built, by the end of the century there were 20.
High Harrogate was more fashionable than Low Harrogate and it is here that the first hotels were located.
1695 - Low Harrogate’s sulphur well (known as “The Stinking Spaw”) became fashionable and was thought to have fantastic health-giving properties and medical cures.
1700 - Harrogate was well established as a Spa and doctors had produced leaflets about the qualities of the waters.
88 springs were found altogether - 36 in the Valley Gardens.
1778 - The Enclosures Act for the Forest of Knaresborough ensured that the public wells would remain accessible by persuading Parliament to leave 200 acres of the forest which included the principle springs, unenclosed. The Stray - as the area was, and still is known as - is an invaluable asset to Harrogate. Water from the Spa was bathed in as well as drunk.
1788 - High Harrogate Theatre was built.
1805 - The Promenade Inn was built and then opened in 1806. The building was paid for by public subscription and was used as a meeting place for people to make ‘polite conversation’ after taking the waters. The building was also used as a theatre, where in 1884, Lilli Langtry (Mistress of Edward VII) performed “School for Scandal”. Oscar Wilde also gave a lecture on dress. This building is now the Mercer Art Gallery.
1806 - Lord Byron stayed at the Crown Hotel. There is now a plaque outside to commemorate his visit.
1835 - Johnathan Shutt Junior, owner of the Old Swan Hotel discovered that his neighbour Joseph Thackwray manager of the Crown Hotel, intended to build a well, yielding sulphur water and drain the flow of the public well. He already owned private wells and private bathing establishments.
1836 - The Harrogate Advertiser was published for the first time.
1841 - Because of this terrible act and other acts of vandalism to the wells, the Harrogate Improvements act of 1841 was approved. Local senior citizens and local hoteliers petitioned for an Act of Parliament to create a body of Improvement Commissioners to ensure that nobody pirated the precious waters.
1842 - Issac Thomas Shutt was the last of the Shutts to own the Old Swan Hotel. He was a trained architect and surveyor. His plans were used for the design of the new Royal Pump Room Museum to house the old Sulphur Well.
1849 - The first railway terminus was built in Harrogate enabling more visitors to visit the town.
1858 - The first Magnesia Well Pump Room was built. Charles Dickens visited Harrogate, noting, “Harrogate is the queerest place with the strangest people in it, leading the oddest lives of dancing, newspaper reading and dining”.
1860 - Victoria Park company linked the two towns of High Harrogate and Low Harrogate together to form a single modern town.
1878 - The Old Swan Hotel was sold to the Harrogate Hydropathic Company, who planned to build on the site a replica of Dr Smedley’s Hydropathic in Matlock Derbyshire.
The Harrogate Hydropathic had 200 bedrooms, a dining room for 300 hundred “patients”, coal fires in every bedroom and hot and cold running water. Dr Veal came from Cornwall to Harrogate to develop Hydropathic cures. Bathing at the hotel was only in the new suite of medicinal baths. WC’s had extractor fans to combat sulphured hydrogen fumes.
Dr Veal was the first resident doctor at the Harrogate Hydropathic. He instigated strict control over diet, baths, exercise, massage and careful water drinking, which appealed strongly to the Victorian masochistic instincts.
The Harrogate Hydropathic was believed to be the first building in Harrogate to be lit by electricity.
1884 - Harrogate became an incorporated Borough.
1887 - The Valley Gardens were established to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign.
1897 - The Royal Baths opened by HRH The Duke of Cambridge, was the most advances centre for hydrotherapy in the world. The medicinal baths employed bath attendants and masseurs and facilities offered included Turkish baths, rest cubicles, Vichy douches and electric shock baths. The Harrogate Hydropathic began to be known as the Swan Hydro. It was the first of Harrogate’s Hydropathic establishments. Imitations followed but the Swan Hydro was the most successful.
Doctors at this time made their daily rounds of the hotels in a top hat, frockcoat and spats.
1900 - The Grand Opera House opened, now the Harrogate Theatre.
1903 - The Royal Hall opened, originally named “Kursaal” a fashionable German term for a spa assembly hall, before the First World War. Conceived and designed as a “Cure Hall” and created by Britain’s greatest theatre designer Frank Matcham and is the only one built by him.
1913 - The Royal Pump Room was extended with the creation of a glass and iron annex.
1914-18 - The First World War changed the fortunes of the town and the depression of the 30’s accelerated the decline in Spa treatment.
1926 - The missing novelist, Agatha Christie, was found at the Old Swan Hotel (Harrogate Hydropathic as it was known then). Overwork had induced a breakdown and a poster at Waterloo Railway Station advertising Harrogate had made Agatha travel to the town.
On one morning it was recorded that a staggering 1,500 drinks of sulphur water were served from the Royal Pump Room.
1927 - Sir Edward Elgar last visited Harrogate where he stayed at the Majestic Hotel. A walk has been named after him in the Valley Gardens. There is also a plaque in the gardens in memory of his stay.
1933 - The Sun Pavilion and Colonnade were opened in the Valley Gardens by Lord Horder.
1939-45 - During the Second World War various hotels were acquisitioned by Government Departments and many ministerial departments were evacuated to Harrogate.
1940’s - “Mr Harrogate” (Bill Baxter) re-created the town as a conference center. In 1959 a “temporary” exhibition hall was created on the Spa Rooms Gardens.
1960’s - It is traditional for the toy industry to meet in January. Manchester and Leeds could not accommodate the industry, so Geoffrey Wright, the manager of the Old Swan Hotel said that his nursery could be used as a stock room (other hotels had said no to this request). The Old Swan Hotel thus secured Harrogate’s International Toy Fair for the town.
1969 - The Royal Baths closed for all treatments except the Turkish Baths and Harrogate ceased to be a spa town in the true sense of the word.
1977 - The film “Agatha” with Dustin Hoffman and Vanessa Redgrave was made at the Old Swan Hotel and in Harrogate.
1981 - The Harrogate International Conference Center was opened.
1982 - The Eurovision Song Contest was held in Harrogate.
2004 - Nov the fully refurbished Turkish baths reopened and has won a plethora of awards such as “The Spa Traveller Best Day Spa Award”
2011 - The New halls for the Harrogate International Center are opened.