In 1571 a man named William Slingsby drank from a spring near Knaresborough, and noticed the similarity in taste with Continental spas he had visited. Several years later, Timothy Bright, a physician, declared that the spring water had healing properties, being mostly rich in iron or sulphur. During the 18th and 19th centuries more springs were discovered, especially in Harrogate, and the town developed to become one of Britain's most celebrated spas.
The Tewit Well, the spring discovered by Slingsby and now covered by a pillared dome, and St John's Well, discovered in 1631 by Dr Michael Stanhope, who wrote of its salt-free iron properties, are both located in The Stray area of Harrogate. However, the town's most celebrated mineral spring, a sulphur-well known originally as 'The Stinking Spaw', was discovered near the town centre, and the Royal Pump Room eventually built above it. Now an attraction in its own right, the Royal Pump Room was erected over the spring in 1804, although the mineral waters had long been used before this to treat all manner of ills. At the height of its popularity more than 1000 glasses of sulphur water were served in a single morning, this practice continued well into the 20th century. The pump room today houses a museum of local history, but the original well-head in the basement can still be visited, and the water tasted.
The Royal Baths, opened in 1897, grew to be one of the largest hydrotherapy establishments in the world, offering a profusion of aqua-based treatments for rheumatic complaints ranging from sulphur baths to hot, sulphur-mud poultices. Once the cures were obtainable under the National Health Scheme, the baths lost their popularity and closed down in 1969. However, the Royal Baths Assembly Rooms as they are now called, reopened for use of the delightful Turkish Baths, and the elegant assembly rooms are still used for meetings and conferences. Harrogate has adapted to the changing world by becoming a major business and exhibition centre in the 20th century. The town's main conference building is the, built in 1903. It can seat 1350 people, is Edwardian in style and is adjacent to the newer International Conference Centre.
Harrogate has remained an attractive town down the centuries, and this is due in no small part to the Victorian architecture, which retains an air of dignity. This old world elegance is underlined by the delightful treelined boulevards, with their old-fashioned shops and tea rooms, the sumptuous gardens and the well-planned open spaces - a charming elegance that is most typified by Montpellior Parade. Valley Gardens is a sheltered park, along one side of which runs the Sun Colonnade, a glass-covered walkway 600ft long. This cloistered promenade leads to the Sun Pavilion, a glass-domed building where visitors could dine after taking the waters; light refreshments and concerts are still provided in this beautifully ornate pavilion. Also to be found in the gardens is a green-domed building with a glass-roofed terrace house, this is the Magnesia Well, discovered in 1895; here there are 36 mineral wells all within the space of 1 acre. Water from here was pumped to the Royal Baths Hospital, standing on the fringe of the gardens. A stretch of common land called The Stray, bordering the southern edge of the town centre, comprises some 200 acres of grassland and flowerbeds. It was declared 'open and unenclosed' by an Act of Parliament in 1770, and remains very popular with locals and visitors alike. For many tourists, however, it is the breathtaking views seen across the Yorkshire Dales, from such vantagepoints as Birk Crag, which remain in the memory longest.
Near by is the old market town of Knaresborough, with its narrow streets and Georgian houses, dominated by the ruins of a Norman castle, partly demolished by the Roundheads. Steep steps and charming alleyways, lead down to the sleepy River Nidd. The damp and eerie Dropping Well is hung with curious objects, solidified by lime in the water. The strange prophetess, Mother Shipton, is said to have been born in a lane nearby, in 1488. Knaresborough's old courthouse, dating from the 14th century, has the original courtroom preserved.
To the north of Harrogate is the village of Ripley, remodelled in 1827 to resemble a French village in Alsace Lorraine. In the cobbled square are the old stocks and the village cross, while close by stands the 16th century Ripley Castle; now a museum, the gatehouse may date from 1450. In 1644, the Ingilby family, who have lived in the castle for generations, took up the Royalist cause and were defeated. Ripley Church bears reminders of the battle, for its walls are scarred with bullet holes made when Cromwell's troopers executed several Ripley men captured at Marston Moor. The church contains tombs of the Ingilby family from the 14th century onwards.
The above photographs appears by courtesy of www.yorkshire-dales.com