Don’t drink the water

Royal Pump Room, Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Royal Pump Room, Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Harrogate’s unique selling point as a spa is the sheer variety of its mineral springs.

The original spring that William Slingsby’s horse tripped over in 1571 was chalybeate, or iron-bearing:  this is now known as Tewit Well.  During the Thirty Year’s War, a “stinking well” at “old Haregate-head” was developed:  this Old Sulphur Well lies beneath the later Royal Pump Room which is now a museum [].

Lady Elmes’ experience of the “nasty Spaw” and of her lodgings in 1665 suggests a degree of stoicism:

The first inst we arrived att the nasty Spaw, and have not began to drinke the horid sulfer watter, which all thowgh as bad as posable to be immajaned, yet in my judgment plesant, to all the doings we have within doorse, the house and all that is in it being horidly nasty and crowded up with all sorte of company, which we Eate with in a roome as the spiders are redy to drope into my mouthe, and sure hath nethor been well cleaned nor ared this doseuen yerese, it makes me much moare sicke than the nasty water.

Celia Fiennes, visiting in 1697, couldn’t persuade her horse to go anywhere near the sulphur well, yet considered the disgusting waters “a good sort of Purge if you can hold your breath so as to drinke them down”.

Traditionally, anyone is free to try the waters from a tap outside the Royal Pump Room.  Within the museum I have seen ladies behind a counter, bearing Mona Lisa smiles, prevailing on visitors to sample the water.

This is a characteristic Yorkshire welcome.

John Watson, former Conservative MP for Skipton & Ripon, told of one of his helpers, no doubt wearing his election rosette, calling at a pub between Skipton and Barnoldswick which advertised “A pie, a pint and a friendly word.”

The pie and a pint were served without a word.

“What about the friendly word?” he asked.

“Don’t eat the pie,” said the landlord.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on spas and holiday resorts, please click here.

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