In the late 16th century a man named William Slingsby drank from a well. He had travelled to several spas and he realised the well water tasted like spa water. Slingsby had discovered the Tewit Well, which is a chalybeate well (one containing iron). People believed that drinking water from such a well would heal sicknesses and Harrogate began to grow into a spa town. Before Slingsby’s time, Harrogate was merely a village near the historic town of Knaresborough.
In 1631, DR Michael Stanhope discovered St John’s Well, the second well and also known as the sweet spa. With this discovery Harrogate began to grow even more.
Harrogate’s name derives from Har-low-Gata meaning Grey-Hill-Road. The name Harlow is still remembered at Harrogate in the Harlow Carr gardens.
During the 17th century Harrogate grew at a slow rate with people bathing in sulphur wells, also known as ‘stinking wells’ in addition to drinkning from the chalybeat wells. In the late 17th century saw the rise of inns where visitors could stay.
In 1778 when a lot of public land was being enclosed and divided up between various people it was decided in Harrogate, that 200 acres would be dedicated to the public now called the Stray.
Harrogate was now developing in to a destination for many reasons, in 1788 Harrogate Theatre was built and where the Mercer gallery now stands was orinignally the Promenade Rooms built in 1806.
By the end of 1830’s over 10000 people were visiting Harrogate a year. 1842 saw the new design of the Royal Pump Room to house the old sulphur well.
Charles Dicken’s visited Harrogate in 1858 and noted “Harrogate is the queerest place with the strangest people in it, leading the oddest lives of dancing, newspaper reading and dining”.
By the 1860’s visitors to Harrogate had trebled to over 30000 a year and with the creation of the Valley gardens in 1887 to commemorate Quenn Victoria’s Golden Jubille this was set to continue to rise.
His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge opened the Royal Baths in 1897 said to be the most advanced centre for hydrotherapy in the world, the medicinal baths employed bath attendants and masseurs, with facilities including Turkish Baths, rest cubicles, Vichy Douches and electric shock baths. Three years later the Grand Opera house was completed now the Harrogate Theatre.
1903 The Royal Hall (originally called the Kursall) was the pplace to go for entertainment with over 75,000 people now visiting Harrogate a year.
During the first world war Harrogate saw a change in it’s visitors from the rich to the middle income and was the only spa in England to make a profit during the war years.
One famous incidient was the disappearance of Agatha Christie in 1926 who was found alive and suffering from amnesia at the Old Swan Hotel (then known as Harrogate Hydro Hotel).
The depression of the 30’s saw a rapid decline of visitors to Harrogate and the take up of spa treatments. But this didn’t stop the opening of the Sun Pavilion and Colonnade by Lord Holder in the Valley Gardens.
During World War 2 many government departs were insitu in Harrogate and the spa industry contniued to decline due to advancements in modern medicine and the new wave of foreign holidays being taken.
The 1950’s saw harrogate Borough Council promoting Harrogate as a conference town using it’s excellent facilities at the Royal Hall and the splendid hotels in the town.
In 1960 the Toy fair first came to Harrogate after Leeds and Manchester failed to accommodate it and has been an important fair for Harrogate ever since and 1966 a second exhibition hall was built a nd a further third hall in 1971.
March 1966 saw the end of spa treatments at the Royal Baths with only the Turkish Baths still being available and Harrogate ceased to be a spa.
The now famous Harrogate International centre comenced building work in 1976 which still stands as the heart of the conference trade in Harrogate.
The fist event at the newly completed Harrogate International Centre was the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest and only 4 years later the harrogate International Hotel (now the Holiday Inn) was open and linked to the conference centre.
The Victoria shopping centre was opened in 1992 in Harrogate town centre and the redevelopment of the Royal Baths starts in 2001 to be fully completed and reopened in 2004. Developers went to great lengths to preserve many of the original features of the Royal Baths.