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Harrogate

Centre of Harrogate

Centre of Harrogate

Harrogate is a town in North Yorkshire, with a population of 75,070 (2016 figure from North Yorkshire population information); Harrogate District's population is 159,800.

Harrogate's mineral waters were discovered in the 1500s, and it grew as a spa town in the 1600s and 1700s. The town's motto is arx celebris fontibus, meaning city famous for its springs. Present-day attractions include the original Bettys tearooms, and RHS Harlow Carr gardens. It was the happiest town in the UK in 2013, and again in 2014.

Many people who live in Harrogate work in Leeds or Bradford. It is relatively prosperous, with an average household income of £41,833 in the Harrogate district. (Source: 'A Profile of the Harrogate District 2011/12'. It also notes that tourism accounts for 25% of the district's economy, and that the conference centre generates £150m in Harrogate). A 2018 county council Local Insight report on Harrogate & Knaresborough shows an average house price of £384,452.

This is a map of Harrogate town centre.

Name and history of Harrogate

St John's Well, Harrogate

St John's Well, Harrogate

The name Harrogate comes from the Anglo-Norse Here-gatte, gatte being the way to, and Here or Herelaw the soldier's hill (now Harlow). So Harrogate could mean 'the way to the soldier's hill.' Another idea is that it means 'the way to the cairn, or heap of stones.' 

Harrogate is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, but it is likely that it existed as a name for many centuries before there was a settlement here. It was part of the Royal Forest of Knaresborough, although it was probably actually a heath, with gorse, bracken, heather, and patches of trees. The first reference to Harrogate in a document, was in 1332, on the roll of the Knaresborough Court. 

The town was created from two hamlets, High Harrogate and Low Harrogate. High Harrogate had the first important building, the chantry chapel, built in 1400, and Low Harrogate probably developed later.

It was the discovery of the first mineral spring in 1571 that was the catalyst for Harrogate's development as a spa town. The waters continued to attract visitors until the early years of the 1900s. See the section below on Harrogate as a spa town.

During World War II, Harrogate's large hotels accommodated government offices evacuated from London. This helped lead to the town's function as a conference and exhibition centre in the post-war years, and up to the present day.

There was also industry in Harrogate - ICI had a plant at Hornbeam Park. Crimplene was invented there in the 1950s, and named after Crimple Beck.

Harrogate hosted the Eurovision song contest in 1982, the year the International Centre opened. It has won various floral competitions, including Britain in Bloom in 2003, and European floral competitions in 1977 and 2004. The cauldron for the London 2012 Olympics was designed and built by Thomas Heatherwick in Harrogate.

Harrogate: places of interest and attractions

Harrogate: Bettys

Betty's Harrogate

In the centre of town, at no.1 Parliament St, is Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms. Founded in Harrogate in 1919 by Frederick Belmont, an orphan from Switzerland, Bettys quickly became very popular, and there are now six Bettys, including in York and Ilkley. As well as the tea rooms, they have a shop selling bread, cakes, biscuits, and chocolates, all made by hand at Bettys craft bakery. Tea and coffee is by Taylors of Harrogate - bought by Bettys in the 1960s. 

There are various possible explanations for the name Bettys, but no-one knows for sure who she was. Could it be that the company's first Board Meeting was interrupted by a little girl called Betty, just as the directors were discussing what to call the business?

Harrogate theatre

Harrogate theatre

Harrogate theatre was designed by Frank Tugwell (who also designed the Savoy theatre in London), and opened in January 1900. Famous actors who have performed in Harrogate include Charlie Chaplin, Arnold Ridley, John Noakes, and Ben Kingsley. One of the highlights of the year is the comedy festival in October.

Harrogate theatre, formerly the Grand Opera

Harrogate: museums and Turkish Baths

Royal Pump Rooms, Harrogate

Royal Pump Rooms, Harrogate

The Royal Pump Room museum takes visitors through the town's past as a spa resort. There's an outside tap, dispensing sulphur water. It was out of action for a long time, but in August 2018 it is working. There's a notice saying it's not fit for human consumption, but in Harrogate's heyday, those taking the cure did consume it.

To experience the town's spa history more actively, take a trip to the Turkish Baths and Health Spa. It is in the restored C19th premises on Parliament Street. After time in the steam room, you can take an invigorating dip into the plunge pool. They also do massages, facials, and a range of spa treatments.

The Mercer Art Gallery is on Swan Road, close to the tourist information and Royal Pump Room. The collection includes Atkinson Grimshaw and Sir Edward Burne-Jones, but is not on permanent display. There are many temporary exhibitions.

Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate

Harrogate: shopping

Victoria Shopping Centre, Harrogate

Harrogate is centred on the War Memorial at Prospect Crescent.

The main shopping area is east from there, on James St, Cambridge St, Oxford St, and Beulah St. There's a WH Smith and a TK Maxx in the Victoria Shopping Centre at the top of Cambridge St. 

Parliament St and the Montpellier Quarter have a number of interesting and upmarket stores.

Montpellier Quarter, Harrogate

Montpellier Quarter, Harrogate

There are quite a few independent and less expensive shops on Cheltenham Parade and the streets off it, such as the lower part of Station Parade, and Commercial Street. 

Harrogate: the Harrogate Convention Centre

Harrogate International Centre

Harrogate Convention Centre is a convention and conference centre, which opened in 1982, and hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in that year. It's the third largest such venue in Britain.

As well as the modern, purpose-built facilities, conferences can book the Royal Hall, a 1000-seater theatre which dates from 1903, and was part of Harrogate's spa facilities. (It was known as the Kursaal until World War I, when its named was changed for reasons of patriotism).

Royal Hall, Harrogate

Royal Hall, Harrogate

A Crowne Plaza hotel is incorporated in the complex.

Holiday Inn, Harrogate

Harrogate: the Great Yorkshire Show

The Great Yorkshire Showground is on the eastern edge of the town, and hosts the annual agricultural show, attracting 130,000 people over three days. The first Great Yorkshire Show was held in York in 1838.

Harrogate: parks and gardens

Harrogate parks and gardens: the Stray

Harrogate Stray

Harrogate Stray came into being in the 1700s. In the 1760s, there was widespread enclosure of Crown lands, for financial returns to the Crown, and to allow private development. Harrogate's wells and springs were on land that was part of the Royal Forest of Knaresborough, and the town depended on public access to them. It would have been very damaging for the land to be divided up and sold off. 

The people of Harrogate made representations to Parliament, and commissioners were appointed to survey the area. They designated 200 acres of land covering the springs, which would:

'...for ever hereafter remain open and unenclosed, and all persons whomsoever shall and may have free access at all times to the said springs, and be at liberty to use and drink the Waters there arising, and take the benefit thereof, and shall and may have use, and enjoy full and free ingress and regress in, upon, and over the said two hundred acres of land...'

The right to the common land was contained in the commissioners' award of 1778. Use of the Stray is now governed by the Stray Act 1985 and bye-laws under it. It's a great place for football, picnics, kite-flying, and walking. It gives Harrogate a special character. 

Harrogate parks and gardens: the Valley Gardens

Magnesia Well Café, Valley Gardens, Harrogate

Magnesia Well café, Valley Gardens, Harrogate

The Valley Gardens is now an area of lawns and flower beds, which begins at the Royal Pump Room, and extends uphill, south west from there, bounded by Valley Drive and Cornwall Road. It includes what used to be called Bogs Field, an area a very high concentration of natural springs, with greatly varying mineral content. Bogs Field was very important in the era of spa tourism.

At the top of the gardens, there are tennis courts, pitch and putt, crazy golf, a skate park, paddling pool, and a children's playground.

Flowers in the Valley Gardens, Harrogate

Harrogate parks and gardens: RHS Harlow Carr

Between the Valley Gardens and Harlow Carr are the Pinewoods, with some lovely paths running through them. Harlow Carr is a delightful garden, which includes water features and woods. It was founded by the Northern Horticultural Society in 1950.

There's an entrance fee, but it's free for RHS members. Bettys have a branch here, for tea, coffee, cakes, and other refreshments.

Harrogate: hotels

Crown Hotel, Harrogate

Harrogate has a number of good hotels, some of them dating from the town's heyday as a spa. 

Hotels in Low Harrogate include The Old Swan, the Crown, and the White Hart (which also houses the popular Fat Badger pub). The Crowne Plaza is right next to Harrogate Convention Centre.

On West Park (right where the Tour de France finished in July 2014) are the Hotel du Vin and the Yorkshire Hotel. On the south eastern edge of Harrogate is Rudding Park, a luxury venue, which was voted best hotel in the UK in the 2013 Trip Advisor Traveller's Choice awards.

Harrogate: sports clubs

Harrogate has two football clubs, Harrogate Town and Harrogate Railway. There's a rugby union team, Harrogate RUFC. For cycling clubs, see our Harrogate Cycling page.

Harrogate: the history of Harrogate as a spa town

Royal Baths, Harrogate

'The queerest place, with the strangest people in it, leading the oddest lives of dancing, newspaper reading, and tables d' hôte.' That was how Charles Dickens described Harrogate when he visited in 1858.

It is perhaps easy to see why he viewed the town as peculiar. Dancing and newspaper reading were part of the ritual, but it was the sulphur water that drew a wealthy clientele to Harrogate. Despite its offensive smell, visitors would drink four or five glasses every day.

Read more about the history of Harrogate as a spa town.

All photos © Hedgehog Cycling

Royal Pump Rooms, Harrogate Centre of HarrogateBettys, Harrogate

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