A Brief History of Harrogate

Feb 27, 2018

Sitting at the gateway to the sweeping beauty of the Yorkshire Dales, quiet Harrogate is one of the jewels in the White Rose’s crown. But the fascinating history of this stunning town is overlooked by many, despite there being more than a few relics of the past in its most iconic areas.

Famed for its Victorian spa town roots and elegant architecture, this charming town has drawn visitors from far and wide for centuries.

Consistently voted “the happiest place to live” in Britain, Harrogate is a classically British blend of dainty flower gardens, stylish terraces and demure tearooms.

Home to RHS Harlow Carr and the iconic Betty’s cafe, Harrogate is an ideal spot for a weekend escape.

Harrogate’s origins can be traced back to two small medieval settlements located in the vast forest that once covered this area of the Dales.

High Harrogate and Low Harrogate, as the two settlements would come to be known, eventually merged to form an early iteration of the town as it is today.

It was during the 16th century that the first mineral springs were discovered. Now synonymous with the town, the water was rich in chalybeate and sulphur and was lauded for its alleged health benefits.


William Slingsby is credited with the discovery, allegedly tapping the first mineral well here in 1571.

Visitors flocked to the twin hamlets from far and wide, all keen to feel the revitalising effects of Harrogate’s spa water at one of the area’s new public baths.

A link between the two Harrogate’s was established in the late 18th century. Dubbed The Stray, 200 acres of public parkland was set aside to ensure that the areas many visitors would always be able to travel to the restorative spa wells.

Once a mile apart, the twin spas were now linked by well-planted public parkland and the unified town of Harrogate was born.

Georgian-style theatres, hotels and pump rooms were added to the booming town, with many of these elegant buildings still standing today.

Harrogate remained an attractive retreat for the English elite at the turn of the 19th century.

Betty’s, the Yorkshire institution, first opened its doors in 1919, initially as a craft bakery and small tearoom.

With the onset of the War years, visitors to the Yorkshire town waned. Harrogate’s stunning Pump Room and Georgian-style hotels ceased to operate, being converted into restaurants, museums and retail outlets.

Many of these hotels lent themselves to holding large conferences and public events, which proved beneficial during WWII, with Harrogate doubling as an office for many government branches moved out of London.

Conferences and event hosting breathed new life into the town and kept it afloat until the coming of tourism could really take hold.

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