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Harrogate Story 






The Baths and Wells 

In a sense, Harrogate became a property-owner once again in 1841; for an important reason for the setting up of the Commissioners was that they should control the medicinal wells. The Act had given them authority to borrow 3,000, and this they exercised immediately, for accommodation at the Old Sulphur Well was then quite inadequate, as can be judged by the present Tewit Well, to which the old dome was removed in 1842. A new structure, designed by Isaac Thomas Shutt (of the family at the Swan) was decided on "to hold 150 people." Incidentally, this first undertaking proved a serious threat to the stability of the new government, for four of its members, much preferring another design that had been submitted and feeling convinced that favouritism had been shown, resigned almost at once. They were amongst the leading Commissioners: John Dearlove, of the Queen, who had been the most active opponent of Joseph Thackwray in the law-suit of 1837; the Rev. Thomas Kennion, vicar of Christ Church; John Green Paley, the rather autocratic 'but public-spirited master of Oatlands; and Nicholas Carter, rising builder and innkeeper, of the Prospect, who was destined to become the first Mayor. Two of these eventually accepted re-election, considering that their protest against the introduction of family interests into local government to have been sufficient to prevent a recurrence. 

The Sulphur Well, with its new covering, was equipped with a pump and re-named the Royal Pump Room. This change in the method of supply offended those who had previously vaunted this sulphur water as "natural," because drawn from an open spring, and had asserted that any mechanism would destroy its virtue. The tactful Commissioners allowed doubting clients to ladle it themselves from a spring in the basement. 

The Tewit Well and the St. John's Well, which got a new cover also designed by Shutt, were let from the beginning on a yearly tenancy, but until 1845 the Commissioners took into their own hands the management of the Royal Pump Room. They appointed a supervisor, and, at first, three "well women." One of the latter was Elizabeth Lupton, who had long served at the old well. She was retired, near the end of the 1843 season, on a pension of 1s a day. A man was also employed, during the popular early morning session, to work the new pump, receiving 6d a day. After 9-30 a.m. the "out-well" (that is, the outside pump) was in use and there was an attendant for this, too. One disappointed woman applicant for this post annoyed the Commissioner for months, it needing a Court action and, eventually, police help to restrain her. There was trouble also with the well women themselves, for in 1844 they had to be ordered not to beg either inside or outside the drinking room. Later, all servants of the Commissioners were forbidden to accept any perquisite. 

The supplies of sulphur water were jealously guarded: attendants must not send "bottles or jugs" of it from the room. This order appears to have been ineffective, for legal proceedings were taken against bottling and even barrelling the water. In 1845, the Commissioners compromised by permitting bottling provided the profits were handed over. 

The Commissioners themselves, their Clerk and their Treasurer, every local doctor, together with the families of all of these, were served at the Pump Room free. Nicholas Carter, when he was again a Commissioner, failed in his plea that this privilege should be given up. But perhaps something could be said for his opponents' point of view. The unpaid members of bodies such as the Workhouse Committee and the Audit Committee that followed it still observed the long-established custom of holding their business meetings in hotels and had the wine bill settled from public funds. The Commissioners did not, but rented a room of their own - at 4 10s. a year, with " fire and candle." The substitution (for spirits) of sulphur water (the official charge for which was 3d. a day) was a step towards economy and, quite possibly, a healthier public service. Knowing how short the public memory is for its benefactors, the Commissioners also took the precaution of having their names inscribed on a tablet in the Pump Room, at a cost (to the public) of ten guineas. 

In view of their many other duties they soon found the cares of managing the Pump Room too much for them. In 1846, they let it to their late Superintendent, John Fletcher, at a rental of 420 a year. Their printed balance sheet for the year 1844-45 gives the receipts at the Pump Room as 516. As Fletcher had had a wage of only a pound a week as a paid official, and as the receipts could be counted on to mount year by year, the new arrangement was probably satisfactory to him as well as to the Commissioners. 

The Commissioners' first Clerk was a highly reputed local solicitor; their Treasurer was also a solicitor, and later they appointed an Auditor. These were salaried but, of course, not full-time, officers. A wage-earning Collector was appointed for their Rate. To meet the cost of getting the 1841 Act through Parliament, a rate of 1s in the pound had had to be levied, and the improvements suggested by the full title of the Commissioners could not always be paid for out of income or permitted borrowing. 

The Wells that were outside the Stray and that had been developed later than the Award of 1778 - that is, the Cheltenham and Montpellier Spas - the Commissioners left in private hands, though they made one serious attempt to purchase the latter. They did, however, buy the Crescent hotel, which had its own medicinal spring, and the thirty-year-old Victoria Baths alongside, in 1868-70. In 1871, they began their greatest building undertaking, that of the new Victoria Baths, which were to remain until the present Municipal Buildings were built in 1931. Part of the gardens in front of the latter is the old Crescent site. 

The Commissioners shared with the Committee of the Bath Hospital in improving the wells in the Bogs, and in making a road from them to Cornwall Road (then the Irongate Road). Near this road they erected the still existing Magnesia Pump Room in 1858. 

The minutes of the early meetings of the Commissioners show how pre-occupied they were with the idea that they must prevent injury to the Wells. They insisted on their legal right to prohibit, within a radius of 300 yards (in 1866, extended to 600) of the Royal Pump Room, the sinking of wells, and the making of deep drains or house-foundations, and cellars. They occasionally allowed exceptions to their own rule, considering each case on its merits; but they ordered a considerable number of wells and drains to be filled in, and they prevailed on the Duchy of Lancaster to insert appropriate restrictive clauses when it leased its land to builders.  




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