The Old Swan and Harrogate Spa have a fascinating history which you sense when you visit the hotel.
In 1571 William Slingsby of Bilton Park discovered the Tewit Well and declared that the spring waters had ‘health giving properties’. Travellers began to make diversions to visit the Spa located in High Harrogate.
In 1631, a second well was discovered close to the Tewit Well by Michael Stanhope. From 1660 The town of Harrogate Spa rapidly expanded, and in 1663 the first public bathing house was built. By the end of the Century there were 20. Because of the bathing houses, High Harrogate was more fashionable than Low Harrogate and it is here that the first hotels were built. Then, in 1695, Low Harrogate’s Sulphur Well (known as ’The Stinking Spaw’ and for good reason) became fashionable and was thought to have superb health-giving properties and medical cures. By 1700 Harrogate was well established as a Spa and doctors had produced leaflets about the qualities of the waters. 88 springs had been discovered altogether - 36 in Valley Gardens. Water from the Spa was bathed in as well as drunk.
In 1805, The Promenade Inn was built by public subscription and was used as a meeting place for people to make ‘polite conversation’ after taking the waters. This building was also used a theatre, where in 1884, Lilli Langtry (Mistress of Edward VII) performed ‘School for Scandal’. Oscar Wilde also gave a lecture here on dress. This building is now the Mercer Art Gallery. Then competition hotted up. In 1835 Jonathan Shutt Junior, owner of a very different The Old Swan Hotel, discovered that his neighbour Joseph Thackwray, manager of the Crown Hotel, intended to build a well, yielding sulphur water and drain the flow of the public well. He already owned private wells and private bathing establishments. 1842 Isaac Thomas Shutt - a trained architect and surveyor and the last of the Shutts to own the Old Swan Hotel – devised plans which were used for the design of the new Royal Pump Room Museum, to house the old Sulphur Well.
In 1878, The Old Swan Hotel was sold to the Harrogate Hydropathic Company, who planned to build on the site a replica of Dr Smedley’s Hydropathic in Matlock, Derbyshire. The Harrogate Hydropathic had 200 bedrooms, a dining room for 300 ‘patients’, coal fires in every bedroom and hot and cold running water. Dr Veale came from Cornwall to Harrogate to develop Hydropathic cures. Bathing at the Hotel was only in the new suite of medicinal baths. WC’s had extractor fans to combat sulphured hydrogen fumes. Dr Veale was the first resident doctor at the Harrogate Hydropathic. He instigated strict control over diet, baths, exercise, massage and careful water drinking, which appealed strongly to the Victorian masochistic instincts. The Harrogate Hydropathic was believed to be the first building in Harrogate to be lit by electricity. In 1886 William Grainge wrote: ‘ The Harrogate Hydropathic Establishment is now a building of gigantic proportions; and occupying a fine commanding situation, and nicely situated in its own grounds, it has become a public favourite. It is possessed of all the appliances and conveniences found in such establishments and is most extensively patronised.’ The Harrogate Hydropathic began to be known as the Swan Hydro. It was the first of Harrogate’s hydropathic establishments. Imitations followed but the Swan Hydro was the most successful.
Doctors at the time made their daily rounds of the hotels in a top hat, frock coat and spats. During the Second World War various hotels were acquisitioned by Government Departments and many ministerial departments were evacuated to Harrogate. In the 1960s it became traditional for the toy industry to meet in January. Manchester and Leeds could not accommodate the conference, so Geoffrey Wright, the Manager at The Old Swan Hotel, said that his nursery could be used as a stock room (other hotels had said no to this request).The Old Swan Hotel secured Harrogate the International Toy Fair for the town.
In 1977 The film ‘Agatha’ with Dustin Hoffman and Vanessa Redgrave was made at the Old Swan Hotel and in Harrogate.
Some of the treatments offered in the Spas of Harrogate included: Saline Sulphur Baths - Used for gout, rheumatism and hepatic disorders. Alkaline Sulphur Electric Baths - Constant, interrupted and sinusoidal currents used for muscle weakness and muscle atrophy Carbonic Acid (Nauheim) Baths - Both ’still’ and ’aerated’ baths used for heart disease. Harrogate Massage Douche (Aix System) - The patient would be seated on a wooden stool or recline on a board, a continuous needle spray would be directed against their spine and a massage carried out under a warm douche in a flexible tube by the attendant. This treatment was used for gout, arthritis and lumbago. ’Plombieres’ - Intestinal Lavage Treatment - a combined bath and sub-aqueous douche, used for constipation and mucous colitis. Peat Baths - These baths were used to treat muscular rheumatism, lumbago and sciatica. Bergonie Treatment - The rhythmic and graduated exercise of muscles by stimulation used for obesity, insomnia and muscular and nervous afflictions.
You’ll be pleased to know that at The Old Swan we now recommend a relaxing stay, great food and an excellent night’s sleep!
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