A day at the spa: not for the faint hearted

With the discovery of a mineral water well in 1571, Harrogate became England’s first spa. Yet in the middle of the 19th century, by which time it had many competitors, it was not what might be called a typical English spa.

The majority of British spas had, with varying degrees of success, modelled their developments on Bath, with the construction of baths, pump rooms, assembly rooms, formal social structures, ample housing development, and speculative freedom.

By the opening of the railway era, tastes had changed, and the new seaside resorts proved a severe challenge to the traditional spas. Harrogate, however, had never been a traditional spa, and right up to the 1841 Harrogate Improvement Act, it remained undeveloped and informal.

Popular treatments included a paraffin wax treatment, preparation for an intestinal lavage treatment, a sulphur bath and a cold douche. To the uninitiated, the treatments often seemed strange rituals to be endured rather than enjoyed. So, in descriptions of a first visit, the whole bathing process has frequently been seen as a target for gentle humour.

The Turkish Baths in Harrogate were re-developed in 2004 and today consist of several treatment rooms and a spa offering massages, facials, Reiki and reflexology. How things have changed through the centuries. 

Any comments? Email vcarley@mashmedia.net

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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