The Harrogate Museums and Arts column with May Catt

An artists impression of the Harrogate Pump Room in 1853.
An artists impression of the Harrogate Pump Room in 1853.

I am delighted to be starting a new monthly column here to share news of our exciting plans to transform the Royal Pump Room Museum. The museum was last updated in 1987, so the displays are in need of a revamp.

Space is cramped and interpretation outmoded with limited access to the wells, none of which do Harrogate justice.

May Catt, curator at Harrogate Museums and Arts.

May Catt, curator at Harrogate Museums and Arts.

So what might a new and improved museum look like? Imagine for a moment that it’s 2020. You’re visiting the Royal Pump Room Museum with a friend.

You step inside the original entrance to the 1842 octagonal room, and make your way to the centre of the room and the original Victorian serving desk – also octagonal in shape to reflect the architecture of the building – to be welcomed by staff.

The room is set up like a cafe just as it was first intended and as soon as you sit down you dare your friend to take a sip of the sulphurous water, just like so many visitors to Harrogate before you.

After a quick coffee and perhaps a cake or some fudge to take the taste away, you head down into the basement, by lift if you can’t manage the stairs, to see the original wells in situ.

Together you step onto some of the original pavement to discover how these wonderful waters made Harrogate famous for health and happiness and much else besides.

Next it’s time to go back upstairs and into the 1913 glass extension, originally built to accommodate even more eager sulphur water drinkers, and find invigorating displays from the discovery of the waters to the present day.

What is Harrogate and what has it been like to live and visit here over the centuries?

What has and does it mean to people?

What sort of treatments did people receive and did they work?

What’s Ancient Egypt doing here?

Imagine the building beautifully illuminated at night too, a beacon of both the heritage of Harrogate and its ongoing significance today, part of a wider landscape including the Valley Gardens where visitors to the Pump Room were encouraged to stroll after taking the waters.

Back in the here and now we have commissioned an architect and museum designer to create initial designs.

This means that we can put a cost on our vision and begin our fundraising in earnest.

We plan to submit a round one Heritage Lottery Fund application next year too.

In the next few weeks and months we’ll be taking to the road with these initial designs to find out what people think.

We are continuing with our public consultation work, looking not just to people who know about us but also to those that don’t, making sure that we create a museum with lasting appeal and creating real value for money for local people as well as a first port of call for tourists.

Next year we will be celebrating the Museum’s 65th birthday. Like many local authority collections new acquisitions faltered in the 1960s, so we are also considering crowdsourcing new donations to bring our fashion collections up to date and relevant for our audiences both now and in the future.

The museum is vital for both tourism and local people and to communities who might think the museum is not for them.

We are building on what makes Harrogate irresistible, so that the crowds again gather at the Royal Pump Rooms, just as they did in the past. Please get in touch via email at: may.catt@harrogate.gov.uk.