England & Wales Communities and society, Housing and planning, Personal and organisational development

A History of Local Government in Ten Buildings: Harrogate’s Royal Pump Room


Did you know that British local authorities own castles, ice rinks, football clubs and even miniature railways? Councils have some unusual assets, brimming with cultural and economic value and we’d like to find out more. What other interesting council buildings are out there? In what innovative ways can councils use these properties? This week we are launching the local government space race to celebrate local government’s unexpected assets.

A few weeks ago LGiU were lucky enough to hold a reception in the Harrogate Borough Council’s Royal Pump Room Museum. We were heading to the Yorkshire spa town for LGA conference and were keen to tap into Harrogate’s distinctive sense of place.

The Pump Room is quaint and intriguing: it made a great talking point, especially as we were given free reign to explore the museum’s displays. Our visit happily coincided with the ‘Harrogate Stories’ exhibition, which presents local histories and delves into what makes Harrogate Harrogate.

We learned some interesting facts about our venue. The Royal Pump Room was originally built in 1842 as a shelter for affluent visitors who had come to ‘take the waters.’ The bathing house was a hit and, at its peak, welcomed 15,000 visitors per summer. Indeed, the glass annexe was added in 1913 to cope with rising demand. But the Pump Room’s popularity would not last forever. During the interwar years, visitor numbers declined and, at the end of the Second World War, the pumping equipment was decommissioned.

After closing, the Pump Room spent a few brief and unsuccessful years in private hands, functioning as a café and then a storage facility. The local authority took control, restoring the Pump Room and reopening the old bathing house as Harrogate’s museum in 1953. Sixty-two years later, the museum continues to attract tourists and remains a popular venue for local government events.

Indeed, Harrogate Council’s building provided an interesting space to draw together local government leaders, chief execs and policy thinkers. Our quirky venue stimulated creative conversation, and provided a pleasant atmosphere for our reception.

The Royal Pump Room is a valuable asset for the council. The building is instrumental in creating a sense of place in Harrogate and is a practical resource for those of us working in local government. We think that, where appropriately managed for the benefit of the community, local authorities’ unusual spaces should be a cause for celebration.

Our evening at the Pump Room got us thinking, what exactly is the value of local authority assets? What other unusual council-owned buildings are out there? How are these spaces being used? Can a new approach to space encourage creative thinking?

Does your council have a quirky building? Tweet us a picture or add it to the gallery.