The History of Valley Gardens, Harrogate

valley gardens harrogate history main

By Malcolm Neesam

Before the Great Award of 1778, every square inch of Harrogate belonged to the Crown through the Duchy of Lancaster inheritance, but in 1778 when the Crown sold off much of its land, the area of the present Valley Gardens was divided between the various bidders for the freeholds – apart, that is, from a triangular-shaped field that contained many of the then known mineral wells, which because of its public importance was designated part of Harrogate’s Stray.

The mineral wells had converted the field into a kind of marsh or bog, which gave rise to the name ‘Bogs Field’. Visitors wanting to reach Bogs Field used a footpath across land held by the vicar of Pannal, which ran from Bogs Field to the famous Old Sulphur Well and the Royal Pump Room.

Beneath the Sun Pavilion’s art deco dome
(Copyright Harrogate Convention Centre)

“Beautifully restored”

Over the decades, the footpath became well used, and after the 1841 Harrogate Improvement Act created the Improvement Commissioners, one of their earliest Acts was to embellish the footpath with plantings.

Gradually, the authorities added more land around the footpath until in 1886–7 they felt the time was ripe for a competition to lay out the whole area as a landscaped garden. From that time to the present, the Valley Gardens have matured and developed, although the percentage of land devoted to formal flower beds has been reduced since 1974, when the reform of local government meant that resources had to be spread across the entire Harrogate District, including Boroughbridge, Knaresborough, Masham, Pateley Bridge and Ripon.

The first building in Valley Gardens was erected in 1858, when the Improvement Commissioners built a pretty little pump room for the popular magnesia waters. Designed in the Gothic style, the building was beautifully restored by the Friends of Valley Gardens in 2015 for use as a museum and educational centre.

valley gardens harrogate history japanese garden

Japanese Garden in 2019
(Copyright Jane Blayney)

“Further embellishment”

The success of the 1858 building was so great that in 1895 it was replaced with a larger pump room – one of the prettiest spa buildings of Victorian England – that now contains a splendid and much-frequented café.

After the First World War, Valley Gardens received further embellishment in the 1920s when the tennis courts, children’s boating pool, Japanese Garden, and Bogs Field circle flower beds were laid out.

The 1930s saw the building of the Sun Colonnade and art deco Sun Pavilion, whose superb ensemble along the northern boundary of the gardens was very nearly lost in the 1990s, before being restored by the Friends of Valley Gardens to such a high standard that it was reopened by the Queen in 1998.

valley gardens harrogate history opening

Official opening of the Edward VIII Peace Gate
Copyright Harrogate Advertiser

“Air of tranquillity”

Another object of interest is the New Zealand Garden, created in 1954 to commemorate Harrogate’s ties with that country, and the twenty-three New Zealand airmen who had been stationed in the town during the Second World War and who had lost their lives in the conflict. The present New Zealand Garden was rededicated on 12 August 2010 after a careful and thorough programme of restoration

valley gardens harrogate history book coverFurther evidence for the public regard for Valley Gardens came in 2018 with the restoration of the Japanese Garden (which was reopened by the Japanese Ambassador) and the erection of the Edward VII Peace Gate on Valley Drive.

The combination of beautiful trees, shrubs, flower beds, buildings of architectural excellence and a pervading air of tranquillity make Valley Gardens an essential part of any visit to Harrogate.

Article taken from ‘A-Z of Harrogate’ by Malcolm Neesam, published by Amberley Publishing, £14.99 paperback

Top image: Valley Gardens entrance flower beds c. 1925


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