Ripon, like many cathedral cities, was one of the early beneficiaries of tourism. Pilgrims would come to see the relics brought back from Rome and part with cash for food and accommodation. We’ll see in later posts whether the cathedral was worth the visit (hint – would I be here otherwise?) but for now I want to concentrate on another part of the town. Sorry. City.
Just a short walk west of the Market Square is Ripon Spa.
In 1904 the last spa to open in Britain began pumping sulphuric spring waters. It wasn’t great timing. The market was already saturated (excuse the pun) and Ripon wasn’t historically known for its bubbling spring in the same was as Bath for example. There was a very good reason for that – it doesn’t have a spring. The waters were piped from the village of Aldfield, four miles away.
That detail aside, the town gave it their best shot and the following year the facility was officially opened by Princess Henry of Battenberg, youngest of Queen Victoria’s daughters. Celebrity aside, there were carved mahogany doors, beautiful stained glass windows, and a glazed river god spewing the mineralised water into the pump-room. Exquisite. But unsustainable.
Thirty years later the city converted the pump-room into a public swimming pool, a pool that is now beyond normal repair.
Ripon is now administered by Harrogate Borough Council. Their view? Time to redevelop the site which is in a prime residential location by the well-tended Spa Gardens, a public park with plenty of Victorian style, and an interesting piece of Alice in Wonderland sculpture. Who could object to getting rid of an ancient and costly swimming pool? In my experience the old swimming pool (Newcastle Road) where I learnt and swam 100 lengths every Friday to get the weekend underway has long since been filled in and the building razed.
Of course, that was a featureless brick building, whereas this is an Edwardian masterpiece constructed in that fin de siecle flourishing of arts and crafts. A masterpiece that is loved by the residents of Ripon who began a series of meetings, protests and online petitions.
There is no love of Harrogate in the city; a town fully established in the 17th Century, a thousand years after Ripon. It’s a town that attracts tourists to its grand hotels and conference centre. And its spa. Harrogate has 88 mineral springs.
At the time of writing the plan is for a new public baths to be opened elsewhere in town. The facade of the old building is to be retained but what will grow behind that facade remains unknown. Again I’ve seen this before. Another public pool in Sunderland (High Street) was demolished and its porch preserved as a growth on the side of an identikit office building. The masonry of that porch, on a wall of brick, seems like nothing more than an inconvenience that interrupts the flow of pedestrians outside.
Ripon deserves a better fate.