Image © Karen Southworth

In 1894 Alix visited Harrogate for spa treatments. She stayed at the Cathcart Guest House from early-mid May to 19 June. The state of her health left much to be desired. She was suffering from severe sciatica, and the joyful stress of the engagement to Nicholas might have weakened her further. Alix travelled incognito to Harrogate, to take the sulphuric waters and learn Russian at the same time.

The highlight of this stay was her becoming godmother to her landlady’s twin children, Alix and Nicholas. In descriptions of Alix's stay in Harrogate as well as of the baptism ceremony, observers and biographers emphasise how modest her character was and how shy she was in dealing with people of her own rank as well as with the broader public. The latter is also in evidence in Alexandra's letters from Harrogate to her fiancé, in which she complains about the ‘persecution’ and constant ‘surveillance’ by the curious spa society. She is particularly uncomfortable about the fact that she is exposed to intrusive glances in her ‘bathchair’ and is even afraid of physical attacks by mentally disturbed people, which she would not be able escape due to her weak constitution.

Harrogate Almanack

Alix, letter to Nicholas, 10 May 1894:

I had my first suplphur bath this morning, it did not smell lovely, and made my silver bracelet, which I never take off, quite black, but that one can clean with the powder one uses for cleaning up one's silver things.
Alix, letter to Nicholas, 13 May 1894:

The people […] stand in a mass to see me drive out and although I now get in at the backyard, they watch the door and then stream to see me and some follow too. […] That's her“, one said behind me. If I were not in the bathchair I should not mind. When Gretchen was in a shop this morning, a little girl came in and the man asked her whether she had seen me. She said yes, but only once as I had my carriage in the courtyard, as I did not seem to like being looked at. I wish the others would remark it too and keep away and not stare with opera glasses through their windows. It is too unpleasant.
Queen Victoria, letter to Nicholas, 25 May 1894:

The accounts of dear Alicky are upon the whole satisfactory, but she requires great quiet and rest and I send you the copy of a letter from the Doctor at Harrogate who is [a] very clever, nice man. She keeps a strict regimen of life as well as diet. She has to lie down a great deal. This ought to have been done long ago but the family doctor in whom [the family] unfortunately have great faith is a stupid man, who never will do anything and says yes to all they ask. Last autumn and winter she ought to have done what she is doing now.
Alix, letter to her friend Marion Louisa ‘Pollie’ Delmé-Radcliffe, Baroness Ungern-Sternberg, 18 June 1894:

It is really the first warm day again though a strong wind is blowing, and up here the view is lovely. A blue haze over the distant hills and a delicious breeze. The twins which turned up the day before we arrived were christened yesterday and I was Godmother to Nicholas and Alix. Of course, there was a crowd when we went to church though we tried to keep it secret. The people are a nuisance staring at one so. One feels such a fool. I bathe daily and take my water.

Russian cuttlery set, present from Alix to her godchildren.
Image © Royal Pump Room Museum, Harrogate Borough Council

This site has been conceived in conjunction with the HERA-funded research project The European Spa as a Transnational Public Space and Social Metaphor. Conception: Astrid Köhler, Text © Astrid Köhler and Karen Southworth, Design © Jana Riedel.