Montpellier in Harrogate

Harrogate has its Montpellier quarter in the heart of town with several streets and places bearing the name. However Harrogate’s landmarks may not have been named directly after the original place in the south of France.

The French town is the site of one of Europe’s oldest medical schools and thus had long been associated with scholarly medical research. It was an early favourite with foreign travellers to the south of France from the middle ages onwards, because of its relatively elevated position and clement climate. There are multiple examples, especially in the 1700s and 1800s, of writers using Montpellier as a by-word for a salubrious or health-giving place.

The first recorded use of the name in an English spa town was in Cheltenham around 1808, where ‘Montpellier’ was chosen by speculator Henry Thompson as the name for his new development, which soon became a classy area of the town. At this time, Cheltenham's fame as a spa was at its peak, and the rapid appearance of Montpellier names in many other English towns in the 1800s was probably due much more to the example of Cheltenham than to the French original.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Harrogate’s first usage was for the Montpellier Baths (opened in 1835 by Joseph Thackwray), located in the pleasure grounds near the Crown Hotel. The wells on this spot (discovered ca.1803) were previously called Thackwray's Garden Spring or the Crown Spa. The Montpellier Baths and their surrounding gardens flourished for about 50 years. A pump room was added in 1870 by George Dawson, but the establishment was largely demolished around 1890, the main buildings being replaced by the Royal Baths of 1897. Their heritage lives on in the surrounding place names Montpellier Hill, Montpellier Street and Montpellier Parade, and the Montpellier public house.

Left: Montpellier Gardens, right: Montpellier Baths
Images © 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.