VISITORS to Harrogate’s Royal Pump Room Museum will be allowed to smell its famous sulphur water but no longer drink it, the council has said.
The strong-smelling water was one of Harrogate’s most distinctive during its heyday as England’s first and largest spa town - and is still a major tourist draw.
But Harrogate Council says it is likely to hang a notice saying the water is not for consumption, as it isn’t considered “wholesome” under recent EU legislation. In the meantime, it has cut off the supply.
A spokesman told the Advertiser that a compulsory test had revealed the water contained various chemicals and should therefore not be drunk. but historian Malcolm Neesam said the European ruling was disgraceful.
The council spokesman said: “New EU legislation came into effect in late 2010 requiring the testing of all private water supplies including the wells that supply what is now the Royal Pump Room Museum.
“Sampling under the new regulations is more extensive than before and requires that the water is analysed for both biological and chemical content.
“Other spas across the UK and the rest of Europe are subject to the same regulation and testing regime.
“Testing under this new legislation has revealed that the sulphur water contains levels of various chemicals which lead to a classification of it being ‘unwholesome’ and not suitable for consumption.”
The council sought advice from the Health Protection Agency, which said tasting small samples posed no danger to health. But the Drinking Water Inspectorate said that, as the museum was a public building, it was mandatory under the new law for the water provided to be “wholesome”.
Harrogate Council is now deciding what action take. “It is likely that the council will place a notice on the outside tap located at the rear of the Royal Pump Room Museum advising that the sulphur water is not for ‘consumption’,” its spokesman said.
“As part of the museum visitor experience, which charts the history of Harrogate’s development as a spa, visitors will however be invited to ‘smell’ the strong sulphur water to get an understanding of what it was like ‘taking the waters’ during Harrogate’s height as a spa, particularly in the Victorian period when it was renowned around the world.
“The sulphur water is just one amongst many waters with varying properties produced by Harrogate’s complex geology and drawn from its numerous wells.
“For visitors with a thirst to quench, the newest of those waters, the award-winning Harrogate Spring Water - which is very different in make up to the output of the sulphur well - will be available in the museum and can be purchased at other outlets around the town.”
Harrogate’s waters were considered historically to have health-giving properties.
Mr Neesam said he was appalled by Europe’s decision.
“The new EU legislation holds up two fingers to at least 400 years of continuous public right of access to the mineral wells of Harrogate, and makes a mockery of several centuries of British Parliamentary legislation, from the Act of 1770 which protected the public right of access to the sulphur water, to the 1985 Act, which continued that right,” he said.
“Generations of Harrogate’s greatest citizens would turn in their graves at the thought that foreign and unelected nosey-parkers could ever be in a position to ban the waters of England’s first and greatest spa. This latest piece of European impudence should be treated with the withering contempt it deserves. How many people have died from drinking the mineral waters? Not a single proven case in centuries of use.”
The mineral waters featured on yesterday’s episode of The Great British Countryside on BBC1. The museum’s current exhibition is Harrogate for Health and Happiness: A Spa Town in the 20th Century.