The Harrogate Museums and Arts column with May Catt

Curator May Catt.

We’ve just reopened the Museum after our annual spring clean, ready for the year ahead. It’s a special year for us as we are celebrating our 65th birthday throughout 2018.

The Museum first opened on Friday 22 May 1953, when Mr John Stuffins was curator. Already the borough librarian and curator of the art gallery, Mr Stuffins purposefully collected things that reflected Harrogate’s history, such as the social life of the town.

The Royal Pump Museum now has around 1,600 pieces of costume in its collections.

Then less than two weeks after opening, on the 2nd June, Harrogate joined the rest of the country in celebrating the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

There was a full programme of entertainment for everyone. Events were timed to start later on in the afternoon so that people could gather in church halls, cinemas and around their neighbours’ televisions to watch events close up.

Despite the rain, crowds were then entertained by a rather soggy procession together with street parties, a funfair on the Stray and a fireworks display, which lit up the sky at dusk.

There was also fun to be had with country dancing and ‘Gloria’s Famous Dogs and Educated Pigeons display’ to enjoy.

Balls were held on the eve of the Coronation too.

At the Cairn Hydro hotel guests reportedly danced the Waltz, a Moonlight Saunter and the Royal Empress Tango.

After the partying, 1950s Museum life was busy. Around 65,000 visitors were welcomed to the site each year.

Thanks to the recent creation of the NHS with a new healthcare provision for all, more patients could take a peat bath, have immersion therapy and physiotherapy treatments such as a warm wax bath for hands in Harrogate.

Both this and the new Museum helped to build on the town’s reputation as a place for health and happiness.

Meanwhile Mr Stuffins was busy creating Harrogate’s costume collection, part of a wider mid-century effort to collect dress in museums. Thanks to his foresight, we now have around 1,600 pieces of costume in our collections.

To begin with, the collection was built around Harrogate’s popularity as a fashionable Victorian destination, so the Museum has a strong collection of Victorian dresses and some servants’ dress too. And whilst we have some 20th century collections, we will soon begin to gather new donations to bring our fashion collections right up to date, so that we remain relevant for our audiences both now and in the future.

We would love to hear from you if you remember the opening of the museum or if you remember visiting as a child, whatever your age now.

Perhaps there’s a 1970s dress lurking in the back of your wardrobe with a fascinating story to tell too?

Our Open House events will continue throughout 2018.

We want to attract as many different audiences as possible to tackle isolation and make the Museum a real meeting point for the community, alongside the Advertiser’s long-term commitment to its Ending Loneliness campaign.

The next free Open House event is on Thursday 22 February from 3pm to 6pm, with tea, cake and tours of the wells.

Please join us.

We may be getting older but we’re showing no signs of slowing down.

More from News