Harrogate Pump Room Museum and Mercer Gallery

As a history teacher, I’ve felt a bit bad this year not getting around to visiting Harrogate’s very own Pump Room Museum, and so this week I took the opportunity on a quiet Monday afternoon to see what was inside.

wpid-20150712_151714.jpgThe museum itself is inside one of the old spa water pump rooms (hence the name) and is therefore quite small. However, they do manage to pack a fair bit into it without making the place feel cramped and cluttered. It costs £4 to get in, and after being around I don’t think they could really charge any more than this due to the size and slight randomness in the sequence of the exhibits.

The museum mainly focuses on the late 19th and early 20th century history of Harrogate, when it was a booming spa town and place to be for the well-to-do in society. It has a range of items from the period such as clothes, a penny-farthing bicycle etc but I found there to be a bit of a tenuous link to the spa history side of things, apart from their existing at the same time. The spa treatment section was interesting but again quite brief due to the space constraints, but you can see the old spring heads where the water was pumped from under ground.

1The highlight of the museum was clearly the ancient Egyptian exhibition which had lots of amazing and interesting artefacts, including most impressively a death mask, an Anubis priest mask and a full size sarcophagus coffin (unfortunately empty). I spent ages pouring over this section and was blown away by the quality of the items on show. Ancient Egypt has been a interest of mine since childhood, and this was brilliant for me to discover so close to home.

I then headed across the road to the Mercer Gallery. I’m not usually a fan of galleries, but after reading the Improbability of Love, I was intrigued to see more. I was a little disappointed to be honest- the leaflet I had picked up promised a huge fine art collection but upon arrival I was informed there was a local artist on display (Joseph Baker Fountain) who was okay but not exactly stunning, and a selection from a local art competition.

Joseph Baker Fountain’s ‘After the Flood’

I entered with an open mind and really did try to appreciate them, but I only really liked a couple of the hundred or so pieces on display. About half I didn’t feel had really required much more skill than I possessed myself, and some of them I just didn’t get- they looked like random splodges on a page to me.

I think if I were to go back, I would have to carefully check the exhibitions beforehand. It only took me about 20 minutes to go around, but I’m sure if it had been more to my taste I could have enjoyed it for much longer. Oh well.

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