A small but action-packed museum, the Royal Pump Room Museum in Crown Place details some of the truly bizarre spa treatments through the ages – peat baths, anyone? – as well as offering a tasting session of the town’s world-famous mineral water. Oh, and don’t forget to pinch your nose when you hit the sulphur room, reputed to be the strongest smelling sulphur well in Europe.
Built in 1842, the Pump Room used to serve more than 1,500 glasses of water every morning, each drink suffused with vital minerals naturally found in the town’s many springs. At its peak, the Pump Room catered for over 15,000 guests each summer, who all came to rejuvenate themselves in the curing waters. A place for the rich and famous to gather and to get healthy, the Royal Pump Room was favoured by Russian royalty, politicians and famous writers, including Charles Dickens, who described the town as the “queerest place with the strangest people living the oddest lives”. That reputation hasn’t continued, you’ll be pleased to hear, but there’s plenty of fascinating evidence for it at this wonderfully preserved building.
The museum tours take you around the deep wells where you can see – and smell – the town’s famous water, and, thanks to the bathing room, you can get a sense of how the 19th century hoi polloi would have enjoyed the soothing and restoring water. And, if you’re brave enough, you can try the water from a tap outside the pump house. Beware though, the sulphur smell is quite off-putting, and there are mandatory health warnings next to the tap warning you of possible side effects. How times have changed! There’s also an on-site scientist in residence there to examine the side effects and benefits of sulphur and who’ll happily field any questions you have while going around.
The museum also houses several mocked-up displays, including a hotel, the Stray and some old-fashioned shops, giving you a quick trip back in time. They also have an impressive range of Egyptian treasures on site, including Egyptology activities for kids where they can enjoy papyrus and pens, replica costumes and headdresses. The museum is open daily from 10.30am–5pm and 2–5pm on Sundays, with family tickets available.