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Harrogate Story 





The Old Township and its Neighbours

From the time of John of Gaunt, through whom the neighbourhood first came to be associated with the Duchy of Lancaster, right down to the "Award" of 1774, that followed the Enclosure Act of 1770, Harrogate was often - and quite correctly - described as being in the Forest of Knaresborough. This "forest " was a large tract of moorland, with trees in its sheltered valleys, and having within its borders the two enclosed Parks of Haverah and Bilton, which were deer-preserves. The limits of the Forest are well known, for a "Perambulation" was made from time to time and carefully recorded: the earliest that has come down to us dates from 1576.

It was bounded in the main by four streams. Nidd, Wharfe, Crimple and Washburn, at the four points of the compass. However, a few minor corrections are needed to this broad outline. The northern boundary left the Nidd at Darley to strike westwards to Greenhow Hill. From this point south to Fewston the Forest did not end at a river but included the whole catchment area of the upper Washburn. There was also, actually north of the Nidd, a little pocket containing Burnt Yates and Clint. On the east side, the Forest boundary left the Crimple at Burn Bridge and struck south-east to the Wharfe, the village of Kirkby Overblow not being included.

Probably the district was never densely wooded, and the iron-smelting, carried on in the Middle Ages and after, would make serious inroads on what trees there were. The immediate neighbourhood of Harrogate seems to have been always marshy, as it certainly was in the eighteenth century, when it had numerous ponds, fed by tiny becks. It is only during the last century that the ponds have been drained, and the brooks, for the most part; enclosed in culverts.

The Castle, and the township, of. Knaresborough were always outside the Forest, but the chief Court that dealt with its affairs, the "Sheriff Turn," was invariably held there. So it comes about that the Knaresborough Court Rolls (the records of such important proceedings as the legalising and transfers of "encroachments," the copyhold lands) are the chief source for the history of Harrogate until at least the sixteenth century. They were consulted, in part, by Grainge, and also by Walter Kaye who published his Records of Harrogate in 1922. Kaye's contribution to the history of the town is valuable: he printed extracts from the Registers of Knaresborough Parish Church and of Christ Church, and, most important of all, the records of Pannal during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Though the last have a direct connection with a part of Low Harrogate only, they help in the understanding of local conditions in the later period.

There is one document that was written probably before the area was declared a Forest. In 1086 Duke William, having acquired a kingdom, with the astuteness of his race (the Normans have been called the Yorkshiremen of France) had a complete survey made of the whole country. This names not Harrogate itself but places that have part of their onetime territory incorporated in the present Borough. In Doomsday Book are mentioned Killinghall, Beckwith and Rosset, Scriven and Knaresborough and, the place that concerns Harrogate most nearly, Bilton.

In the early fourteenth century, when the name Harrogate is first mentioned, both Bilton and Harrogate were "hamlets" in the township of Killinghall. In 1485, exactly at the close of the Wars of the Roses, we find that these hamlets had come together to form the "constabulary " of " Bilton with Harrogate " which, later, itself changed into a township. This intimate association was destined to last four hundred years, during the greater part of which this township was to be an independent and effective unit of local government.

Beckwith and Rosset were also "hamlets" during the Middle Ages, in Killinghall. They, too, combined to form a "constabulary," that of Beckwith-with-Rosset, Instead of developing into a township, however, this became part of Pannal (another name not found in Doomsday Book), possibly because the latter had long possessed a church.

The result of this absorption was that Pannal became Harrogate's immediate neighbour, for Rosset not only reached the south side of the Stray and Otley Road but drove a huge wedge into the centre of Low Harrogate. The sides of this wedge were, roughly, the present Cold Bath Road and Cornwall Road: its point was the old "Crown" inn. Included in it were almost all the sulphur wells of Harrogate. As it was obviously desirable to distinguish it from the remainder of Low Harrogate it was given, from about 1750 to 1820, the name of "Sulphur Wells." This is the place that the first Joseph Thackwray, who died in 1791, claimed on his tombstone in Pannal churchyard to have "brought to fame."

Some vague memory of this name probably inspired the very determined attempt made in the middle of last century to abandon the name "Low Harrogate" in favour of "Harrogate Wells." The association of most of the people in "Sulphur Wells" with Pannal village probably amounted to little more than attendance at their Parish Church (which they would reach by what is still known as "Church Lane"), and that only till St. Mary's - a chapel-of-ease of St. Robert's, Pannal - was specially built for them in 1824. Their interests lay with Harrogate, a fact that was somewhat slowly but inevitably recognised. The "Wells" came under the jurisdiction of the Improvement Commissioners in 1841, and in 1884 this same "urban area of the Parish of Pannal" was incorporated in the Borough. Finally, in 1895 it became an integral part of the new "civil parish of Harrogate," which replaced the ancient "township of Bilton-with-Harrogate" and, sadly enough, disrupted that centuries-old union.

Pannal, though an ecclesiastical parish, was for long in civil affairs classed only as a "hamlet." Like Bilton-with-Harrogate, it was in the township of Killinghall until probably the later seventeenth century, when they both became independent townships. Such is the strength of tradition, however, that a century after this the Chief Constable of the West Riding was still treating the three places as a unit.

Orders to the Militia during the Napoleonic War, and receipts for moneys collected by the Constables "For the Repair of the Wapentake Bridges" were still addressed by him to “Killinghall and Hamlets."

The townships of Knaresborough and Scriven were officially outside the Forest: in fact, the boundary of Bilton-with-Harrogate was at the High and Low Bridges, on the Nidd. These outsiders, however, had long made claims to rights of pasturage within the Forest. These claims once established (as they were after years of persistence) there were bits of land to be found all over Bilton-with-Harrogate that were assigned to these townships. The first local Ordnance map made (1854) shows the Bilton and Starbeck areas as a sort of patchwork quilt because of the many “detached portions" of Knaresborough and Scriven-with-Tentergate that they contain. Among these is the ancient "Starbeck Spa." They vary widely in size - from less than an acre to twenty or more, but they are almost always rectangular in shape, so fitting into the general pattern of the "Award" of 1774. Even the south part of the township, though it might be thought to have suffered enough at the hands of Pannal (or Rosset), did not entirely escape the sacrifice of territory to the townships beyond the Nidd.

Some hundred yards from the Prince-of-Wales' roundabout, by the side of Leeds Road, is still in position an old boundary-stone of Bilton-with-Harrogate, as the letter "B.H." on its face indicate : on its south side is an "S," showing that here began a "detached portion" of Scriven-with-Tentergate, and on the north side a "K," for here was an acre or so of Knaresborough. These fragments of townships seem at first to have provided pasturage only, and there were no buildings on them, but when the growing villages turned them into building-sites, their obvious inconvenience made townships revert to the ring-fence system.

The township of Bilton-with-Harrogate included the village of Bilton, that of High Harrogate, and the part of Low Harrogate that was not called Sulphur Wells. Among the old inns of Low Harrogate, the Swan and the George were in the township, whereas the Crown, the Crescent, the White Hart and the Robin Hood (Wellington) were in Pannal.

Till less than a century ago these three villages were separated from each other by open country. High Harrogate, besides attracting most visitors in the eighteenth century because of its chalybeate springs, possessed from about 1745 the one church of the township, St. John's Chapel (replaced by Christ Church in 1831). St. John's was a chapel-of-ease of Knaresborough Parish Church, the “chapelry" being the whole township. A good half of the Church Rate went towards the upkeep of the mother church, an arrangement not very popular with Harrogate folk, who had to support their own church as well. On the other hand, they received some grant towards what was then a most expensive item, Communion wine, and they shared in the Bread Charities of Knaresborough Parish. St. John's Clerk had to collect loaves each month from Knaresborough for distribution to Harrogate poor. But the connection with Knaresborough was limited to Church matters; there was never any dependence on the part of Bilton-with-Harrogate in the civil administration of poor relief. There was, in fact, a good deal of friction as between rival authorities. As late as 1810 they carried a case to the Skipton Sessions to decide which township was to support a certain pauper.

As the township of Bilton-with-Harrogate remained unaltered and was locally the unit of government right down to 1841, it seems fitting that some of its achievements should be indicated. For afterwards, when the new "town area" of "Harrogate" had excluded and isolated Bilton, the past contribution of that part of the township was rarely remembered. Yet Bilton families, such as the Taylor’s and Pullan’s, the Stockdale’s and Watson’s of Bilton Hall, had not been unimportant in the life and the affairs of the united township. Here, when the older township is referred to simply as “Harrogate," it should be borne in mind that this is the abbreviation of "Bilton-with-Harrogate."

The development of Harrogate as a health resort was foreshadowed nearly four centuries ago. In the later days of the first Queen Elizabeth, Dr. Timothy Bright was drawing the attention of his medical friends to the merits of the Tewit Well, which had been discovered in 1571 by William Slingsby, and which Bright insisted on calling the "English Spaw." A friend of his, Dr Edmund Deane, gave it far wider publicity in 1626 by publishing a book about it. Following a custom of the time, he used Greek and Latin in the title Spadacrene Anglica, but had the grace to translate this in the sub-title, The English Spaw Fountaine. Though he dealt professionally with his subject, giving detailed instructions as to how and when the water should be used, his book is clearly written and interesting to the general reader. As Deane was in practice at York he was able to pay many visits to the well and, unlike most of those who wrote about it later, he had a good knowledge of the neighbourhood. About thirty years ago a reprint of this book was published with comments by Dr. James Rutherford, who puts a good case for accepting Deane's evidence on the early history of the well. As this evidence was afterwards considerably distorted it is necessary to refer to it in some detail.

On his visits, Deane obviously used Knaresborough as a base. It is unlikely that there was as yet a suitable inn at Harrogate. He mentions first (but merely to discredit them) two ancient "holy wells " in that neighbourhood, St. Magnus' and St. Robert's. He condemns them on purely scientific grounds, as he imagines, but the note of scorn in the condemnation suggests that he was not entirely free from religious bias. In spite of their reputed cures, he says, of "all manner of maladies and diseases, both inward and outward," they are "springs of pure, and simple waters meerely, without any mixture at all of minerals to make them become medicinable" He adds that such places flourish "through our overmuch English credulity " and that they attract "especially the female sex, as ever more apt to be deluded ..... "

The site of St. Robert's Well, at Knaresborough, has not been disputed; but St. Magnus' Well has been identified, very strangely, by later writers, as that on the Pannal-Harrogate boundary which gave its name to Cold Bath Road. In Deane's time there was a much frequented St. Magnus' Well at Copgrove, a little to the north of Knaresborough, and if he had had some other in mind it may be safely assumed that he would have drawn attention to the fact. Besides, the owners of the Harrogate well much later, who were local people, were unaware of any sacred associations. In a number of transfer deeds dated from 1736 to 1835 this well is described simply as the "cold well" or "cold spring." In the later seventeenth century, when the confusion arose between the Copgrove and Harrogate wells, both were much resorted to for the curative "cold bath."

Deane wrote the Spadacrene Anglica primarily for the sake of the Tewit Well "at Haregate-head." But he also mentioned with approval the Dropping Well at Knaresborough, a sulphur well in Bilton Park, another sulphur well " neare unto the towne " (probably the Starbeck one), and what was to be known for the following two hundred years as the " Old Sulphur Well " (now the Royal Pump Room). Its situation he described as " beyond a place called Haregate head, in a bottome (i.e., a valley) on the right hand of it. as you goe, and almost in the side of a little brooke." The "little brooke " was enclosed only about a century ago.

In the nineteenth century, after Sir Walter Scott had popularised medieval legends and thrown a glamour about Catholic times, it was thought good publicity to give wells the name of saints. One that was newly discovered near the old George inn was named “St. George's” - a compliment the inn returned later by changing its name to the Hotel St. George. There had to be a "St. Ann's Well" : it was to be found also in Low Harrogate.

But the case of St. John's Well," in High Harrogate is different, for the name may contain a good deal of history. This well, even during the seventeenth century, became much more popular than the Tewit Well which, by the end of that century, was said to be "almost entirely neglected." Though the Tewit Well was supposed to have been discovered some fifty years before St. John's it was the latter that was already known as the “Old Spaw." This claim to greater antiquity may have been due to self-interest on the part of inn-keepers for it was the more conveniently placed for visitors at the Queen's Head and in High Harrogate generally. (Incidentally, it misled eighteenth century writers into asserting that this was the well that had been discovered by William Slingsby!) But there may be a less mercenary explanation of why the local people called it the "Old Spaw.." A chantry chapel had existed in Harrogate (as Walter Kaye proved) from the early fifteenth century to the middle of the sixteenth, and it is probable that it was dedicated to St. John the Baptist - most appropriately if there were a "holy well" close by. So it is possible that the well discovered by a stranger to the neighbourhood about 1630 may have been remembered locally as the one by which pious folk had benefited in the days of the chantry. If this explanation is the right one, the name "St. John's," which was apparently first given to the well in the middle of the nineteenth century, was merely the old one restored after the lapse of three centuries.

The chalybeate wells of Harrogate, and what were essentially its sulphur springs, though then nominally in Pannal, largely explain why the township found itself towards the end of the eighteenth century on the point of developing into a town. The visitors in the July to September season had then already reached some two thousand. For their entertainment there were a dozen or more inns, several of which were soon to grow into quite large establishments. And the first important newcomer, Alexander Wedderburn, later Lord Loughborough, had decided to make the resort his permanent home : about 1786, he built Wedderburn House, on the south edge of the Stray, and set a fine example in tree-planting in the Woodlands area. The debt owed to its waters was to be aptly recorded later in the town motto : Arx celebris fontibus (" a borough famous for its springs ").

But Grainge's splendid hyperbole in 1871 ("Were these fountains dried up, the town would become a ruin") did not give a balanced view of the situation even in his day. He ignored its other natural gifts: its healthy air, its charming surrounding countryside, and its convenient nearness to the industrialised southern part of the West Riding. What is still more important, he overlooked the fact that a town once established has usually acquired its own "will to live," an adaptability that will enable it to meet quite new conditions, and to survive even the disappearance of what led to its founding.

This essential spirit of a town is something that comes from the past. In Harrogate it is seen first when the Forest settlers established their hamlet. Its development can be traced through certain episodes in the history of the township. Two of these, which have been already briefly noted, were outstanding. The first was the gaining of the Stray in 1774, which endowed the later town with its most characteristic feature and which showed there were leaders well aware that it was Harrogate's business to serve a wider community. The second was an experiment in local government, begun in 1810. As it developed and continued till 1854 it gave the township a position of leadership in the district. This position was a tribute to its energy, for Knaresborough, which might have taken it had then a much larger population.

In 1810 the roomy, fine-fronted house (now known as Old Starbeck Hall) was built as a Workhouse on a part of Star-beck that had been from time immemorial Harrogate land. Finding that this could accommodate more than its own paupers, the township offered to receive those from other places, on condition that these out-townships paid a rent of £5 a year and met all costs of maintenance. The scheme succeeded so well that townships covering an area of about one hundred square miles were from time to time drawn into it, though the number of out-townships at any one time never exceeded sixteen.

The district, a sort of flattened circle with Harrogate about its centre, included most of the old Forest of Knaresborough and. a considerable area to the north and east of it. On the perimeter of the circle on the north side were Hartwith-cum-Winsley (not far from Pateley Bridge), Whitcliffe-with-Thorpe (just south of Ripon), Marton-cum-Grafton, and Spofforth. Pannal closed its own Workhouse, and other townships may have done so too. Knaresborough alone, in this area, stayed outside the scheme and kept its own Workhouse.

Harrogate had become the head, therefore, of a kind of unofficial poor law union at a time when the administration of poor relief was particularly burdensome and costly. Following the long war against Napoleon there was a steep rise in the cost of living and there were the difficulties of readjustment of occupation caused by the Industrial Revolution. Though the district escaped the worst effects of the latter, it had the local problem of the serious decline in the Knaresborough linen industry in the 1830's, with the consequent closing-down of the Harrogate bleach-yards. The leaders of the township at that time revealed a capacity to meet a situation and to set a standard in public service.

In those chapters which follow that deal with the story of Harrogate's growing-up there is no strict time-sequence observed. The separate activities of the township are taken in turn because the main records were compiled by its officers and the churchwardens. Even the subjects do not appear in chronological order. If they did, the work of the Constable would come first, as his office is the oldest of all. But in our period the heart of the matter is reached more immediately by considering the work of the Overseer, who had then replaced the Constable as the most important township officer.

Henry Peacock, Workhouse Master from 1825 to 1838, has been given precedence even over the Overseer. From the historian's point of view, this man had virtues both of omission and commission. He omitted to mislay or destroy the older records, as so many of his contemporaries in other places seem to have done, and he himself added copiously to the records during his year of office. Besides, as he saw the rise of Harrogate to town status he is a convenient link between ourselves and the remoter past. And lastly, it was quite impossible to study the records without becoming aware that he was a personality.





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