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Harrogate Story 

 

HARROGATE UNDER THE COMMISSIONERS (1841-1884) 

 

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The Commissioners at Work 

THE Commissioners were business-like in their attack on the problems of town government. They at once adopted the practice of setting up committees to deal with their main activities. They had one for the Wells and others for the Police, for the regulating of Hackney Carriages, for the inspection of Nuisances, and for the provision of Public Seats. At times, they appointed committees to deal with temporary problems, such as each of their building schemes. In 1847, the influx of workers on the new railway-line led to a decline in public morale, and a committee was set up to consider the desirability of a "night force for protecting from felonious depredations the Inhabitants." 

In 1845 the Commissioners seriously considered obtaining an Act of Parliament to enable them to light the town with gas, but next year they allowed a private company to secure one instead, with the proviso that the Commissioners had the option to purchase the undertaking at the end of fifteen years. Again, a committee was appointed to choose the sites for the street-lamps (which proved to be all in Low Harrogate). With what appears an excessive attention to propriety, no Commissioner who had shares in the Gas Company was allowed to serve on this committee. 

Another committee was set up in connection with the Commissioners' laudable attempts to maintain all the old footpaths and rights-of-way. One such path led to the Bogs across glebe-land belonging to the Vicar of Pannal. He fought a delaying action for some years, offering objections at first and then putting off the Commissioners with promises. The committee won a Court action and, accompanied by the Commissioners' police, enforced the right-of-way in person. 

The first policeman was appointed in 1841. Besides his wages, he received half the fines he collected - a sort of payment by results. A townsman was fined 6d for "leaving cart unprotected "; and another the same figure for "removing night-soil during day-time." To ensure respect for the new force he was made to pay an additional 5s for "using abusive language." In 1846 a "lock-up " was rented for "vagrants and other disorderly persons." One of the police duties was to see that none of the donkeys and mules, used for riding or drawing carriages, were ill-treated. The Commissioners in 1846 strongly objected to the incursion into their territory of an officer of the A.P.C.A. (the precursor of the R.S.P:C.A.); saying that they were themselves competent to deal with such offences. 

When railway-construction began in 1847, the two Companies concerned each sent two policemen to act under the orders of the Harrogate policeman. As this officer had in the meantime been given a local assistant, he became quite an important person: he was appointed Superintendent and supplied with the correct uniform - which included a frock-coat. He needed, however, an expert assistant, "particularly in the neighbourhood of the Brunswick corner," as the Commissioners recorded, and they asked the Superintendent of the London Police - the oldest and most highly trained force - to send down one of his own men. 

The coming of the railway was essential for Harrogate, for the coach services on the roads had steeply declined even before 1841. The Leeds and Thirsk Railway Company offered to bring their line (a main one) through Harrogate itself, but a town's meeting decided by a very small majority that it should approach no nearer than Starbeck. Many other country towns, about the same time, made the same unwise decision, being afraid of the smoke and noise. Harrogate, however, quickly modified its decision: before the Starbeck line was constructed, it agreed to the proposal of the York and North Midland Railway Company to end its branch line from Church Fenton much nearer the Spa. The wooden Brunswick Station, close -by the Brunswick (Prince of Wales), was finished about the same time as the Starbeck station on the Leeds-Thirsk line. This Church Fenton-Harrogate line had on it what contemporaries described as the Stupendous Viaduct over the Crimple. Also, approaching the town, was a short tunnel, later abandoned though still remaining under the whole length of Langcliffe Avenue. 

The Commissioners imposed on the York and North Midland Company the condition that it would find and equip another well if the digging of the line should harm the Tewit Well. The Company was not, of course, called upon to do this, for the Well was not affected, even by the construction of the new line of 1862 that runs within a stone's-throw of it.. The plea to the Leeds and, Thirsk Company to provide a road bridge near Starbeck Station was, unfortunately, not granted, perhaps because the Station was outside the Commissioners' area and. Harrogate people were not sufficiently interested. They seem to have been satisfied with the convenience of having a main-line station so close and to have been actually glad that all the goods-trains went by Starbeck, leaving their own sleep at night quite undisturbed. 

In the next decade, however, came a demand for still better railway communications. The North Eastern Company having absorbed the two Companies concerned, it was possible in 1861-2 to construct the Harrogate loop line. This connected up with the main line, north and south, at Bilton and the Crimple Viaduct, and also joined a York line at Star-beck. The present Harrogate Station was made on the new line, and the Brunswick Station dismantled. Its site, in part recompense for the new railway-cutting across the Stray, was handed over by the North Eastern Company and added to the Two Hundred Acres. 

During the building of the railways, the Companies paid for damage done to the roads by cartage. They kept open footpaths as far as possible and built an appropriate number of bridges. The valuation of the new lines for Rating purposes certainly did no injustice to the town. The Commissioners and the township authority were alert enough in defending local interests. 

Of the regular Committees of the Commissioners, that dealing with Nuisances was among the busiest. At this period when much of the town was in process of building, contractors had to be checked from leaving their materials on footpaths. Householders were told to see that roof-water did not fall on the footpaths and wash them away. Owners were ordered, from time to time, to remove obstructions and cleanse the streets. The Committee was particularly keen on noting any window or shop-sign that projected into the street. But, like wise rulers, they often compromised. Christopher Triffit, of the Railway Tavern, was allowed to retain his swing-sign on payment of ld. a year, and a man who had built a coach-house on public land near the New Inn (Dragon), after being ordered again and again to pull it down, was in the end obliged merely to pay half-a-crown a year as recognition of his tenancy. The Committee kept an eye on shops, particularly butchers, and in 1847 appointed an Inspector of Nuisances.

Paths on the Stray and those by the side of streets - now pavements - appear to have been sanded. As early as 1843, the Commissioners proposed. a 6d rate to meet the cost of flagging them, but flagging and asphalting were done on a large scale only in the 1860's. 

Until 1860, there was a water-filled and unsanitary dip at the lower end of Baker's Lane (Walker's Lane, Pound Lane - now King's Road). Its filling-in appears to be a tribute to the Commissioners' diplomacy. They themselves voted 50; they obtained a gift of spoil and rubble from the Victoria Park Company, and tactfully approached the owner, who "in a spirit of liberality" (as they record in their minutes) offered' no objection to the improvement of his property. The remainder of the cost was met out of the Highways Rate. 

The Public Seats Committee provided a number of seats in. Low and High Harrogate and on the footpaths connecting the two. They had them painted white, perhaps the most useful colour in those days of imperfect lighting. 

The Hackney Carriages Committee issued licences to "mule-carriages, donkey-carriages, horse-carriages, saddle-ponies and saddle-horses." Each licence cost half-a-crown, a fee that the Commissioners' Clerk considered should be his perquisite. This claim outraged the Commissioners, but with their usual genius for compromise they eventually allowed him to retain half. In 1847 a progressive licence-holder asked permission to put a "box or booth" on the Stray to serve as a Coach-office, but his request was refused. The Commissioners showed their care for animals by ordering that donkey-carriages should cease their practice of carrying more than two adults and two children under 10. The carriages for hire had to be on stands, between which and the roadway there must always be a clearance of at least five yards. 

In 1843 it was ordered that carriages must not be on the stands, or ply for hire, on Sundays, but later - compromise again! - they might drive on Sundays, except during Divine Service, if they had an actual contract. The proverbial coach-and-horses might have been driven through the amended regulation. In the interests of the home-producer, all hackney carriages coming into Harrogate from other places must be left "in the inn-yard where they arrived " and had no permission to ply for hire in the town. 

Apart from the Baths and 'Wells, the Commissioners' building activities were limited to the Market. They had tried to acquire a site for it as early as 1843, but building did not begin until 1874. This Market served the public for over sixty years, and was on the site of the present one. In 1884, the town, from its experimental supply, installed electric light there. 

The building of the new parts of the town - with their broad streets and substantial houses (present-day Harrogate is essentially Victorian in its layout) was left to private builders or, in the more ambitious projects, to companies. There were numerous quarries providing excellent building-stone in the immediate neighbourhood, making possible sound construction with the minimum of transport costs. Several brick-works were set up on the outskirts, south and east of the town 

Early in Victoria's reign, the Victoria Park Company began the development of the district that had previously been farming land, between the two Harrogates. The building of "lodging houses" (private hotels), usually in terraces, that had been started energetically in the 1820's, was continued. Prospect Crescent, for example (now in the business quarter and transformed into shops), was built in the 1850's. On the removal of the stretch of railway line in 1862, the district to the south-west of the Stray - an area almost completely devoid of houses before - was covered with small mansions and provided with its two attractive miniature parks (the ovals) by the West End Park Company. The Duchy of Lancaster, with its large holdings of suitable building-land, supplied the Dragon and Lancaster Park Estates. By 1880, building had begun in the New Park area. 

Some streets were already named though, curiously enough, few of the very old names survive. World's End Road is now Skipton Road; Robin Hood Lane, Cold Bath Road; and Chapel Street has become Oxford Street. But the laying-out of new property had become so rapid that in 1847 the Commissioners submitted a list of proposed street-names to the inhabitants for their approval. Terraces, Places and Courts were fashionable, as Avenues, Groves and Crescents became a little later. 

The Commissioners, no doubt realising that they were dependent on public favour for their re-election, seem to have welcomed publicity. The town had now two weekly papers, the older Harrogate Advertiser, moderately Conservative, and its new rival, of rather. Radical tendencies, the Harrogate Herald. From 1847, the reporters of both these newspapers were admitted to all meetings of the Commissioners. 

The more crowded buildings naturally increased the dangers from fire, and it might be considered, at least the moral duty of a local authority to deal with outbreaks. But in the eighteenth century this was left to the Fire Insurance Companies and, sometimes, voluntary associations. In Harrogate, some five years before the Commissioners took over (i.e. in 1836), a town's meeting had voted 50 towards the purchase of a fire-engine and the provision of a fire-station, the Insurance Companies interested being expected to add their contribution. A fire-engine was certainly in use here at this time, but unfortunately no record survives that might identify it as town property. 

About 1866 the Commissioners bought a farm of over 300 acres to serve for its main sewerage scheme. This Jenny Plain (or Irrigation) Farm lay partly in Bilton-with-Harrogate and partly in Killinghall. It was already obvious that the Commissioners' area was no longer large enough to serve the interests of the Harrogate community. This fact was made still clearer when the question of a water-supply became a matter of urgency.

Before 1841, the villages had managed somehow to satisfy their need of water from local sources. At that time, drinking water and water for washing clothes were almost the only requirement, for baths were still the occasional luxury of the well-to-do and water was little used in sanitation. 

By the Award of 1778, two drinking places had been assured to the people for ever; one in High Harrogate "near the World's End Inn" (Grove House); the other, called variously the Cold Well, Bath or Spring, in Low Harrogate. The Cold Well water was so popular that guests at the Crown demanded it, and it appeared on the tables (we are told) in black bottles. The Commissioners in 1844 introduced a "pump and trough" at the Grove House well, but a second source at High Harrogate was by then more largely used. This was the Black Spring, at that time within the Stray, between Gascoigne's (County) and the Granby. 

In the 1840's, however, these supplies, even for drinking purposes, were no longer adequate, but the Commissioners hesitated to undertake themselves a necessarily expensive scheme, evidently fearing public reaction to any increase in the Rates. They allowed the privately-owned Harrogate Waterworks Company to get its Parliamentary Act and find other supplies in 1846. The first appeared in 1852. In the interval, the Commissioners made tentative but inadequate efforts to obtain temporary supplies by constructing reservoirs at the Black Spring and, apparently, at the Cold Bath. 

The Company built its reservoirs - all except about half of one were outside the Commissioners area - on Harlow Moor and on the Irongate Bridge Road (Cornwall Road). From 1858, it began to construct the reservoirs in Haverah Park. It completed the Ten Acres; but the Beaverdyke (1888) and the Scargill (1896) belong to the period of the Borough which, by the Harrogate Corporation Water Transfer Act of 1898, was to take over the property of the Company for the sum of 187,000.  

 

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