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Harrogate Story 





Somewhere in the past of almost any modern town lies the tiny hamlet out of which it has grown. . . Such was the place called "Harrogate" that, it is known, existed over six hundred years ago. Some two hundred years later, when the hamlet had become an Elizabethan village, there appeared in it the first faint promise of its modern development. From then onwards its medicinal springs began to become more and more widely known; and, from the time of Charles it received;; an ever increasing number of visitors, for whom accommodation came to be provided on the spot. Finally, by the beginning of the nineteenth century, it started to become a residential area where knowledgeable men of property decided to live permanently.

The adventure of going backwards in time to study the making of a town may be not only interesting lout instructive. It may lead to the discovery, by its present citizens, that the outstanding characteristics of the town were given to it a great while ago by predecessors of energy and imagination. It has been well said that the beginning of political wisdom is to realise, and acknowledge, our debt to the past.

But the most critical period in. a town's history is that which corresponds to adolescence in a human being—the stage when the village acquires the attributes of a town. In Harrogate, the central part of this period was from 1810 to 1841, during which its population grew from under two thousand to approximately four thousand. In the former year, it built its Workhouse. and the Workhouse Committee took upon itself the direction of township affairs generally: while in 1841 a still closer approximation to a Town Council appeared in the Town Improvement Commissioners.

This period of adolescence might be broadened—in the one direction to 1770, when by Act of Parliament the whole Forest of Knaresborough was "awarded" to private enterprise. to be enclosed " (i.e. fenced) and drained and made fertile, and when the townsmen were able to secure for permanent public resort the two-hundred-acre Stray: and in the other direction to 1884, when the Borough of Harrogate was established and the town might be considered completely adult.

William Grainge, that local eminent Victorian whose portrait hangs in the Library, published in 1871 what he rightly claimed to be the first attempt at a history of Harrogate and of the Forest. His book sketched the story of the neighbourhood, from the early Middle Ages to the seventeenth century, in a careful and comprehensive way. As he came to live in the town in 1860, he was able to give a good account, too, of the later years. But for the eighteenth century, and down to 1840, his sources of information were limited. The careful week-by-week chronicling of Palliser - founder of the Harrogate Advertiser in 1836 - covered only, of course, the very end of this period. There were a number of earlier Directories, giving trustworthy but rather scanty facts, and Hand-Books, produced for the use of visitors, which were fuller but less reliable. Certainly Grainge knew, and justly praised, the attractively written books of Ely Hargrove, the Harrogate book-seller of the later eighteenth and earlier nineteenth century; but Hargrove's interest lay rather in the romantic past than in the equally exciting present. In addition, there were books written by doctors about the wells. Unfortunately, these writers, interested chiefly in the medical aspect, often accepted without scrutiny information that they read, or were told, both about the history of the wells and about local conditions.

When Grainge wrote it is clear that the' township records, except a very few that he had obviously seen, were not accessible. Only some five years since, Mr Alexander Wilson was able to have them "taken from a loft in the old Town Hall" and placed in the Public Library. There, during the last year or more, a detailed study of them has been made through the courtesy of the Librarian, Mr. John Stuffins.

These documents are found to cover pretty adequately the critical period. Some even go back to Queen Anne and the first Georges; they are extremely numerous between 1770 and 1840. As they are largely the accounts drawn up by the township officers - Constables, Overseers of the Poor, and Surveyors of the Highways - who were dealing with each of their immediate, day-to-day problems, they were not written as history. Consequently, they are excellent historical material.

Besides the officers' "Accounts” - their yearly or half-yearly statements - there are Rate Books (both for the Poor and the Highways), township Valuations, and notes of the collection of taxes, including such as the notorious Windows' Tax and an early Income Tax, and details of contributions to York Castle, the early form of the County Rate. Many documents deal with paupers: their Removal Orders, Protection Certificates. Examinations, and notes of their "pay", as well as legal "Cases" dealing with the complicated business of their "settlement". The minutes of the meetings of the Workhouse Committee come in the nineteenth century, with Workhouse registers and account books. There are very many poor apprentices' indentures, covering the whole period. And, of course, innumerable bills. From these may be built up a clear picture, not only of the administration of poor relief, then the most important of local government activities, but also of such things as travel at that time, and local labour conditions. There is also information about St. John's 'Chapel: its Chapel-wardens' "Accounts," its Church Rate, its tithes and Charity distributions. Amongst other records of interest are very many letters, some of which throw further light on the life of the time.

In the chapters that follow, an attempt has been made to give the story of Harrogate, but to deal in. the greater detail with the formative period between 1770 and 1884. First, however, to make the Harrogate of the eighteenth century perhaps a little less puzzling, some brief reference to its still earlier history seems to be desirable, for the causes of some of the abnormalities date from quite a long time ago.





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