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Harrogate Story 

 

HARROGATE UNDER THE COMMISSIONERS (1841-1884) 

 

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Some Sidelights on the Town. 

After 1880, one had no longer to pay toll at the Bars near the New Inn in Skipton Road and at the crest of Ripon Road, for the Turnpike Trusts ended and the main roads became the concern of local authorities. There seems to have been little improvement in the condition of road surfaces until it was demanded by the beginning of the motor car age in Edward VII's time. But the local roads were quite adequate for the wheeled traffic of the Commissioners' period. In Harrogate there was an unusually high proportion of carriage folk, who kept a private coachman to drive their brougham, landau or victoria. Towards the end of the period there appeared the Bathchair - a heavy type, usually drawn by a chairman. Its leisurely progress admirably suited the real or supposed invalid who wanted to view the town, and this characteristic Spa vehicle was a common sight until after the First World War. 

The novelist Dickens lectured in the town in 1858, and afterwards described Harrogate as "the queerest place, with the strangest people in it, leading the oddest lives." He seems to have found its air of studied leisure faintly irritating - it appealed to the poet Tennyson, who was a frequent visitor! - and yet he admitted that the people read a great deal. There were plenty of Libraries and Reading Rooms, as there had long been, for the richer residents and visitors, but the needs of other sections of the community also began to be met. From 1848, there was a library and news room in the Mechanics Institute in James Street, and in 1876 a local Quaker founded in Union Street a Library for Workers. The Commissioners adopted the Public Libraries Act in 1881, but it was left to the Borough to build the present Public Library. 

The visitors, again according to Dickens, spent the rest of their time in eating and dancing. These occupations were undoubtedly popular. The Crown and Granby still held their weekly balls'. But visitors were also as eager as ever to make excursions to places of interest in the neighbourhood - a fact that the novelist, on his one-day visit, was hardly likely to notice. 

According to a record of 1845, the Band still played "every evening in the season" on the Green at High Harrogate. In 1860 a Punch and Judy show began on the Stray, apparently at Low Harrogate, replacing, it is said, the marionettes that had performed there since the time of Waterloo. The town showed its continued interest in flowers by establishing in 1843 its Annual Flower Show, which was held for many years in the grounds of the Cheltenham (Royal) Spa. 

At the beginning of the nineteenth century it had been noted that it was the fashionable thing when in Harrogate to go to church; that, in fact, people were found there who never went at home. This laudable practice continued, and churches and chapels multiplied. The religious enthusiasm of the Victorians has left a legacy of quite admirable buildings. The Church of England added St John's, Bilton (1857) and St Peter's (1871) - though the latter's fine tower belongs to the 1920's. The Nonconformists contributed also some good Victorian Gothic, the Congregational (1862), the Wesleyan Trinity (1880) and the Baptists' (1883). Though the religious atmosphere of Victorian Harrogate was evangelical on the whole, all denominations were active. The Roman Catholics built St. Robert's in 1873. A written memorial of the period is Bishop Bickersteth's hymn, "Peace, perfect peace," said to have been composed in 1876 in the churchyard of Christ Church. 

As Harrogate grew into a notably well-built town, and came to be widely known as an exceptionally healthy one, more children were sent to be educated in its boys' and girls' boarding schools. It is known that there were a good number of such schools in 1884, but as most of these have since closed, their place being taken by newer foundations, authentic records are rather scanty. Four boys' schools of good standing that lasted little beyond the end of the century were Western College (in Cold Bath Road, where it is joined by Queen's Road), Trinity College (in Park Avenue - Radlyn Court), Bilton Grange School (in Skipton Road), and the Strawberry Dale Academy. The last was well established before 1856. The building was later surrounded by Mayfield Grove; but at first it stood isolated, overlooking the valley that was then considered the most attractive part of Harrogate. 

There were two, however, that still flourish and have a documented history. On the high ground at Pannal Ash - then outside the town - the Wesleyans opened in 1877 their Ashville College, which has attained Public School standing. And in 1881 Mr. James Roscoe, MA, chose the mansion of Oatlands, on the edge of the Stray, as the home of his successful Boys' Preparatory School. This school, however, after some sixty years in Harrogate, has now removed to Goldsborough Hall. 

The provision of elementary schools, during the period, kept pace with the demand. The Education Act of 1870, that established a nation-wide system, gave authority to any district insufficiently supplied with the means of elementary education to set up a School Board. Such bodies were empowered to build what came to be known as Board Schools, and to levy an Education Rate to pay for them. In spite of its rapid growth, Harrogate did not find it necessary to appoint a School Board until 1893. The town was not dilatory either in providing training in crafts; it founded a Technical Institute and, in 1882, its School of Art. 

 

 

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