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Harrogate Story 





The High and Low Harrogates 

In the older England that exported grain and wool, and even in that of the eighteenth century where, Napoleon said, lived "a nation of shop-keepers," its wealth and its people were found chiefly in the South-East, including London. The North remained thinly populated, and the home of lost causes. But in the first half of the nineteenth century, when the spectacular development of textile manufactures and of mining began to have an effect, the situation completely changed. The increase in population, resulting from the new prosperity, appeared mainly in the northern Midlands and the North. Especially in the West Riding and South Lancashire, villages took on the proportions of towns, during the course of a generation or two. Though itself not industrial (indeed, its small linen industry was on the point of vanishing), Harrogate shared fully in the growth of its industrial neighbours. In 1800, it had about 1,200 inhabitants; in 1841, over four thousand. 

The increase in population of the whole country and the new distribution of it caused acute problems of government, both central and local. It was obviously desirable (but, in view of English character, as obviously difficult) to secure a more representative Parliament and to devise new methods of local government which would enable the enlarged communities, both towns and villages, to order their affairs. Fortunately, in the five years before Victoria came to the throne, a series of Acts of Parliament secured these reforms, and they prepared the way for a Victorian Age which was quite as remarkable for its achievements as the Elizabethan had been. 

The Reform Act of 1832 not only gave many more people a Parliamentary vote but redistributed seats to make them correspond a little better to population. In local government, the new Poor Law of 1834 made possible a more centralised and more efficient administration of 'the social services. Advantage of this was not to be taken in this district till 1854 (when the Knaresborough Poor Law Union was set up), because Harrogate, as we have seen, had already to some extent anticipated the measure. But what gave democratic and representative government to the towns - and consequently to any new town that might gain incorporation - was the Municipal Corporation Act of 1835. This formed new governing bodies, the Town Councils, and ensured their representative character by giving a municipal vote to every ratepayer. This Act was not to benefit Harrogate until the Borough was established in 1884. 

In 1841, though already larger than some ancient boroughs, it had not grown sufficiently to satisfy the new standard, yet it was not small enough to be governed effectively by the old township machinery. There were a good many other plates, especially in Lancashire and Yorkshire, in the same in-between situation. Their problem was solved in a clumsy, but efficient (possibly typically English) way. In each case, a special Act of Parliament had to be passed, setting up a sort of in-between governing body known as Town Improvement Commissioners. Again, Harrogate had partly anticipated this development: it had appointed, as early as 1811, that most unusual assembly, the Workhouse Committee, whose twelve members had taken over direction of most township affairs.

Harrogate got its Commissioners in 1841. The area they were given to control was not the Bilton-with-Harrogate township, but the whole of the two Harrogate villages. It included, therefore, the Pannal part of Low Harrogate that had been known previously as Sulphur Wells. On the other hand, a considerable part of the old township - a part that included the hamlets of Belton and Starbeck - lay outside their jurisdiction. 

The Commissioners were appointed particularly to safeguard the Stray, and to supervise all the wells that were not in private hands. At that time it was anxiety for the wells that dominated the minds of Harrogate folk and, probably, determined their policy. (In the present century, the emphasis has shifted to the defence of the Stray). It is quite possible that the townsmen pressed for the Act of Parliament at this time because of a shock they had received some four years previously. Various leading townsmen, at any rate, had been put to great expense in preventing what they considered an attempt to draw oft the water from the most popular of the wells, the Old Sulphur Well. Joseph Thackwray, the forceful and well-to-do landlord of the Crown nearby bad established about 1822 his Montpellier Gardens (where the Royal Baths are now) in which there was also a sulphur well. To increase his supply of the water he sank a new shaft between his inn and the Old Sulphur Well in 1835. The threat to this last, after a costly lawsuit in 1837, was averted, but the townsmen were determined to prevent any future one. 

There had been a similar episode some seventy years previously. Not long before the Stray was secured for the public in 1774, the townsmen of that day too had had to pay out of their own pocket for a law-suit. The wells had been threatened by a man who claimed to be digging for coal. It was that incident, probably, that made them sufficiently alert to obtain the Stray. 

The year 1841, when the word "town " (in its modern meaning) was first officially applied to Harrogate, marks a change in its centre of gravity. The eighteenth century supremacy of High Harrogate had been badly shaken, for a good half of the many new buildings of the previous twenty years had appeared in Low Harrogate, or in what was really an extension of it, the newly named Central Harrogate. Of some twenty then well-known inns, fourteen were in the latter area, which had also most of the newer Lodging Houses, including the fine terraces on Prospect Place and in Brunswick Terrace. Those who built mansions had at first favoured the borders of the Stray round Christ Church, but newcomers were now choosing sites by the Stray in Low Harrogate or along the Cold Bath Road. 

In the whole town, the needs of building and of providing the necessaries and luxuries for summer visitors had already collected a considerable community of shopkeepers and artisans. In High Harrogate, Westmoreland Street was taking shape: in Low Harrogate, Tower Street and Parliament Street. Knaresborough traders opened branches in the town, which became in some cases their principal place of business. 

The Post Office was still at High Harrogate, but an important sub-office had been opened in Low. Though the racecourse in the South Park was still in use at the mid-century, the Theatre in Church Square closed about 1830. Visiting entertainers - infant prodigies seem to have been the fashion in the 1830's - and military bands chose usually to perform at the Cheltenham Promenade Room in Low Harrogate. Perhaps High Harrogate people were still regarded as the more intellectual, for it was in the Mart in Westmoreland Street that a learned Manchester man delivered his course of "Six lectures on the Principles of Geology," in 1838. The more aristocratic visitors still stayed at the Granby or the Dragon, (Lord Byron had stayed at the Crown in 1805 - but that was before he became famous). There was still the popular library in Regent Parade, with its news-room and reading-room, but in Low Harrogate there were two such places: the Promenade Room (opened in 1805), near the Old Sulphur Well, and the Cheltenham Promenade Room (opened in 1835). 

Low Harrogate's growing importance was closely linked with the increasing popularity of its wells. As soon as it realised what was happening it made a determined attempt to discard its Low title and take the name of Harrogate Wells. This did not survive the nineteenth century, however, for by 1900 there was no longer any need to distinguish between the one-time rivals. The sulphur wells of Low Harrogate had been used from the early seventeenth century, almost as long as High Harrogate's chalybeate springs. But the latter remained the more popular until about the middle of the eighteenth. By that time, doctors had discovered a satisfactory method of using the sulphur water for internal treatment and they also greatly extended its use in baths. The increased demand for it led to the opening up of new wells. The effort at coal mining, mentioned above, was astutely used to provide the first of these. The landlord of the Half Moon (soon to become the more romantic Crescent) was digging to find a house-supply of fresh water in 1783 when he discovered a second. But, if more were needed, everyone knew of the supplies running to waste in the Bogs (now more appropriately called the Valley Gardens). 

Besides the advantage that Low Harrogate had gained through the greater popularity of the sulphur cure, an event of 1819 made it practically independent of High Harrogate in all medical treatment. On "Oddy's land," where the Royal Hall grounds are now, was discovered its own chalybeate spring. This was given the name of Cheltenham water. By 1835, a Pump Room was opened, a Promenade Room built, and in the valley that was apparently at that time the most rural and picturesque part of the town elaborate Gardens were laid out. To mark the opening (according to an advertisement of the time) there was an archery contest, a firework display, and the lighting at night of variegated lamps (the popularity of which is still evident). Further use of the sulphur water was made in the Victoria Baths, built beside the Old Promenade Room, in 1837. 

An event that reflects considerable credit on the town, the opening of the Harrogate Bath Hospital, had taken place some years before, in 1826. Lord Harewood had provided the site in Cornwall Road (then known as Bogs Lane), and inhabitants and visitors subscribed over 1,500 for the building. These baths were reserved for the poor; again to the town's credit, for those who lived over three miles away. During 1837 the hospital had 300 patients. The upkeep was met also by subscriptions, which were on a generous scale in the Hotels and Lodging Houses. The hospital had been placed near the Bogs, where the material needed for the treatment could be easily and cheaply obtained, but its being in Low Harrogate was a further factor in the rise of that part of the town to importance. 

The first consultant of the hospital was Dr. Robert Richardson, who began his practice in Harrogate about 1800 and continued it for the next fifty years, during almost all of which he played a prominent and forceful part in the affairs of the town. The first honorary secretary was Pickersgill Palliser who, like a number of his contemporaries, was a man of many parts. He kept school, was a printer and bookseller, and became Postmaster. He issued guide books,, such as the Tourist's Companion, which were good publicity. But his most important achievement was the creation of the first Harrogate newspaper. 

He began in 1834 by printing a simple list of "the Company at Harrogate," the visitors being named under the Hotels and Lodging Houses where they were staying. In this first copy there was no other information and no advertisement. The venture obviously met with the visitors' approval, for the List of Visitors, as he began to call it, was published each week from then on, from June to October - which covered the extended season. In the second number Palliser added information about Sunday (and weekday!) services in the Churches, and there are the first indications of advertisements. There is a list of unoccupied lodgings; a notice of the High Harrogate Band (harp, violins, clarinet, flageolet, cello); and a statement that reads, "Harrogate Water bottled and sent to all parts of the country by T. H. Walker, Promenade Room, Low Harrogate." It is possible that the last notice was actually paid for. In later issues other useful information was added - such as details of coach services and of places of interest in the neighbourhood to which excursions might be made, and the advertisements increase and acquire punch. There is an amusing attack on his rivals by "T. Salt, Fashionable Hair Cutter and Perfumer," who with the adaptability of his time was to become hatter, auctioneer and eventually a man of property. In 1836, Palliser realised the fact that he had been responsible for the evolution of a newspaper. He adopted the title The Harrogate Advertiser, and under his editorship it chronicled events well and began to have an influence on public opinion. To get Harrogate more widely known he actually added to his paper a blank page, to be used for correspondence, and arranged that the whole could be posted at letter rate. 

The older Harrogate, however, did not always have a good press from visitors who deigned to take notice of it. The humorist, Sydney Smith, had set a bad example some forty years before when he referred to the spa's bleak appearance: "Just three gaunt trees - and each of these bending away from the place." In 1841, a certain Dr. Granville, who was satisfied that he had learnt everything worth knowing about Harrogate and its past history as the result of a few weeks' stay, gave a satirical picture both of inhabitants and visitors. 

The innkeepers, he says, charge "London prices" and act in the most arbitrary fashion - particularly by closing the Bath Hospital during the season: they are, in fact, "lords of the place." The Old Sulphur Well is served by ragged women who exist on charity. The visitors are either upstart manufacturers of the North or snobbish "ha-ha-ing " aristocrats. And more to the same effect. 

The reliability of his evidence may be gauged by the fact that in the very year of the setting up of the Commissioners he has found in Harrogate "no vestige of any form of government," "not a single representative of the smallest civic authority." But his master-stroke of ineptitude (to imitate his style) is to deplore the lack of initiative in the inhabitants. "A spirited capitalist," he exclaims, "would find an unexplored mine of wealth in Harrogate." The mine certainly was there, but it was quite as certainly not "unexplored." The sound of the inhabitants' picks and shovels (to continue his metaphor) would be quite audible to a person of average hearing. It would be unwise to accept Granville's view of the character of the Yorkshire people he had come amongst: it would be equally so to think that he gave a fair and balanced view of the situation in Harrogate at that time. 

An intruder in his catalogue of Harrogate's defects is one virtue. He praises its flowers: those in front of the Queen at High Harrogate; the "neat gardens " by Prospect Place, the Montpellier Gardens at Low Harrogate, and especially the extensive grounds of the Cheltenham Spa (which make him quite lyrical). These well-laid-out flower-beds, he suggests, put the town ahead of certain of its Southern rivals. It is doubtful whether a modern Granville would be so sharp in his criticisms of present-day Harrogate, but it is quite certain that he would become even more lyrical than his predecessor of 1841 in praise of its flowers. 

The next hundred years in the Harrogate story were to bring far greater developments. The steeply rising curve of population that had marked the period 1821-41 was to continue until it reached the present point of 50,000. The building activity of the same years was to produce eventually the present spacious borough. But the main lines of progress were clearly marked out in the earlier time, when the Georgian village was passing into the Victorian town.





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