Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Harrogate, Yorkshire

Yorkshire philanthropy, Yorkshire grit

Last week I spent an enjoyable couple of days in Harrogate, speaking at the excellent Raworth’s Harrogate Literature Festival and spending a lot of time just standing and staring at the architecture. As someone who grew up Cheltenham and has a particular affection for Bath, both spa towns, I’ve always liked the spa town of Harrogate too – though I’ve not been there for years. I was struck by the stone: Harrogate is a stone town, like Bath (and unlike Cheltenham, where the buildings are predominantly stucco). But whereas Bath’s local stone is creamy limestone, the builders of Harrogate used mainly sandstone from the surrounding area, the various millstone grits with picturesque names (Follifoot Grit, Addlethorpe Grit, Upper and Lower Plompton Grit, and Libishaw Sandstone) that give the place its characteristic look. These stones vary in colour from grey to brown, and many look darker than the southern limestones typical of places like Bath. They’re also often finished less smoothly – sometimes rock-faced, sometimes with a flat face but with the chisel’s tool marks left very much visible.

The other thing that marks Harrogate out from those other two great spas is its date. In contrast to Georgian Bath and Regency Cheltenham, Harrogate came into fashion in the second half of the 19th century, so much of its architecture is Victorian. This building, for example, is of dark stone in a mix of masonry finishes – mainly rock-faced stone for the walls, with smooth ashlar around the windows and doors. The trefoiled upper windows and the clock tower with its short spire take their cue from the Gothic style, as is not unusual for for almshouses of the Victorian period. They were built in 1868 by textile manufacture George Rogers, whose business was in Bradford but who had a close connection to Harrogate and intended as houses for elderly people from either place.
Rogers's emblem of hard work, the bee and its hive, is placed above the central doorway. Bees must be in evidence, too, in the courtyard’s lovely garden, which was still showing a little colour in the late-October warmth. That garden, together with the architectural flourish of the spire, suggest that a decent environment was (and is) being valued here, not just a necessary minimum. Victorian values weren’t all bad.


Hels said...

I much prefer the lighter limestone work in Bath etc but Harrogate is, as you noted, a much more Victorian city. So it was not an accident that Harrogate stone was darker and finished less smoothly. The great thing about being a spa town in Yorkshire was that it was more available to northerners who didn't necessarily have potloads of money.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Thank you for something from t'North, though the tendency to make North and South comparisons doesn't really help us get to the heart of "grim Northern" architecture. As mentioned before, a saunter around Huddersfield or Dewsbury or Bradford should yield rich dividends! Even a place as unglamorous and unfamous as Goole has a few surprises, as I found on a recent visit. I think because I had a heavy cold on my visit to Harrogate I found the place rather disappointing. But I wonder if you spotted the statues on top of the tall building near the station - you might have a camera that can do justice to them - assuming they aren't coming in the next post?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: True about the bringing access to spas north. But there was plenty of money in the North in the late 19th century. Harrogate has some stonking great Victorian hotels. In fact I may post one or two of them.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joseph: I'll get to Bradford and Huddersfield one of these days. And you are the second person to mention Goole: I really must try it. Yes I saw the statues on top of that shopping centre building. Most unexpected.