Saturday, October 27, 2018

Harrogate, Yorkshire

Hotel town

Harrogate is well supplied with large hotels, many dating to the town’s boom in the late-19th century – or even before, the spa being well established by the early-18th. One witness to the town’s earlier life as a watering places was the traveller redoubtable Celia Fiennes, who visited in 1697 and recorded that she could not force her horse to come near the ’Sulpher or Stincking Spaw, not improperly term’d’.* She tried a couple of quarts of the noxious water and found these doses to be ‘a good sort of Purge if you can hold your breath so as to drink them down’. The hotels are variously classical, Italianate, or a sort of free style with many bays, prominent gables, and mansard roofs. My photograph shows the Crown, which is in a mixture of styles, and has a long history.

Before the current building was put up, there had been a hotel here for a long time, even before the Crown was owned by the Thackwray family form 1740. Lord Byron, who stayed in 1806, was one of the best known guests, and he recorded that his beloved dog Nelson§ had to be put down after attacking a horse in the hotel’s stable yard. The Crown was very convenient for the town’s sulphur well, which only a few yards away and available to all. Joseph Thackwray, however, sunk his own private well in a building adjoining the Crown, greatly reducing the flow from the public well. There was an outcry from other innkeepers, and when a group took legal measures against him, he relented. It is said that this case actually alerted the town to the value both of its wells and of its pleasant environment generally, and so preserved the generous public green spaces that distinguish the place to this day.

In 1847 the Crown was rebuilt in the classical style, and this building remains the core of what’s there now – the 3-bay central section (pilastered, with rectangular windows), flanked by slender 1-bay side wings. This was extended in the Italianate style (bay windows, with round-topped central openings) in 1870, when the two parts were unified by building the balustered parapet across the top of the whole front. almost concealing the low hipped roof behind. There were yet further elaborations, including extensions to the sides in around 1899, including the tower visible on the right. The result is an impressive ensemble, near the centre of the town and not far from the greenery of The Stray. In short, an excellent venue for the festival† I attended two weeks ago and no doubt a fine centre for visitors who’ve been coming for hundreds of years.

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* Christopheer Morris (ed.), The Journeys of Celia Fiennes (The Cresset Press, 1947)

§ A mastiff, apparently, not the poet’s most famous dog, the Newfoundland Boatswain.

† The Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival


Stephen Barker said...

Harrogate spa water smells disgusting. How anyone can bring themselves to drink it is beyond me.

Philip Wilkinson said...

So la Fiennes was accurate in her reference to the 'Stincking Spaw'. I restricted by own sampling of Harrogate water to stuff from the mains...preferably in a pot of Betty's tea.