It was a full house time today at the Forum as Members and their wives turned out to listen to Harry Satlova and his historical tour of Harrogate.
Chairman Peter Wilson opened the proceedings by posing a frequent question to which Harry might have the answer – “Where’s the Beach?” Harry was unable to give a definitive answer but did offer the suggestion that visitors may be misled by signs for the “Pier Head” to say nothing of street signs for that posh cul-de-sac – Beech Grove.
Back to Harry’s history lesson. York and surrounding areas were first settled by the Romans from the 1st to 4th centuries and later by the Vikings who arrived here from the 8th century using the Humber and Ouse to reinforce both their presence and trade. Harrogate must have been on their agenda because a cache of 700 Viking coins and jewellery was discovered in 2007 just a few of miles out of town. Known as the Harrogate Horde it was the most important find in England for 150 years
Moving on a few centuries we come to William Slingsby who, around 1570, first began investigating the many local springs and checking them for their curative properties. Some 200 years later, by 1777 4 springs ( 3 sulphur and 1 iron) had been captured into wellheads where they were dispensed for body wash and consumption. Following the success of the Belgium and French Spa Towns, entrepreneurs arrived in Harrogate and offered visitors assembly rooms where musical recitals, dances and lectures took place together with the enjoyment of the surrounding gardens and the beneficial effects of springwaters.
From 1830 to 50 there was a demand in Low Harrogate for buildings for bathhouses. Structures like The Crown and The Swan Inn were converted from farms and to keep up with the sophisticated treatments offered on the Continent the Royal Baths was constructed and opened in1871. It was followed in the 1890s by larger new-build hotels like The Majestic, The Cairn and The Grand supplemented by the expansion of the Swan and The Crown into fully-fledged Spa Hotels and attracting more than 250,000 visitors a year.
With a decline in the demand for spa treatments and an increased need for entertainment, local entrepreneurs led by engineering inventor Samson Fox commissioned the building of a theatre come assembly hall. The building designed by Frank Matcham constructed on the site of the former Cheltenham Pump Room was named The Kursaal and opened in 1903. Patriotically. at the end of World War 1, it was renamed The Royal Hall.
Harry’s tour continued for us past the Mercer Gallery into the Valley Gardens and through the Collonade on the Westside. This was once covered with a glazed roof and used as a walkway up to the Grand Hotel (Windsor House) and the Royal Baths Hospital. Both are now redeveloped into Offices, apartments and housing. Hopefully, the potential of the Collonade, sadly in some disrepair, will be recognised and upgraded to a useful civic amenity.
Harry opened the meeting up to audience participation which enabled an interesting exchange of views and reminisces. Starting with the Second World War, when Harrogate first became a hub for Government and Defence personnel who took over most of the Hydros. There was also a mention of an evacuation plan to move the Royal Family to Newby Hall and Winston Churchill to Grove House. This plan was abandoned when a single plane dropped bombs on the Majestic Hotel.
After 20 minutes of discussion, Michael Williams rose to thank Harry for a fascinating morning which was seconded by hearty applause from an appreciative audience.
Next Tuesday author Richard Needham will recount his adventurous times in the Gulf some 40 years ago when we will find out about “A cockroach on my shoulder”
Recorded by: RICHARD WRIGHT