"Well Known" - Harrogate shop window displays

Like many town centres over the past few years, Harrogate has seen a decline in the use of retail premises.
In order to counter the look of empty shops, the Harrogate BID (Business Improvement District) is using them to tell the tale of the spa town’s connection to famous people. Led by the BID, the ‘well known’ windows is a collaboration between Harrogate historian Malcom Neesam, creative agency The Lift Agency, and signs and graphic experts, De-signs.

The BID, whose remit is to drive footfall into the retail heart of the town, installed its first ‘well known’ window vinyl, in the former Hotter store on the corner of Cambridge Street and Market Square. A further three empty units, including Debenhams on Parliament Street and Swarovski, on James Street, have had window displays with more famous faces, including Agatha Christie, Sir Winston Churchill and Charles Dickens.

Harrogate BID chair Sara Ferguson said: “What we are doing is bringing these empty shop units back into life, by telling tales of famous people who all have a connection with Harrogate. I think the first ‘well known’ window looks absolutely fantastic, and will help instill pride in our town, and also give people another reason to visit. There is nothing worse than seeing empty shops and what we are doing is helping to create a town that is a fabulous place to shop, eat and drink, one that is interesting, and one that is proud of its history and heritage. I would like to thank Malcolm Neesam for penning the words, and our two other partners in this project, De-signs, and The Lift Agency for creating these superb vinyl graphics.”

The Harrogate BID and the Harrogate Civic Society have forged links between the two organisations, and the BID have been kind enough to allow the reproduction of their "Well Known" narratives, and the historical stories they tell on our website.

Please see the bottom of the article for further acknowledgements.

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Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II, 1957. Source: the "Walker-Neesam Archive".

Queen Elizabeth’s first Harrogate visit occurred on Wednesday 27 July 1949, when some four years before her Coronation, Princess Elizabeth arrived in Harrogate with the Duke of Edinburgh to attend the Great Yorkshire Show. Her first official visit to Harrogate as Queen was in 1957 when she arrived to see the Great Yorkshire Show and also to tour her Harrogate estates, which the Monarch owns through the Duchy of Lancaster inheritance of 1399, when at Henry 1Vth’s coronation he declared that, henceforth, the Duchy of Lancaster would always be the monarch’s property. Queen Elizabeth made her second official visit to Harrogate in April 1985, when she visited the new Conference Centre. A further royal visit occurred in December 1998, when Her Majesty opened the newly restored Sun Pavilion, and also visited Harrogate Theatre and the home of Farrah’s Harrogate Toffee.

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Winston Churchill

Churchill in Harrogate, 1944: Source: the "Walker-Neesam Archive".

Winston Churchill first visited Harrogate in November 1900 to give a talk in the Winter Gardens about his experience in the South African Wars. Staying at the newly opened Majestic Hotel , Churchill also organised a ‘charge of the Harrogate Bath Chair men’ which saw entrants lined up at the top of Parliament Street before racing down the hill, the winner being whoever crossed the finishing line outside the George Hotel. Churchill returned to Harrogate in 1944, when he had a military conference with General Montgomery, being met at the railway station by the Mayor, who invited him to sign the visitors book in the Council Offices. In recent times it has been suggested that, had the Nazi invasion occurred and the Royal family evacuated to Newby Hall, Churchill’s HQ would have been moved to Grove House.

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Sir Edward Elgar

Edward Elgar in Harrogate 1927. Source: the "Walker-Neesam Archive".

Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) visited Harrogate in the summer of 1912 to undergo the ‘cure’ at the Royal Baths. Staying at the Crown Hotel, Elgar also dined with friends at the Majestic Hotel , where he noted that ‘Harrogate thinks itself very fashionable and more than chic...and the ladies dress up terribly’. During the depths of the Great War, Elgar recalled happier times to Lady Alice Stuart Wortley ‘I was dreaming yesterday of woods and fields and perhaps a little drive round Harrogate – or a little journey to Fountains or some lovely remembrance of long ago idylls... Well, I have put it all in my music…’. Elgar’s last visit occurred in 1927, when the composer was observed to take a daily walk from the Majestic Hotel to Valley Gardens along what is now known as the Elgar Walk.

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Grand Duchess George of Russia

George and Queen Alexandra. Source: the "Walker-Neesam Archive".

Cousin to King George V and Emperor Nicholas II, Grand Duchess George of Russia first visited Harrogate in 1910, at the recommendation of Empress Alexandra, for her two daughters, Nina and Zenia, to receive treatment at the Royal Baths. Her annual visit in 1914 saw her marooned in Harrogate at the outbreak of war on 4 August and soon afterwards she opened a hospital for wounded servicemen. The success of this led to other hospitals and convalescent homes being opened in Harrogate, with members of European royalty assisting with their running. By the end of the war in 1918, the Grand Duchess’s hospitals at Tewit Well, Heatherdene, St. George’s and St. Nicholas had treated 1,200 casualties in an outstanding act of humanity. Following the murder of her husband along with the Emperor, the Grand Duchess never returned to Russia.

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Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie, leaving the Old Swan, 15th Dec 1926. Source: the "Walker-Neesam Archive".

Agatha (1890-1976) had married her husband Archie Christie in 1914, but later overwork, and stress caused by the discovery of Archie’s affair, brought on a breakdown in 1926, when she planned a get away by faking her disappearance on 3rd December, and then travelling to Harrogate, where she signed in at the Harrogate Hydro under the name of her husband’s mistress. After the biggest missing person hunt in British history, Agatha and Archie were temporarily reconciled at a meeting in the Hydro on 15th December, before being divorced two years later. Agatha wrote 14 collections of short stories and 66 novels, including those featuring detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, many of which have been adapted for television and cinema. Agatha’s Harrogate visit has also been subjected to many books, articles TV documentaries and films, including the 1979 film with Dustin Hoffman and Vanessa Redgrave.

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The Beatles

The Beatles. Source: the "Walker-Neesam Archive". Courtesy of Terry Mason.

On 8th March 1963 several pop groups appeared in the Royal Hall to provide music for a dance, including “Barry Corbett and the Mustangs”, “Ricky Fenton and the Apaches” and the Beatles, the cost of mounting the event being £75. At this time, the Beatles were at the beginning of their phenomenally successful career, and had just released their first number one hit, “Please Please Me”
According to a later recollection, the Beatles had been refused admission to the Hotel St. George, as their hair was judged to be too long, so they were accommodated by the Old Swan Hotel. Within a few years, the Beatles’ appearance was followed with visits by the Kinks, Manfred Mann, Chris Barber's Jazz Band, the Hollies, the Kinks, the Who, Small Faces, and Pentangle.

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Beulah Street

Originally a footpath connecting Cambridge Street with the Methodist Chapel that is now home to Yorkshire Farmers, Beulah Street was well developed by 1890, whose last two substantial buildings were the Salvation Army Citadel of 1897, built on the site of “Volta Lodge”, where Harrogate’s first electrical treatments were given, and the Central Arcade of 1902 which ran down to Oxford Street and whose head-building is now home to Costa Coffee. The importance of the locality had been given a boost in 1882 when the Conservative Club and St. James Coffee House opened at the junction with Cambridge Street. At the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, Beulah Street was where the famous travelling quack doctor, Sequah, performed his “cures”. Today home to a generous selection of smaller, private businesses, Beulah Street was pedestrianised in 1997.

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Cambridge Street

A comparative newcomer to Harrogate’s retail area, Cambridge Street developed after the opening of the Market Building at its eastern end in 1874, and the consecration of St. Peter’s Church at its western end in 1876. Rapid urbanisation followed, with the Lowther Arcade (built 1897 - 1901) and such larger department stores as Woolworths following in 1921, Marks & Spencer in 1933 and Littlewoods in 1962 . In 1882 the Conservative Club and St. James’ Coffee House (later St. James’ Cinema of 1907), and the Scala Cinema (later Gaumont) of 1920 introduced the amenity of popular entertainment. Today, Cambridge Street contains a wide choice of retailing in a locality that was given full pedestrianisation in 1986, the new Marks & Spencer, store dating from 1998, having replaced both Lowther Arcade and the St. James Cinema.

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Catherine Gurney

Miss Catherine at Royal Northern Police Convalescence Home, 1914: Source: the "Walker-Neesam Archive".

Catherine Gurney OBE (1848-1930) became a celebrated charitable philanthropist, with particular sympathy for police officers injured or killed in the course of duty, and for their orphaned families. During a visit to Harrogate, she learned that the former St. George’s College on Otley Road was for sale, which she purchased and converted into an Orphanage for the Northern Police, with facilities for police convalescence. After St. George’s opened in 1898, Miss Gurney built the neighbouring St. Andrew’s to house the Northern Police Convalescent Home, opened in 1901, which still operates today, containing superb facilities. Many other examples of her charitable generosity were provided throughout the United Kingdom, but at her death in 1930, Catherine Gurney’s body was interred at All Saint’s Church on Harlow Hill.

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Celia Fiennes

Well Hill drawn by Moses Griffiths. Source: the "Walker-Neesam Archive".

Celia Fiennes (1662 – 1741), the celebrated English woman who travelled around the country on horseback between 1684 and 1703, recording her impressions in a journal, came to Harrogate in 1697, of which she wrote “ …. we went over to Haragate which is just by the Spaw, two mile further over a Common …, its all marshy and wett and here in the compass of two miles is four very different springs of water: there is the Sulphur or Stincking spaw, not improperly term'd for the Smell being so very strong and offensive that I could not force my horse near the Well, there are two Wells together with basons in them that the Spring rises up in, which is furr'd with a White Scumm which rises out of the water, if you keep it in.”

Acknowledgements:

Harrogate BID for allowing HCS to replicate the shop window stories on our website.
Malcolm Neesam for the use of his text.
Images courtesy of "Neesam/Walker Archive".
Beatles Image by Terry Mason.