Image 1: Valley Drive looking from its junction with Valley Road.
Residents and visitors alike admire the majestic and beautiful curve of Valley Drive, ascending from Royal Parade and overlooking the Valley Gardens. This piece traces something of its history and how its nature has changed over the 125 years since it was built (Image 1).
Image 2: Site of lower Valley Drive and Valley Road from deeds
The later Victorian years witnessed a building boom in Harrogate, comprising public buildings and shops in its central streets, many hundreds of hotels and other accommodation providers for visitors to the spa, and private homes for the town’s middle- and working-class residents. The Valley Park Estate was one such development. In the mid-1890s, they acquired land between Cold Bath Road and the Valley Gardens on which they built Valley Drive, to the rear Valley Mount and at a right-angle to the east Valley Road. The land had several owners, but one important landholder was St Robert’s Church, Pannal, which had been granted it in the early eighteenth century. On a plan from the title deeds to a Valley Road property, the land may be seen stretching from Royal Parade along what was to become lower Valley Drive and down along the line of what became Valley Road (Image 2). On the plan may be seen the quarry at the top of what became Valley Road. A much larger quarry, shown as the Old Quarry on an Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1889-90 and as Vicar’s Quarry on a plan of 1878, stretched the length of what became Valley Drive to the point where it now curves towards Cold Bath Road. Once the estate had been assembled, plots were sold on long leases to individual developers and builders who erected the properties according to requirements laid down in the leases, which ensured their quality. Important among them was David Simpson, who was to build much of the Duchy estate on the west side of the Valley Gardens.
The Early Drive
Image 3: 89 Valley Drive
Image 4: Brooklands gatepost
One of those builders, William Holmes, was actually living at number 1 Valley Drive, according to Robinson’s Directory of 1900. Next door at number 3 was a girls’ school run by a Miss Dineley, one of many private schools in Harrogate at this time. On either side of the exit to Valley Road were the Brinkburn and Octagon boarding houses. Number 37, Ingleside was a private nursing institution under the supervision of a Rebecca Warren. Number 89 was the Hawthorne Boarding House (Image 3). This was run by Herman Barczinsky as a strictly Orthodox Jewish establishment, one of several in the town catering to that community, indeed, there was another one at number 75. A Saturday service was held at the Hawthorne. The vast majority of the remaining properties were apartments, according to the Directory. This was how most visitors to Harrogate were accommodated, in an arrangement below the great hotels like the Majestic, Crown or the Granby, the private hotels and boarding houses. Families would rent a room or rooms in a larger house for all or part of the season, on full- or half-board or sometimes buy their own food to be cooked for them. One of those of 1900, Brooklands, is still remembered on its gatepost (Image 4).
The Drive in the 1960's
Image 5: Langham Hotel from the 1966 Corporation Guide
Image 6: Russell Hotel from the 1966 Corporation Guide
Image 7: Ingleside
If we now fast-forward to the mid-1960s we will see continuity and change, looking now at a Kelly’s Directory for 1966 and the Harrogate Corporation Guide for the same year. There were now more private hotels. At the foot of the Drive was the Kensington Private Hotel, run by a Mrs Hindle, which had opened before the First World War. Numbers 21 to 27 now comprised the Langham Private Hotel (Image 5). This hotel had, in addition, an annexe at the top of Valley Road, from whence residents walked to the main hotel for meals. The resident managing director was Miss J. M Lewis. The Guide describes it as ‘old established’, with 56 ‘comfortably furnished bedrooms … all with hot and cold water, gas or electric fires and interior sprung mattresses’. It offered ‘excellent cuisine; special attention being paid to guests on diet. Our own Farm and Dairy produce’. Numbers 29-35 comprised the Russell Hotel, ‘an hotel of distinction and character’. It had 45 bedrooms and offered ‘Every Modern Comfort combined with Good Food and Efficient service’ on terms of 45/- per day according to season (Image 6). At number 37, Ingleside was now also a private hotel for 22/6 a day bed and breakfast or 32/6 with dinner (Image 7). Other private hotels included the Heatherbrae at 51 and the Metropole at 115. The former Marlborough Boarding House was now an Old People’s Home. But the biggest change was the disappearance of the apartments for flats, like the King’s Court or Earls Court Service Flats at numbers 69 and 81, the Valley Court Flats at 85-91 and the Henshelwood Court Service Flats at 97.
To the Present Day
Image 8: Green Park Hotel from the 1966 Corporation Guide
Image 9: Dales Guest House
The conversion of properties to flats was to be the most important change over the succeeding years. The Russell was so converted. The Langham traded into the 1990s but was shortly also converted to flats, whilst retaining the name. One of the last to go was the Green Park Hotel on the opposite side of Valley Drive at the bottom of Harlow Moor Drive (Image 8). It had originally been the St Helier before joining with another hotel as the Green Park. In August 1998 it had played host to the Australian Ladies cricket team. In signs of changing times, it provided the first non-smoking room in Harrogate and offered vegetarian dishes. It too closed in 2000 and was converted to flats. Another to follow that trend was the Cavendish at the foot of Valley Drive. At present (2021) only the Dales remains from all those accommodation providers (Image 9). Their closure was the result of the demise of the Spa but also of changing patterns of holidaymaking as people moved away from the traditional long stay at one resort to more foreign and shorter and more frequent holidays. Economically too, luxury flats made more sense than hotel accommodation with flats now selling (in 2021) for upwards of £300,000.
Image 10: Thomas Rutling
Image 11: J. R. R. Tolkien
In an article such as this, it is impossible to tell of all the thousands who must have stayed and lived here over the years. But two men who are commemorated with plaques are worth noting. At number 93-5 stayed John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, the celebrated author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He was recovering in the Spring of 1917 from trench fever, which was carried by lice, contracted whilst on active service on the Western Front the previous year. He was invalided out and declared medically unfit to serve (Image 10) At number 97 lived Thomas Rutling. He had been born a slave in Tennessee on Christmas Eve 1854, where he worked on the plantation and later in the house. He was freed in the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. He attended Fisk University for Afro-Americans and as a tenor with the Fisk Jubilee Singers toured Europe. Ill-health led to his settling in Europe, latterly in England, where he became a voice teacher and sang in churches. His last days were spent in the nursing home at number 97 where he died on 26 April 1915. He is buried in Grove Road Cemetery (Image 11).
There is then much to enjoy and ponder strolling up or down Valley Drive. Features I have not mentioned hitherto include the stumps of the railings which once were so characteristic of the town’s walls and which were removed during the Second World War in the erroneous belief that this would help the war effort. But the beauty of Valley Drive may still be appreciated today and the great changes to its character contemplated.
Paul Jennings August 2021
Robinson’s and Kelly’s Directories of Harrogate, 1900 and 1966
Harrogate Corporation Guide 1966
Malcolm Neesam, ‘Colourful century of Green Park’, in Harrogate Advertiser, 27 October 2000, page 7
Plaques to Tolkien and Rutling
All contemporary photos by Frank Jennings