York Road

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The late nineteenth century witnessed a massive building boom in Harrogate. Not least on either side of the Valley Gardens. From the mid-1890s, Valley Drive, with adjacent Valley Road and Valley Mount, and Harlow Moor Drive, were developed on its eastern side, whilst on the western, what became the Duchy estate was being built. Many of the former properties became hotels and boarding houses or were let in apartments to visitors for the season, whilst the latter area was overall more residential in character. Both Valley Drive and Valley Road are the subject of pieces in this Down Your Street series.

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First Image: York Road, view to Swan Road
Second Image: View up York Road from beyond the junction with Clarence Drive
Third Image: Rear of the former Grand Hotel
Fourth Image: York Road view from Duchy Road

One street on the Duchy which illustrates the estate’s development is York Road. It connects Swan Road, in front of the Swan Hotel, then the Swan Hydro, crosses Clarence Drive, climbs the hill in an elegant curve past on the left the rear of the former Grand Hotel, now Windsor House, and then continues to meet Duchy Road.

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I looked at the title deeds to one house, which provided details of the road’s origins. The whole area had been allocated to the Crown as the Duchy of Lancaster in the 1778 Award which enclosed the Royal Forest of Knaresborough. It was the Duchy which from the close of the 1880s, sold plots of land, which together were to make up the Duchy estate, to builder David Simpson.

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Chris Dicken.jpg
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David Simpson

Simpson, was a notable figure in the town. He was a councillor and alderman and three-times mayor, in 1895-6, 1901-2 and again in the mid-1920s. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Harrogate’s builders were a major power in the town at this time. This influence did attract comment. In 1909, the Local Government Board published a report on the sanitary condition of Harrogate and the Knaresborough urban and rural districts. Its focus was more on workers’ housing, but it did note the overrepresentation of builders and those in related trades on the two relevant council committees: Sanitary and General Purposes and Plans. The occupations of committee members it noted, ‘were liable to hamper their judgements when questions of strict application and interpretation of the building bye-laws or of nuisances are at issue’. The committee had routinely approved hundreds of plans for houses submitted by council members or on behalf of members who were architects. Whether Simpson was included in this criticism is not known. In other evidence he seems to have been a model employer. The Harrogate Advertiser reported in the summer of 1900 how he had taken around 70 employees on their annual excursion to Scarborough, where they enjoyed lunch at the Grand Restaurant, at which foreman Clark proposed the toast to Simpson, ‘who always did what was right for his employees’.

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The role of men like Simpson in development prompts a couple of reflections. Builders like him undoubtedly did well from their business and local influence. But on the other hand, they were just that: locally based, engaged with the life of the town and, in much of Harrogate left behind buildings of real distinction. The same perhaps cannot be said of many modern house builders. Nor do modern local authorities possess elected men (and women now) with the same power, prestige and influence as their late Victorian and Edwardian predecessors.

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First Image: Nethway, name on gate post
Second Image: Nethway, the house

Of course, the houses on York Road were not intended for working-class people, affordable homes as they would now be called. To return to the deeds. Simpson had been granted on the 26 May 1896 a lease on the plot of land, and another adjoining on the corner with what became Rutland Road, for a term of 98 years beginning on 25 March. This was a relatively short term, but typical of Duchy properties, compared, for example, to the 999 years for plots in Valley Drive and Valley Road which I looked at. On those plots he was to build two houses, subject to a range of stipulations, including that no trade or business whatsoever was to be carried on in them, and subject also to the approval of the Chancellor of the Duchy. One of the plots, consisting of 791 square yards and its new house, was then sold in December to Sarah Hannah Dewhirst, the wife of William Isaac, a commercial traveller, for £950 with an annual ground rent of £5. From the outset, it was known as Chesham House, a name which, in common with several other houses, is visible to this day on the gate posts. Another example is at number 18: Nethway.

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J. Turner Taylor

York Road’s middle-class character is clear when we look at the censuses of 1901 and 1911. In 1901, we find at Chesham House, William Isaac Dewhirst, described now as a retired Bradford stuff merchant, his wife, their two daughters and son, a chemist’s apprentice. Bradford, like Leeds, was within easy commuting distance from Harrogate and many also retired thence to the town. On the other side of the road, at the junction with Duchy Road, was Jeffries Cote, whose name is also visible to this day, home to John Farrah, then a retired baker and grocer of the well-known local firm, his two sons and a daughter. Going the other way, number 17, The Gables, was a private ladies’ school run by a Grace Harriman, with her sister Elizabeth, a niece and a French governess. It had six pupils boarding, aged from 10 to 18. Finally, at number 4, Rosendale, we find J. Turner Taylor, solicitor and Town Clerk for the Borough of Harrogate, with his wife and daughter. Taylor was Town Clerk for the whole period from 1897 to 1935. Malcolm Neesam, in his History and Guide to Harrogate, describes him as ‘the most faithful and effective public servant ever to have worked for Harrogate’. He was universally known as T.T. He therefore presided over what is often seen as Harrogate’s Edwardian heyday and into the more uncertain inter-war years. His repeated attempts to retire were thwarted by a council reluctant to lose him and he enjoyed his eventual success in 1935 for less than a year.

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First Image: Number 6, Clareton School
Second Image: Number 12, St Mungo
Third Image: The plaque at St Mungo
Fourth Image: Dr Kathleen Rutherford

He was still living at Rosendale in 1911. The Gables was now no more, but another private school had opened at number 6, at the corner with Clarence Drive, called Clareton under Elizabeth Mattinson, four other mistresses and a music student/governess, with 12 boarding girls, mostly aged 15.

Another important figure in Harrogate’s history now lived at number 12. This was Dr Kathleen E. H. Rutherford. She was born in Glasgow in 1896 to James Rutherford, a physician and Amy, a Dr of Philosophy, born in Sheffield. The family moved to Harrogate and in the 1911 census were in York Road in the house they called St Mungo after the founder and patron saint of Glasgow. Kathleen was then fourteen, with younger sister Dorothy and brothers Raphael and Eric. She later qualified as a doctor but beyond medicine worked in many causes as a committed Quaker, humanitarian and pacifist. She became the Harrogate Soroptimist Club’s Founder President in 1933, and in 1939 Vice-President of Soroptimist International of Great Britain and Ireland.

Her full story can be found in an article on the plaques, one of which is at the house, devoted to women in the History section of the Civic Society website at
https://www.harrogatecivicsociety.org/historyarticlesindex/art1

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Another set of residents in York Road were the servants living in those households: 51 women in 1901 and 38 in 1911 in the Road’s 28 houses. In 1911, the Rutherford family employed Margaret Roberts, aged 36, from Helperby and Elizabeth Warner, aged 22, born at Robin Hood’s Bay. There were no servants recorded at Chesham House but at Nethway, John Little, a clothing manufacturer, employed Lizzie Fenwick, aged 28, from Pickering as a cook and Ethel Holland, aged 25, from Middlesbrough as a housemaid to look after him, his wife and daughter. Ten years earlier, they had been looked after by Molly and Nelly Curran from Ireland.

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On the Duchy estate as a whole there has been much change over the intervening years to the present. One change has been the conversion of leaseholds to freeholds. Under the provisions of the Leasehold Reform Act of 1967, long leaseholders at a low ground rent were given the right to purchase the freehold, Although, technically, Crown properties were not included, the Duchy agreed to comply with the new law. Many householders naturally took the opportunity to buy, since their leases had only a few more years to run. One consequence generally of the removal of Duchy control, however, was the demolition of original properties and their replacement with blocks of flats, notably on Beech Grove overlooking the Stray. On the Duchy estate too, new properties have been constructed, often as flats, and old ones similarly so converted. Private schools remain important, notably the Ladies College on Clarence Drive and its associated buildings, which include Tower House at number 17 York Road, but another school on Duchy Road is Brackenfield. Nursing homes are also more a feature of the estate. York Road is something of an exception, except towards Swan Road. It is substantially as it was built and largely remains as private houses, an elegant reminder of those late Victorian and Edwardian years in Harrogate.

Acknowledgements and sources:

I thank Jane Blayney for her hospitality and permission to look at the title deeds to Chesham House, 23 York Road and Nigel McClea, chair of the Harrogate Civic Society History Group for information on leasehold law. I also thank Rosemary Johnston and Sarah Pease of The Vixen. A piece I did on York Road servants in 1901, which included a map detailing the residents, is in The Vixen issue 33, September 2021. Issue 5, September 2014 has a piece on York Road in 1914 and details of the residents of number 18, Nethway. Copies may be viewed at https://theduchyvixen.com/

On Turner Taylor and also the demolition of houses on Duchy land for flats, see Malcolm Neesam, History & Guide: Harrogate (Tempus, 2001).

On builders and servants see Paul Jennings, Working-Class Lives in Edwardian Harrogate (Carnegie, 2021).

The photographs of Simpson and Tuner Taylor are reproduced from Harrogate 1884-1959, a booklet produced to mark the 75th anniversary of the grant of the Charter of Incorporation (R. Ackrill, 1959). That of Kathleen Rutherford is courtesy Soroptimist International Harrogate and District. Contemporary photographs are by Frank Jennings.

Paul Jennings, December 2021.