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Harrogate Civic Society - The early days

by

Malcolm Neesam

I joined the Committee of the newly formed Harrogate Society in 1971. At that time, the society met on the top floor of the no.26 James Street premises of Walter Davey and Son, one of Harrogate’s top photographers who occupied the shop built for them in the 1880’s. The Society had been established to oppose the five-phase traffic scheme introduced at that time, but as time passed, it broadened its interests and activities to take on such matters as planning, land use, the protection and enhancement of buildings of significance, and the holding of public meetings to inform them of new developments.

It was in 1972 that the author was asked to report on the town’s buildings which should be listed. At this time, the official list of protected monuments was the list issued in 1949 by the Government, which included no Harrogate buildings erected after 1841, clearly an absurd situation. But after the submission of the Harrogate Society’s report, the town received a visit from the Department of the Environment’s inspector, Michael Green, and a comprehensive listing of the town’s architectural heritage was issued in 1973. At the same time, the Society submitted plans for Harrogate’s first Conservation Areas, which were largely accepted in July 1973.

Other matters dealt with by the Harrogate Society during its early years were the highly controversial plans for the Pudsey to Dishforth relief road, the development of the town’s housing stock through growth, and the establishment of a good working relationship with the newly established Harrogate Borough Council and also the North Yorkshire County Council. The subject of a new Conference Centre for Harrogate was also scrutinised in depth, although the Council’s obsessive secrecy made this difficult.

In September 1975, the Society presented its first two plaques on historic buildings at the Tewit Well and the Old Magnesia Well, which became a valuable means of informing the public of the town’s rich history. This plaque programme is still current today. There were many other matters to involve the Harrogate Society at this time, the above representing only a small, albeit significant, number.

Tree conservation and planting soon became of major interest to the Society, and this was to have implications for the society’s attitude to Birkham Wood, which arose when the route for the southern bypass was discussed in 1988. The Harrogate Society also gave high priority to helping individual members with their problems, which usually were to do with planning.

All in all, the Harrogate Society performed a valuable service, one of its main successes being to make the Council aware that the days of supine public acceptance of whatever the Council said were over. Scrutiny was now the order of the day.