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THE VICTORIAN BOROUGH (1884-1914) 

Queen Victoria died in 1901, but the Victorian Age may be said to have survived her by more than a decade. The energy, optimism and, perhaps, solemnity of nineteenth century England were still characteristics of the Edwardians, and life was little changed in its essentials by the development of the motor car or even by the appearance of the first aeroplane. 

Certainly there was no noticeable change in the social atmosphere of Harrogate until the 1914-18 War. The statue of the Good Queen, that was erected in Station Square (the then centre of the town) in her Jubilee year, 1887, may be interpreted as the presiding genius of the essential borough, a sort of Our Lady of the Spa. Few pre-Victorian buildings remain, but the solid Victorian houses, in their broad German avenues, are likely to do so for a considerable time. It therefore seems fitting to continue the Harrogate story, in a more or less connected fashion, down to the First World War. 

But these later years must be briefly summarised. Apart from the fact that the events of these more crowded years could hardly be adequately treated within the pages allotted, the design proposed was to try to show how the township passed - by process of evolution, and by no great or unexpected change - into the town. 

In 1884, Harrogate attained to the dignity of a still more independent status, being incorporated as a borough. Indeed, this increased dignity seems to have been the chief argument of those who brought it about. One of these, a local doctor, declared that some eight years before the town had failed to invite the British Medical Association to hold its annual Congress in Harrogate, and so lost valuable publicity because it feared that the body would take umbrage if received by anyone less important than a Mayor. 

A good many townsmen were by no means enthusiastic for the change. They knew the worst about the Commissioners (some who now defended them had frequently criticised them), but not about the proposed Councillors. A second argument put forward for incorporation, a possible increase in efficiency, was interpreted by the opponents as meaning a probable increase in public expenditure. The event proved both parties to have been right. The Borough, which has now seen a rise in population from 12,000 to 50,000, had necessarily to make its government more efficient, but it could hardly have done this without calling to its aid a host of paid helpers. Government: nearly always costs money; good government is worth it.

The Borough took over the exact territory of the Commissioners. This was divided into three Wards, East, West and Central, each represented by 6 Councillors, and there were 6 Aldermen. The administrative offices were in the Victoria Baths building. 

For the first ten years of the new Borough there still existed the township of Bilton-with-Harrogate. As a consequence of the Local Government of 1894, however, it ended. Formed largely out of it, there appeared three new civil parishes. In 1895, the area of the borough (which had included also part of Pannal township) became the parish of Harrogate, the administration of which was taken over by the borough itself, and in 1896, the parishes of Bilton and. Starbeck were created, corning under the Knaresborough Rural District Council. 

These arrangements had hardly been given a chance to work when they were upsetówith the hesitant assent of Bilton and Starbeck, and to the dismay of Knaresborough. The reason for this fresh change was that the community dependent on Harrogate had for some time been wider than that in the Borough. The over-spill population in the adjoining part of Billion and Starbeck, and also in the Oatlands part of Pannal, led the Local Government Board in 1900 to assign these new urban areas to Harrogate. 630 acres of Starbeck (half its area, housing most of its population), 760 acres of Bilton (about a third part), and also 760 acres of Pannal (only about a seventh of this large Parish) were added to the Borough. The advantages of this expansion were mainly administrative: a unified drainage system was made possible, and the Harrogate supply of water and electricity could be extended to the new districts. Two Wards (Starbeck and' Bilton) were created, and the Aldermen increased to 8. 

In the days of the smaller Borough before 1900, the Councillors achieved a good deal, though they found themselves as little free from adverse public criticism as the Commissioners had been. Like them, they had been put in office to solve more effectively the old problems of the Stray and of the Baths and Wells. In the later 1870's, many townsmen had urged that the Stray Proprietors should lose their pasture-rights, even if it meant their receiving heavy compensation. The hope that they would ever fulfil their obligation to improve the Stray was abandoned. But it was not until 1893 that the Borough, secured its Act of Parliament embodying this plan. The town was then called upon to pay £230 for each of the 50 gates, and £280 to the Duchy of Lancaster for quit-rents. In return, it became at long last the sole Stray Proprietor. The responsibility for its improvement was now laid on the Corporation. They were to keep it, as far as possible, in its "natural aspect and state" and "unenclosed and unbuilt on," except for a permitted erection of cabmen's shelters. Another duty imposed on them was to regulate games played on it. The things they might do, if they wished, were:- let the pasturage (only pigs and geese now being banned), restrict horse-riding to certain parts of it, and decide where bands might play or speeches be made. They were also empowered to levy a ld. Rate to provide music on the Stray or elsewhere. 

The 1893 Act, indeed, was used by the Corporation to deal with other matters of pressing concern. Two years before they had secured an "Electric Light Act," which enabled them to make electricity a municipal undertaking. They were now allowed to erect a generating-station on their Irrigation Farm. By 1897 supplies became available; and the oil-lamps in the Public Library were replaced by electric light. This was the town's second Library, on the site of the present one, the Carnegie Library of 1906. The first Public Reading Room and Lending Library had been opened in 1887 in a house in Princes Street. 

Another matter referred to in the Act was the lease from the Earl of Harewood of a new recreation-ground at Harlow Moor. This high ground above the Valley Gardens - which were laid out and opened to the public in the Diamond Jubilee year, 1897 - was purchased in 1898. It was still then outside the Borough boundary. 

The Borough was not quite so energetic in developing the Baths and Wells as its advocates had promised. The Councillors were dissatisfied with the Victoria Baths, built by the Commissioners, but it took them thirteen years to provide an effective substitute. The Royal Baths, built on the site of the Montpellier Baths, bought by the town in 1888, were not completed until 1897. 

The other important privately-owned Spa, the Cheltenham, was acquired in 1896. This included the Spa Rooms, useful for concerts and meetings; but, impressed by the prestige of the German Spas, which had developed popular entertainment in association with the quest for health, the Corporation built its Kursaal, by the side of the Spa Rooms, in 1903. When in the 1914 War the taste for things German changed into a strong aversion, the name was altered to the Royal Hall. This building, long the home of a fine municipal orchestra, and now invaluable for the numerous Conferences held in Harrogate, has often been subsidised from the Rates: on the other hand, it has proved for the town a most effective means of publicity. 

The Corporation bought the Spa at Starbeck in 1900, developed in the early nineteenth century only but dating back to at least the time of James I. The Baths at Harlow Car were acquired in. 1913. In that year, an Annexe was added to the Royal Pump Room. These activities are an indication of the continued, and even increased, interest that doctors generally were showing in the healing qualities of the "Harrogate waters."

The Royal Bath Hospital, then some sixty years old, was re-built on a bigger scale in 1888. The Yorkshire Home nearby dates from 1901. Though these were not municipal undertakings, they reflect credit on the town community. 

The Councillors were obviously ready to face the inevitable public outcry against increased expenditure if it was a question of providing recreation grounds and, better medical facilities - anything, in fact, that was likely to attract the all-important visitors. But if this purpose was not obvious, their attitude was neutral or even negative. They would have nothing to do with a scheme, mooted in 1898, for linking up Harrogate and Knaresborough by a light railway and about the same time they refused to establish a municipal tramway-system. In fact, in their anxiety to protect the eyes and ears of visitors, they even prevented private enterprise from introducing into the town what was then regarded as the noisy and unsightly tram. The proposal, a little later, to have municipal motor-buses was similarly rejected, though the Borough fortunately offered no serious objection to the activities of private companies. 

The Gas Company was still allowed to provide this public utility, for the Corporation did not take up its option to purchase. The financial success of this undertaking, however, may have been one reason why electricity was municipalised. Another, certainly, was to secure a bargaining-counter to induce the Gas Company to lower its charges. 

The less lucrative Waterworks Company was also left alone until the Councillors' hands were forced by repeated shortages in the town's water-supply. In 1897, the Waterworks Act enabled the Corporation to buy out the Company and itself shoulder the heavy burden of large capital expenditure without great hope of profit. The last of the Haverah Park reservoirs was completed, but by the turn of the century it was clear that the area could not provide the necessary water. After protracted negotiations with the City of Leeds, which had staked its own claims very far afield, the Corporation succeeded in building (finished in 1912) at the cost of half a million pounds, the Roundhill Reservoir, twenty miles away. This supply is, according to experts, adequate for a Harrogate of 80,000 inhabitants. At the moment, it meets the needs of a wide area. including Knaresborough  -  the Knaresborough Waterworks Company had already been acquired in 1903 - and partly supplies the City of Ripon. 

An authority that had a very brief existence in the borough was the local School Board. This was set up in 1893, nearly a quarter of a century after elementary education was made compulsory, to provide such education for boys and girls who could not find places in the National and British schools. It built the Grove Road School, but the Education Act of 1902 transferred its powers and responsibilities to the Council. 

The activities of the town, apart from its government, went on developing as before, particularly large building schemes, to cope with its ever-increasing population. Worthy building by the Church of England kept pace with the formation of new parishes, and these churches mainly followed the neo-Gothic pattern: St. Luke's (1897), St. Mark's - still without its tower (1905), St. Wilfrid's - the most beautiful and impressive (1907), and St. Andrew's, Starbeck (1910). St Old Paul's Presbyterian Church dates from 1885. 

New private schools of good standing opened during the period but a notable boys' school, the Harrogate College, flourished only under the headmastership of Mr. G. M. Savery, M.A., from 1885 to 1905. The school was the house now known as Southlands, in Ripon Road. Mr Savery, however, founded, in 1893, the Harrogate Ladies' College, which has just celebrated its diamond jubilee. 

The College Magazine of the boys' school gives evidence of a full and healthy school life, and contains some interesting notes on passing events. An article on cycling, written in 1885, supposes that "every horse is by this time accustomed to the sight of the machines." The machines were clearly of the penny-farthing type (an outsize wheel followed by a diminutive one) which were soon to be relegated to museums. The judicious boy critic deprecates the fact that his elders object to the new invention - which enables him and his friends to explore the countryside much more freely - but shows that he himself is not entirely free from prejudice. "The rage lately," he says, "has been for the so-called Safety bicycles, but their ugliness and the doubt as to whether the term Safety is not a misnomer has somewhat retarded their progress." 

The College football and cricket teams played against Ashville College and other local schools, and also Leeds and Bradford Grammar Schools, and tennis also was popular. There was a very active Debating Society. The report of its doings in the July 1886 number contains the comment: "The Election here had been agitating for some of us; we want the Union, but we also love the Grand Old Man." This was the famous General Election when Gladstone introduced his proposal to give Home Rule to Ireland, so causing the great breakaway from the Liberal Party known as the Liberal-Unionists. There was a Reading Society also, with its own library: in 1886 they began to take the Daily News and the Yorkshire Post - which suggests that they tried to keep an open mind in politics. They had a Field Club and a Cycling Club, both of which made excursions quite far afield. The boys frequented the Prince of Wales Swimming Bath at Starbeck. In 1894, the editor reports that the first County Cricket Match was played at Harrogate. The picture of Harrogate College that we get from these notes has at least as good a claim as that of Dotheboys Hall, painted previously by Dickens, to influence us in our general estimate of Yorkshire schools.

 

 

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