I have been interested to receive readers’ suggestions for future articles about old Harrogate, but must begin by observing that my failure to write about certain subjects has often been because I have had neither information or illustrations on which to base such articles. Several elderly residents have previously referred to a proposal to develop film studios in the town during the interwar years, somewhere in the vicinity of Killinghall Moor, but I have never come across any documentary evidence suitable for an article.
Advertiser reader David Rhodes has reminded me that there have been several building schemes which, if realised, would have had a considerable effect on our present townscape. St Mark’s Church, for example, had been designed by architect J Oldrid Scott with a magnificent tower, capped with a stubby spire, which would have made a splendid skyline feature when viewed from South Stray.
Other schemes would have seemed less attractive to modern viewers, such as the 1963 scheme to erect three tower blocks on the site of Park Place, instead of the single tower we have today. There was also a scheme to place three Y shaped sky-scrapers on the site of today’s District Hospital between Knaresborough and Wetherby Roads, which would certainly have changed the South Stray’s skyline.
Reader Rosalyn Moore reminds me that Oxford Buildings, between Commercial Street and Mount Parade, have an interesting background. I well remember her parents’ China and Glass shop, as my mother usually purchased items from the business’s excellent stock - if my memory is correct, it was next door to Roses Decorating shop. The Kelly street directories at Harrogate Reference Library will provide full details of the other businesses.
Reader Barry Richardson asks if I have any information of Bilton’s splendid pub, the Gardeners Arms, and its former landlord Maurice Johnson, who had taken up his position more or less by the outbreak of war in 1939. I understand that Mr Johnson ran the pub very well, had the reputation of being something of a “character”, and that he became the longest serving land lord of any pub in the country. The Gardeners Arms appears to be of considerable antiquity, and although I will welcome correction on the matter, I believe that in the early 19th century, it was known as The Admiral Cornwallis. Writing in the Advertiser for August 8 1959, historian Haythornthwaite claimed that the Gardeners Arms dated back to 1763, and that it had been owned by the Watson family, who also owned two other inns in Bilton, the Watson’s Arms on Forest Lane, and the George at High Bridge, until recently the Yorkshire Lass and a part of Knaresborough. At this time, the boundary between Bilton-with-Harrogate and Knaresborough was the River Nidd. The Union Inn at Calcutt also lay within the Harrogate township.
A few years ago, I visited the Gardeners Arms during a major re-roofing, when the exposed timbers appeared to be much older than mid-18th century, and it would be interesting to obtain further information about the building. It may be that the Gardeners Arms had been originally built to cater to the workers from such local industries as the lime kilns, coal mining and flax, but this is just a guess. Other readers have also been in touch with me, including James Rogers and Susan Richardson, whose suggestions I will take up in next week’s article.