Advertiser reader Neil Hind has suggested that an article be written on the Harlow Hill Observation Tower.
When William Grainge, author of the 1871 History of Harrogate and the Forest of Knaresborough, wrote about the tower, he noted “in 1829 Mr John Thompson a gentleman of Harrogate, obtained from the Earl of Harewood (who leased the land from the Duchy of Lancaster) an acre of land on lease for a period of twenty-one years at no rent; at the end of which period it was to revert to the earl or his heirs, with the tower and all other buildings erected thereon.
John Thompson died before the end of the term and bequeathed it to his sister. It was afterwards duly rendered to the earl, whose property it now is. On this plot of ground he built the present tower or observatory at a cost, it is said, of upwards of £700; wishful, if possible, to obtain a glimpse of the sea from a station so far inland.” Ten years later, Doctor Adam Hunter published his Treatise on the Mineral Waters of Harrogate, noting that the tower was “at nearly an equal distance from the German Ocean and the Irish Channel, and it has been supposed that, from Harlow Hill, adjoining Low Harrogate, an additional elevation of one hundred feet would enable both coasts to be distinguished.
Though Blackstone Edge and the Eastern Wolds frown darkly upon the attempted sea view, yet the spectator is gratified with a most ample and varied prospect. There are several excellent telescopes placed upon the platform of the tower, with which objects can be examined at great distances; Mr Davies, the optician of Leeds, who constructed them, informs me that the magnifying power of the largest is seventy-five, and that from this spot on a fine clear evening, he was able to distinguish the brick work of a house near Richmond, a distance of forty miles; the colour of a blue flag was noticed fifteen miles off; while the steeple of one of the churches at Hull, upwards of sixty miles from Harrogate, has been observed.
Whether the gentleman peculiarly interested in turning his looks in that direction saw, or only fancied he saw, a point so distant, it is not for me to determine. This is a most agreeable resort for the visitor where hours may be pleasantly spent in the survey of the many interesting objects with which the surrounding country abounds. On a fine summer evening, the setting sun frequently casts an inexpressibly gorgeous splendour over this magnificent landscape. Well might a Prince, when witnessing a similar scene, exclaim ‘this truly is England!’.
Nor can those various, noble, and imposing masses which the clouds often assume after rain, or the thunder storm, be almost any where seen to greater advantage. The air sweeping over an immense tract of finely cultivated country on the one hand, and equally extensive heaths on the other, is at Harrogate remarkably pure, bracing, and salubrious.’
When in 1840 Palliser published his Guide to Harrogate, he noted “At the entrance to the staircase is an ingenious piece of mechanism in the form of a turnstile, invented by the owner, and manufactured by Mr Marmaduke Lupton, Whitesmith, High Harrogate, whose movements register the number of persons passing through it, for the information of the proprietor, who is thereby able to ascertain, with the greatest precision, the amount of fees due to him.”
However, even this ingenious mechanism could be evaded, as we learn from the following advertisement in 1843 : “The Observatory (or Gazebo) on Harlow Hill, will be open to the public during the Season at 6d each, with the use of 7 large telescopes; but it is particularly requested that two persons do not go through the Turnstile together”.
I clearly recall the magnificent views from the tower’s top, when many years ago I was invited to climb an indescribably filthy staircase to the roof. I understand that at present, the tower is not open to the public. However, I am fascinated to discover that a group of enthusiasts are attempting to restore the tower, and that web site www.harlowhilltower.org.uk is available to inform the public of progress. My thanks to Mr Hind and his associates for this interesting information.