In February 1936, the Harrogate Herald, sister paper to the Advertiser, persuaded one of the town’s oldest residents to recall some of the characters to be seen on the streets of Harrogate 50 years earlier.
His first recollection was of Old Blind Mary, who played the violin outside the general post office in James Street, next door to today’s Lakeland. No matter what the weather, Mary was at her pitch with her violin. She lived in Knaresborough, and was brought in to Harrogate by 10am each morning, by a friend with a horse and trap, who collected her in the evening at 5.30pm. Blind Mary had been playing on this spot for more decades than anyone could remember, and her white hair, surmounted by an old-fashioned widow’s bonnet, made her a familiar sight in James Street. One morning, she did not appear, and the following day, her death was announced.
Old Joss was another of the “regulars” to be seen on the streets of the town. He was employed by the People’s Hotel and Albert Hall in Albert Street, and waited for visitors arriving at Harrogate Railway Station, who heard his cry “I invite you all, Both great and small, To come this day to the Albert Hall, And if you don’t get a good meal for sixpence; Give us it back and we will return your money”. Old Joss was one of many cryers employed by local businesses, the most famous of which was Harrogate’s Bellman, or Town Crier, Joseph Clapham, who also worked as official bill-poster and drummer for the local Rifle Volunteers band. After giving three rings of his big bell, Mr Clapham would announce in stentorian tones “To be sold by auction ...” or “Lost, stolen or strayed....”. For the local urchins, the bellman’s bright red uniform was like a red rag to a bull, and they used to greet his appearance with calls of “red herrings, red herrings”, until a well-delivered cuff sent them fleeing.
But perhaps the most famous of the town’s characters in the 1880s was little Dicky Pickard, generally known as “the venerable dwarf”. Although endowed with great intellectual ability, and a natural flair for scholarship, Dicky Pickard’s dwarfism meant that he was unable to hold down jobs for which he was most suited, and after a disastrous period as a school master in Leeds, he took a job selling newspapers in Harrogate, where his cry became well known “Harrogate-ah Herald ah!, Advertiser-ah and full list of visitors, and Armstrong’s Harrogate-ah Almanac-ah”.
All sorts of humorous anecdotes were told about him, one of which described his encounter, as a witness, with an eminent QC during a court case in Leeds, when the QC tried to shake Dicky’s evidence. “I suppose you think you know a lot about the law ?” said the QC, to which Dicky replied “I do”. Replied the QC “you, a lawyer, why, I could put you in my pocket”. Quick as a rapier thrust came Dicky’s reply “Then in that case Sir, you would have far more law in your pocket than you appear to have in your head !” Collapse of Council.
Dicky Pickard also featured in the diary of a Harrogate lamp-lighter, recently lent to me by a friend. This refers to Dicky having lost his lodgings in 1898 because his landlord didn’t like having a dwarf on this premises. He was taken in by a kindly family in Beulah Street, where he became a much loved member of their family. Dicky Pickard’s interest in scholarship caused him to collect documents and papers relating to old Harrogate, which he kept in a store in Ship Yard.
For my younger readers, Ship Yard was a rough open space on Oxford Street whose site is now occupied by Argos. Before the Argos building was erected, the site was a car park for the Ship Inn, with a grotty looking public convenience, before the building of which there had been a large wooden shed owned by the Ship Inn. Partly used as a drill hall, the shed also contained Dicky Pickards collection of items relating to old Harrogate. Unfortunately, a fire consumed the entire archive, the shock of which was said to have broken Dicky Pickard’s heart.
The famous Holroyd painting of Samson Fox’s 1887 Stray Ox roasting depicts such civic worthies as the Carter brothers, Richard Ellis, Dr Myrtle and the town clerk, and in the right-hand corner, the diminutive figure of Dicky Pickard. As I have reproduced this painting within the last two years, I am this week using a postcard image of Dicky Pickard taken towards the end of his life.