Farewell to a woman who gave much to Harrogate

Mayor of Harrogate, Counc Richard Welsh, in company with Lady Frainy Bomanji (L), and  Mrs  Mehroo Jehangir (R), Harrogate, 1971.(S)

Mayor of Harrogate, Counc Richard Welsh, in company with Lady Frainy Bomanji (L), and Mrs Mehroo Jehangir (R), Harrogate, 1971.(S)

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There can be few local people with memories of life in Harrogate from the 1920s onwards, who are unfamiliar with the Bomanji family name.

The death of Mrs Mehroo Jehangir, on Thursday, July 12, brought to an end the family’s residential link with the town, and closed a memorable relationship which was given official recognition in 1984 when Harrogate Council awarded Mrs Jehangir’s mother, the late Lady Frainy Bomanji, the Honorary Freemanship of the Borough.

Mehroo Jehangir was the daughter of Sir Dhunjibhoy and Lady Bomanji. Sir Dhunjibhoy was engaged in shipping and allied industries in Bombay, through which he built up a great fortune.

Knighted in 1922 for his services to the nation, Sir Dhunjibhoy settled in Harrogate, and in 1927, purchased Pineheath as his local residence.

Mehroo was born in Bombay, and, shortly before the Second World War, married Mr JC Jehangir, a member of a distinguished Parsee family, who became a tragic victim of the London black-out in October 1944, leaving Mehroo a widow.

Following Sir Dhunjibhoy’s death in 1937, Lady Frainy Bomanji became head of the family, and her extraordinarily wide range of charitable interests were an important influence on Mehroo throughout the rest of her life.

When Lady Bomanji died in 1986, Mehroo continued to support many of her beloved mother’s good works.

Although Mehroo was well-known for her work as president of the Friends of Harrogate, she had many other interests including the Women of the North Association, the Harlow Friendship Club, and the Harrogate International Festival of Arts and Sciences, of which she was a vice-president.

Indeed, friendship and hospitality flourished under her stewardship.

I doubt if there has been a single Mayor and Mayoress over the last 60 years who have not experienced Mehroo Jenhangir’s hospitality at Pineheath, where, around a magnificently laid dining table, guests were treated to generosity on a lavish and unstinting scale.

Although she had no children of her own, Mehroo loved children, including those of such visiting strangers as workmen, whose offspring were treated with the kindness she extended to her own family.

On a personal level, I recall Mehroo’s encouragement when I took on the daunting task of editing the late HH Walker’s book on Harrogate’s history, and when that book was published in 1985, Mehroo was the first person to subscribe to a copy.

History was a great interest, and she had a formidable knowledge of British 15th and 16th century history.

This grew from her very deep and sincere patriotism, which was not of the superficial flag-waving kind, but which sprang from an understanding of our country’s achievements and institutions.

Harrogate, too, was one of her great loves, and her interest and generous support of the restoration of the Royal Hall was invaluable.

I had the privilege of accompanying Mehroo when Prince Charles visited the building in 2006, and I still treasure her memories of meetings with Sir John Barbirolli in the 1950s and 1960s, when, after en exhausting concert with the Halle Orchestra, he would relax at Pineheath by cooking spaghetti!

Despite several grievous personal losses such as the death of her beloved brothers Philly and Sohrab, Mehroo maintained a serene outlook throughout her life, even during the three weeks of her final illness. In this, she was sustained by her Zoroastrian faith.

At the same time, Mehroo had an instinctive sympathy for Christianity, with its emphasis on charity and love, and maintained friendships with several Church of England clergymen, including the late Rev Neville Sugden.

It is therefore appropriate that Harrogate will be able to bid fond farewell to a very great lady at St Peter’s Church at 2pm on Friday, August 10.