Royals tuned in to town thanks to our musical hotels

Before its infilling, the Crown Hotel lobby had a galleried light-well, reminiscent of the Coaching era. (S)
Before its infilling, the Crown Hotel lobby had a galleried light-well, reminiscent of the Coaching era. (S)

I wonder if those readers with an interest in the fascinating history of Harrogate’s great hotels appreciate how important a role music has played in their development.

From the time when Morrison the fiddler played at the Queen Hotel in the 1660s, through to today’s use of the Old Swan Hotel by the Harrogate International Festival, music has been central to the hotel business’s attempts to entertain guests, and make their establishments more attractive to visitors and residents alike.

Until the 19th century, the majority of Harrogate’s larger hotels were in High Harrogate, where the popular iron waters were found, with the Queen (now Cedar Court), Dragon (long demolished) and Granby (now a private care home) hotels were situated. Low Harrogate had its Crown Hotel, which was unquestionably the village’s senior establishment, with a history stretching back to the time when it was little more than a tiny inn overlooking the Old Sulphur Well.

The increasing demand for the sulphur waters of Low Harrogate brought many more visitors to the Crown Hotel, which grew to enormous proportions, being entirely self-sufficient. The Crown had its own farm, to provide good fresh food for the kitchens, an extensive wine cellar, a laundry, a smithy, to make utensils from iron, and to shoe horses, a doctor, to care for visitors and guide them in the use of the Harrogate Waters, and was a Coaching Inn for the great stage coaches so beloved of Charles Dickens. All things considered, the Crown was a village in itself.

The Crown estate, which by the time of the Napoleonic Wars extended up to Parliament Street and included the site of today’s Royal Baths, often provided musical recitals for guests and fee-paying members of the public, such recitals being given either within the Crown Hotel, or in good weather, in the ornamental gardens to the east of the main building. Music enhanced the special entertainments provided for guests at the Crown.

For example, on November 3 1810, the York Herald published a description of one of the Crown’s entertainments “ Harrogate - On Friday, at the Crown Hotel, a Ball and Supper was given by the Countess Delaware, on her son attaining his 19th year (and to whom their Majesties are sponsors) which was likewise attended by most of the people of fashion in the place. The dancing began at ten, and continued until two o’clock, when the company sat down to a most splendid supper, which for excellence and variety, did great credit to Mr. Thackwray; after this, dancing commenced and continued until five, when the company retired, highly pleased with the dignified politeness and attention shown by Her Ladyship to all present.”.

The Crown seems to have provided musical entertainments throughout its history, which was probably why the Haddock Brothers chose the Crown as the best location for their private subscription concerts. According to the Harrogate Advertiser for September 29 1906, the “Haddock Musical Evenings” for that year were in their 21st year, and they may well have been held at the Crown Hotel since 1885. In 1897, the new “Harrogate Musical Society” had its first rehearsal at the Crown Hotel, Acis and Galatea by Handel being the principal work.

All this points to the Crown Hotel being at the centre of Low Harrogate’s music making. Perhaps the most extraordinary concert at the Crown occurred during the Great War, in September 1915, when before an audience that included such royalty as Princess Victoria, the King’s sister; Her Imperial Highness, Grand Duchess George of Russia; and, Princesses Nina and Xenia, Sacha Votitchenko demonstrated ancient Russian music on the Typanum.

But let critic WH Breare, the worldly and hardened proprietor of the Harrogate Herald, tell the story in his own astonished way: “A hot day. A cool room. A breath of summer air envelopes in soft, caressing embrace. A dream of music never made by mortal kind. It is dream music. Strange melodies, chords, transitions, softly ebb and flow. The purest qualities of angelic throats and celestial instruments...mysterious sensations blend in turn with this wonderful orchestra and choir of dreamland... human music, yes, this ethereal music becomes profoundly human. It stirs us as that of the concert hall seldom does...I rub my eyes. I am awake. But where am I ... Of this artiste’s playing, I may unhesitatingly say I have never heard anything more beautiful, more mystical or comprehensive of all the perfections of vocal and instrumental technique. This man stands by himself on the giddy, lonely heights of perfect achievement.”

Well - I, for one, have never written a review like that, but it does stir a desire to experience the Tympanum played by a master of the instrument.