James Street owes its existence to the grocery and catering trades. In its earliest form, James Street was part of the un-named footpath that ran from the Old Sulphur Well and Crown Hotel, and, via Montpellier Hill, continued over the open fields between the two communities as far as High Harrogate’s Queen Hotel.
The earliest form of the Prospect - (now the Yorkshire) Hotel had been built in 1814 by Nicholas Carter senior, and it was this structure that gave the future James Street its south-western feature. A few years later, some cottages were built opposite, on the north-western side of the footpath, and from then on, the shape of the future James Street had been determined.
The southern side of James Street between today’s Yorkshire Hotel and Prince’s Street, had, by the 1870s, received only two buildings, one of which was a chapel for the Congregationalists, the other being the Carter family’s home, Vine Villa, which stood where Barclay’s Bank can now be found.
The entire northern part of James Street, such as it was, contained smaller private houses. All this changed with two major developments. In 1864-5, Richard Ellis built the magnificent terrace between Station Parade and Prince’s Street that had commercial units on the ground floor with residential units above. One of the first tenants was the poultry and fishmonger business of George Newby, which seems to have had a spacious restaurant above.
Five years later, Ellis’s great rival, George Dawson, built the massive block further down James Street where, today, the premises of Ogdens are housed. The first tenant in the retail premises was John Wood’s grocery business, opened in October 1872, which soon grew to be Harrogate’s most important grocery store. John Wood blended teas, coffees and spices on his premises, which gave the interior of the mahogany panalled shop an unforgettable aroma, which was further enriched by that of the famous Wood’s cured hams.
One regular customer was Princess Alix of Hesse, who came to Harrogate for treatment, and who continued to order Woods’s hams after she married the Tsar of Russia. With its central James Street location, Woods was well placed when the neighbouring houses were converted into shops during the 1880s, although two of them became serious rivals.
At number two Prospect Crescent, next to the old General Post Office, Wray’s Grocery business established themselves. Wrays already had shops in Station Square and Station Parade, and built much of their trade on expert tea-blending. The other rival was the business Edward Standing established at the south-eastern corner of James Street in 1882, which soon grew into one of Harrogate’s most famous businesses, and which after the closure of John Wood’s grocery emporium in 1933, reigned supreme.
I suspect there are still many Harrogate residents who recall the basement smoke room where the chess players used to congregate, the large ground floor grocery store with its impressively uniformed commissionaire, and the first floor cafe where on Saturday mornings, Harrogate’s “hat ladies” would gather for coffee, flaunting their latest head-decorations to the similar ladies gathered in the Gresham Cafe on the opposite side of James Street.
Space does not permit me to describe Harrogate’s premier cafe, an institution so exclusive, that the best tables were reserved for the titled ladies who frequented it, and where one of the manager’s jobs was to advise chauffeurs where to park her ladyship’s Rolls Royce. Nor can I describe such institutions as the aristocratic Carlton Cafe, patronised by Princess Victoria during the Great War, or the later Athenian Cafe.
Although today, James Street’s catering businesses are represented by only Zizzi’s, Bib and Tucker, and Filmore & Union, nobody can deny that without its grocers and cafes, the James Street of today would not exist.