A pillar of Harrogate: Humanist service pays tribute to late Malcolm Neesam

A ceremony has been held in Harrogate to celebrate the life of Malcolm Neesam in a way which the widely-admired historian who died last month would surely have approved of.

By Graham Chalmers
Friday, 29th July 2022, 5:01 pm

Held yesterday, Thursday at Christ Church, friends, family and the great and good of Harrogate's public life came out in force to pay their respects to the much-loved figure who died on June 28 on on his 76th birthday after a brave battle against a series of major illnesses.

In keeping with Mr Neesam's own wishes, mourners including Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones, Harrogate Mayor Councillor Victoria Oldham, leaders from Harrogate's arts, business world and political world including Harrogate International Festivals' chief executive Sharon Canavar - and members of Harrogate Civic Society - celebrated Malcolm's life in the round in a humanist ceremony.

Tributes to a remarkable man - Harrogate's Malcolm Neesam lived a good, rich and broad life, making friends wherever he went in life.

Conducted by humanist celebrant Michelle Burns, a series of speakers gave a fulsome and moving accounts of the great historian, published author, co-founder of Harrogate Civic Society and all his many contributions to the life of Harrogate for more than half a century - and to the nature of his character.

Time and time again in the packed church on the Stray, speakers referred to Mr Neesam's kind and generous nature, great knowledge and intelligence, great personal charm, remarkable resilience and quiet determination - and his enduring passion for Harrogate.

The audience learned how he had built up a friendship with Edward Fox during the battle to restore the Royal Hall in the early Noughties which had led the renowned actor to proclaim on news of his passing that "Harrogate had lost a very great man".

Mr Neesam lived a good, rich and broad life, making friends wherever he went in life, even as far afield as the USA and Germany.

In his extensive research for his acclaimed histories of Harrogate, in particular for the Harrogate Great Chronicle 133 -1841 and his final book Wells and Swells, covering the Golden Age of Harrogate Spa from 1842 to 1923, he not only delved deeply into the back pages of the Harrogate Advertiser, he was also a privileged visitor to the oldest Harrogate archives held in the office of the Duchy of Lancaster in London where he was trusted and liked.

Among those making personal tributes at the moving ceremony at Christ Church were pianist Edward Barnwell, Henry Pankhurst of Harrogate Civic Society's, whose address was read out by fellow author and historian Professor Paul Jennings; Dr Frankie Williams, the granddaughter of Julian Clifford, the first conductor of Harrogate Municipal Orchestra; and Malcolm's nephew Jamie Cooper who was by his side at Mr Neesam's final moments.

"My uncle may have been a pillar of Harrogate," said Mr Cooper, but he was a great family man to us."

Some of those in attendance at the ceremony may also have been surprised by his great sense of humour and his deep love of music and sci-fi movies.

Paying a very personal tribute was Anne Smith, one of his oldest friends and fellow stalwart in the foundation of Harrogate Civic Society 50 years ago.

Mrs Smith was keen to stress that, despite the greatness of Mr Neesam's achievements in so many ways, there was another side of him which not everyone saw.

"The Malcolm I knew is different from the Malcolm Neesam most people knew.

"Malcolm was, at times, a naughty little boy who played practical jokes on his friends and relatives.

"I have never been Captain of the Girls Hockey Team but Malcolm once wrote in my copy of the History of Harrogate under the Improvement Commissioners 1841-1884 which he presented to me at the Swan Hotel was “for a splendid effort as Captain of the Girls’ Hockey Team Anne Smith from the Editor Malcolm Neesam”.

"He said this as he presented the book to me to much applause from those present.

"It was so embarrassing but Malcolm just stood there smiling and applauding!

"We will all miss him dreadfully. He was our friend and there will never be another Malcolm Neesam ever as my children say.

"He was a constant in our lives and added to it with laughter and kindness."

Malcolm Neesam, historian/author, born June 28, 1946, died June 28, 2022

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