The crowds that gather regularly around the Valley Gardens band stand are proof of the continuing popularity of live music in our community.
Harrogate, because of its spa, has a particularly long tradition of providing music in public buildings and spaces. The memoirs of Blind Jack, the famous Yorkshire road maker, refer to his being called to the Queen’s Head Inn (today, the Cedar Court Hotel) in 1732, to replace Morrison the fiddler, who had played there since 1662. As the Queen’s Head was Harrogate’s first custom built hotel, it was most probable that such later hotels as the Dragon, Granby and Crown also provided music for the guests.
When Sir Darcy Dawes stayed at the Queen’s Head in 1728, his travel diary noted that after one week, he tipped Morrison the fiddler the substantial sum of two shillings and six pence, a payment he repeated twice during his summer’s visit. Towards the end of the 19th century, in 1888, the celebrated musician Sidney Jones senior found his way to Harrogate. At first, he did not give up his job at Leeds, where from 1878-1897 he held the post of conductor to the Rifle Band. He had also been director of the Theatre Grand in Leeds for 14 years.
His Harrogate appearances originally took place in the bandstand in the Montpellier Gardens, now the Weatherspoons car park, where it was common for the players to perform from 7am, wearing mittens to protect their hands from the cold. Further band stands were erected in Valley Gardens and Victoria Avenue, during the 1895 Mayoralty of Alderman Fortune, and in 1896, the bandstand in the Montpellier Gardens was moved to Crescent Gardens, the better to entertain water drinkers at the Royal Pump Room. There were also bandstands in the gardens of the Spa Rooms, and on Harlow Moor, where today the golf course overlooks the children’s play area.
Of all these band stands, perhaps the most popular was the one in Crescent Gardens, which the council renewed in 1921. This was well-used by the several military bands that performed in the streets of Harrogate during the years between the two world wars. Unlike today, the old Crescent Gardens was a place for visitors to congregate, attracted by the live performances from the magnificent Victorian bandstand, and by the bench-lined walks which wound round the gardens to encourage walking.
This week’s illustration shows Crescent Gardens in about 1929, at the height of the season. The photograph has been taken from the entrance to the Royal Baths, and the presence of motor cars indicates that it was taken after 10am, when the ban on vehicular traffic in the spa area was lifted. At left can be seen the glazed shelter that had been provided in 1910 to protect the early morning water drinkers from the rain that, the council went to some trouble to assure visitors, was only an occasional phenomenon!
At centre, the band stand contains the seated musicians, who have attracted a good crowd, some of whom may have been tempted to buy a newspaper from the vendor standing a little to the right of the policeman. The New Victoria Baths, at far right, still attracted spa visitors, even though the superior Royal Baths had been providing similar services since its 1897 opening. This was because it was possible to get treatments at a much lower cost in the New Victoria Baths. However, the following year the council decided to close these baths and convert the building into the present council offices.
Some people have been known to express a regret that Crescent Gardens is no longer a place for visitors to congregate, and it is true that since the destruction of the band stand in the Second World War’s metal salvage drive,the place really filled up only during such special events as French or Italian Weeks during the 1950s and 1960s. The statue of Cupid and Psyche that currently stands on the site of the band stand was originally behind the Spa Rooms, and to my mind is a little too small to provide a proper focal point for the gardens.
It would be good to get the band stand back, and possible re-position Cupid and Psyche elsewhere in the gardens. What do readers think ?