Harrogate's 'secret' Victorian club is revived

Amazing revival - The Club President Andrew MacMillan outside the historic club in Harrogate. (Picture by Gerard Binks).
Amazing revival - The Club President Andrew MacMillan outside the historic club in Harrogate. (Picture by Gerard Binks).

A remarkable surge of new members has prevented one of Harrogate’s oldest institutions, which counted Sherlock Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle among its original members,  from becoming history.

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The Club President Andrew MacMillan in the newly refurbished upstairs room. 'Picture by Gerard Binks

The Club President Andrew MacMillan in the newly refurbished upstairs room. 'Picture by Gerard Binks

Once one of the most famous clubs in the whole of Britain, The Club on Victoria Avenue with its two great curved bay windows has now become so popular it may be forced to introduce a waiting list for the first time in decades.

The amazing revival of an organisation dating back to 1857 when Lord Palmerston was Prime Minister is attributed to its decision to expand its membership beyond its past ‘gentlemen only’ origins and to the success of efforts to restore this magnificent building to its Victorian glory days with its fine woodwork and painted glass.

Current president of The Club, Andrew MacMillan said the days of The Club being Harrogate’s ‘best-kept secret’ are firmly over.

He said: “These are very exciting times for The Club. We only have a few spaces left for regular membership and four spaces available for the Premium Membership. Once these numbers are reached we will have no alternative but to introduce a waiting list.”

One of the newly refurbished upstairs rooms. Picture by Gerard Binks.

One of the newly refurbished upstairs rooms. Picture by Gerard Binks.

The revival of a formerly very traditional organisation which 100 years ago attracted the great and good and the odd British military general or two, seemed unlikely as recently as the 1990s when membership dwindled towards the 70 mark.

Having been located in the tree-lined tranquility of Victoria Avenue near the junction with Queen Parade since 1886, it’s been a long time since Harrogate’s most famous mayor Samson Fox read the papers there or a pipe-smoking Sir Arthur Conan Doyle popped in for a game of billiards.

Although the snooker room remains on the upper floor, The Club is no longer ‘men only’’ and has broadened its appeal.

As a result, membership has now risen to the hundreds, going hand in hand with the modernisation of its facilities.

The snooker room at The Club. Picture by Gerard Binks.

The snooker room at The Club. Picture by Gerard Binks.

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Since the restoration programme was first launched in 2014 under the stewardship of Andrew McMillan, treasurer Peter Bagnall and honorary member Malcolm Neesam, The Club has come back to life.

After tracking down the original architect’s dust-covered plans, phase one of the project was completed last year.

The results of all the loving care has been spectacular, especially in the the upper lounge with its glittering chandeliers. When built in the 19th century, the cost of the building was £3,000. Now the team is working towards the launching phase two which will entail a budget in six figures.

Mr MacMillan said: “Building on the successful refurbishment of the first floor members lounge and bar in 2017, kitchen, restrooms, and snooker room in 2018, we are now in the planning stages of a complete restoration of the ground floors rooms, too.”

Steeped in history: The Club.

Steeped in history: The Club.

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Leading Harrogate historian Malcolm Neesam said The Club’s revival made it a modern success story, without dispensing with its Victorian elegance.

He said: “Established in 1857, making it the town’s oldest organisation apart from the Church of England) is undoubtedly an aspirational organisation whose warmly welcoming atmosphere has produced the highest membership level in its history.

“It went through a difficult period in the 1930’s, and recall that when I joined in the 1990’s the membership was down to about 70. At that time, some people joined because theybelieved that if The Club went into liquidation, the members would share its assets. Now that it has a different constitution, that is no longer the case.

“Today the Harrogate Club, to use its proper name, is thriving because it caters to the needs of new and young members, as well as its more senior members. It has become the drawing room of Harrogate again.”