The Harrogate Museums column with May Catt

The entire staff at the Royal Baths, probably in 1957.
The entire staff at the Royal Baths, probably in 1957.

First-hand accounts about life in Harrogate really help to bring the history of the town and the objects in the museum collection alive. Through a series of oral history projects led by our Assistant Curator, Nicola Baxter, we have been able to learn fascinating details about Harrogate’s 20th century history from local residents.

The life of a model for Harrogate’s high end store Louis Copè in the 1930s, preparations for a wedding amidst post-war shortages and insights into treatments at the Royal Baths have all been revealed.

Jane Poulter worked as a model for Louis Copè during the 1930s.

She started as a 16 year old apprentice in the coat department, but Mr Copè soon moved her to the gown department to model the dresses for customers. She told us about her typical working day:

“Every morning we went to Grace and Hardy, which was a hairdressers shop down Montpellier, and we had our hair done… and then when we got to work, the first thing we did was go into our own little rooms and we used to sit and make up, because we had to put a lot of daub on, and then we’d start work.

“If anybody came in, we had to start showing them the gowns because they always wanted to see them on somebody.”

Alma Williams joined in the 1953 coronation celebrations in Harrogate whilst also preparing for her July wedding.

Her story reveals the different experience of a bride’s wedding preparations following the Second World War:

“The big item for any girl was how to get a wedding dress, because they were still in short supply, because the after effects of the war went on for a long time and it was still difficult. So my mother took me to Marshall and Snelgrove… and really there was no choice, no choice in size or design, but one of the two that was offered was in my size… this dress was white, broderie anglais, ballerina length, it fitted perfectly… I’d grown up during the war in Harrogate with no choice, it was just part of the landscape for me, so it was no great hardship… The veil was revolutionary, because with the war there was a bringing onto the domestic market of nylon, so mine was a very fine nylon… I did end up with very nice wedding apparel, but it was just sheer luck in a time of real austerity.”

Philip Barton started work at the Royal Baths as a physiotherapist in 1955. He told us about patients coming to the baths:

“The patients came from all over the north of England. Many were treated at the Royal Baths Hospital and then the White Hart Hotel, which was the White Hart Hospital at that time… They walked across the road past the Crown Hotel and in at the back door of the baths and had a whole day of treatment. I can see the little white programme card and they would have their programme, with sulphur baths in the morning and gymnasium and foot class.”

We always enjoy finding out more about Harrogate’s past and the lives of people who have lived or worked in the town. If you have an interesting story to tell we would love to hear from you.

Our next Open House event will be on Friday 20 April from 10am to 12pm and as part of the morning we will be holding a conversation cafe, so please come along and share your memories with us.