Dear Reader - £12m painting brought back to life + Harrogate let down on trains

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

Friday, 5th July 2019, 3:53 pm
Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones is frustrated at the delay in replacing old Pacer trains.

The new photographic reconstruction of William Powell Frith’s A Private View at The Academy which hangs in Harrogate’s Mercer Art Gallery is a truly amazing piece of work.

Obviously, despite the great skill involved, this modern-day tableau can’t really compete with the original line-up of 1881.

Frith’s painting, recently valued at £12 million, included figures such as William Gladstone, Anthony Trollope and Oscar Wilde.

Even I’m in this modern update of the great and the good, tucked away quite rightly at the back, possibly because I insisted on wearing my favourite tan brown leather jacket.

But at least the 21st century version was put together in the Mercer itself.

This publicly-owned gallery has long been one of Harrogate’s greatest hidden gems.

Under the leadership of departing curator Jane Sellars MBE the last decade has seen it host a series of incredible exhibitions worthy of a big city.

One, in particular, featuring another Victorian painter, John Atkinson Grimshaw, struck such a chord in 2011, it attracted visitors in record-breaking numbers.

The current hugely impressive Frith exhibition is a homecoming in two ways.

Firstly, because Frith, although rising to become Queen Victoria’s favourite painter, started his life in Harrogate.

Secondly, because the Mercer gallery wasn’t always a gallery. Back in the 19th century, in the days when well-to-do visitors would come to ‘take the cure’, it was a theatre.

As well as actors such as Sarah Bernhardt, one of the other celebrities to grace its stage was Oscar Wilde.

New warning signs for Harrogate driversTen months ago I sat face to face with the Secretary of State for Transport, Christopher Grayling MP as he explained why there would be a delay to the promised demise of the unloved ‘Pacer’ trains.

This week saw much the same thing happen again, though this time it was with rail minister Andrew Jones MP.

To be fair to the Harrogate and Knaresborough MP, the modernisation programme he is presiding over affects not only passengers on the York-Harrogate-Leeds line but passengers across the north.

Still, the frustration in our MP’s voice was audible as he tried to explain the situation.

There’s been so many false dawns over the past 15 years for the Harrogate railway line, the temptation to be cynical is huge.

Some might also argue it proves once again that, however public-private sounds as a label, it never actually ends up doing what it says on the tin.

But, unless you believe the Government’s entire railway programme is about to be scrapped, for which there are no signs, it’s fair to assume the tired old Pacers are going to bite the dust some time soon, though maybe not until next year.

Long-suffering commuters paying high fares for a shoddy service have endured a long wait.

Let’s hope the progress of the new trains is faster than the process.