“Oooh it’s posh in Harrogate”

I go out for a walk in town. I descend the first floor steps, out into the courtyard and under the archway which supports the working clock tower complete with signature weathervane. Apparently it was built by a man named Samson Fox – an ancestor, it turns out, of James and Edward Fox, for those of you who only believe in the value of something if it has a celebrity connection – as a stable block for Grove House with the intention of not only lodging the future King Edward VII’s horses on his visits to Yorkshire, but also to provide them with that modern essential, the equine Turkish bath.

As I step out onto the street pavement I instinctively look over to my left towards the house which a few months ago was the focus of intense concentration by the police. They were there for a good three days, a car parked adjacent to the house with two police officers standing behind it staring intently towards the house. The rest of the street was cordoned off and the residents were told ‘not to go out’. It transpired that a man inside the house was armed and refusing to come out. The residents became prisoners in their own homes for those two days or so. Today everything seems to be back to normal, apart from a mixed group of teenagers perched on the bench drinking what looks suspiciously like lager. Over the years they went from pesky children shouting abuse at passers-by to much more threatening near-adults.

In town I visit the only two bookshops, if you count WHSmith. They seem of late to have been invaded by books with emotive covers featuring angelic looking children and bearing titles which are variations on “Please Daddy No”. In the pedestrianised Cambridge Street, Rudy, the local ‘character’, walks around shouting into a karaoke machine what sounds like a rock version of Bright Eyes, stopping occasionally to chat to teenagers. On my walk, he is the only person to look me directly in the eyes and say hello. He calls me ‘brother’, which I haven’t been able to ascertain whether it is because of the connection between our skin tones or whether this is how he addresses everyone. On sunny days, he tends to sit in the middle of the walkway cross-legged and staring into the sun.

Harrogate seems to possess that dangerous combination of sheltered provinciality and a past associated with nobility and royalty. Indeed, one often has the impression that everything in Harrogate has a royal connection: streets, pubs, hotels, squares. Perhaps for this reason, it has always struck me as a town with ideas above its station; something acquired, no doubt, through hundreds of years of royal schmoozing. In the days when its foul-tasting sulphur and iron rich water was seen as a blanket cure for any illness beyond the grasp of medicine’s rather petite hands, it became a haven for medical lost causes, not least the members of whichever royal household happened to be reigning at the time. They still come now, though no longer to drink the water. Prince Charles visits every year, apparently, on Valentine’s Day. I’ve seen him in one such occasion, coming out of Betty’s tearooms to plant a tree in the Cenotaph square under the adoring gaze of a crowd of royal groupies frantically waving their miniature Union Jacks.

Nowadays Harrogate has little more to boast about than the International Conference Centre and the Great Yorkshire Show, which plays havoc with the already heavy traffic system. But its previous history has left its citizens with a disproportional level of hubris and quaint old-fashioned values. In the cafes, demure old ladies daintily eat their sponge cakes and sip their tea, while no doubt discussing the latest royal visit and speculating on the next one. For me, Harrogate’s a rather neat metaphor for life: you shuffle between banks and shops, ignoring the significance of the war memorial, until eventually, overcome with tiredness, you end up down in the Valley Gardens for a long rest.

When I return home, I notice the teenagers have dispersed. As I reach the archway entrance, I see a girl crouched down, her back against the wall. She looks like she is in trouble and I prepare to ask if she needs help. But as I approach, I notice a stream filling in the gaps between the smooth cobbles, the source of which appears to be somewhere under her skirt. Steam rises from it like fog hovering over a river. She looks up and sees me, and although she reacts in a suitably sheepish manner, manages simply to say:

“As if…”

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20 Responses

  1. I like Harrogate. It is exactly the way you describe it. Both regal and provincial.
    Been to a few trade shows at the Conference centre.
    But sadly things are the same in every town.

  2. The ending was especially fantastic… hahaha… “as if”… classic, as they say.

    I was in Harrogate in August and totally fell in love with it. It was stonkingly (is that a made-up word?) hot and it just seemed perfect, showing off in all its northern glory. And then I discovered Betty’s tearoom… I spent several hours there: having lunch, afternoon tea and dinner (good thing it was on work). I must have gained at least half a stone in the process. But it was so worth it.

  3. sir edvard’s guide to britain – enidd would buy a hundred copies. you should do a theroux, and travel around the coast, giving us your brand of caustic and insightful commentary. go on, please. enidd knows you’re pregnant, but your devoted audience comes first, surely.

  4. cream: yes, it’s very civilized, isn’t it?

    waspgoddess: all that free food at bettys and you didn’t even invite me along…

    enidd, my love, you say the nicest things. how about you and me do a tour of britain together?

  5. When I were a lad, many moons ago, the family used to go to the Old Swan Hotel for Christmas. A whole hotel to be used as a playground. Bliss.

  6. Was it half 8 in the morning or evening? And why were you there?

  7. It’s comforting to hear that the act of public urination knows no boundaries…we’ve got our fair share of micturators over here. Makes SF very posh indeed. (Though considerably younger and substantially less royal than your Harrogate.) Come pee on one of our street corners…see for yourself! 🙂

  8. dumdad: it sounds like something out of the shining.

    clarissa: the picture was taken in the morning. and I was there, well, because I live there.

    cubanita mia: how can I refuse?

  9. ‘For me, Harrogate’s a rather neat metaphor for life: you shuffle between banks and shops, ignoring the significance of the war memorial, until eventually, overcome with tiredness, you end up down in the Valley Gardens for a long rest.’

    Brilliant, Mr Moonke. As is the whole post, from Samson Fox (surely an ancestor of Sam Fox?) to the fabulous ending. You’re very good at endings. I envy you that.

  10. I once witnessed some poor soul downing a pint of Harrogate sulphur water as a bet, to impress a girl. I think she married him just to save him from further acts of stupidity.

    All I can say is ‘Don’t try this at home!’

  11. donna: hello and welcome. you are 100% right – drinking as much as a sip of the stuff is bravery enough. I think I may well have married him too.

  12. “You’re very good at endings…” from a funeral director. Praise indeed.

  13. I know. quite undeserved, I’m sure. but I’ll take it!

  14. Im sorry but this “man” really has portrayed harrogate as some sort of stuck up/Chav infested shit hole.
    I can tell you…Its not
    People who dont live in harrogate really dont know how to appreciate its “subtle” culture ie; Rudy.
    As for the urinating chavs….i’m guessing this was around broadacres or the starbeck area.
    Which is understandable as they are inferior to harrogate town itself.
    Yes we do have royal “schmoozing” in our culture but no more than other towns.
    I imagine the self obsessed cocky excuse for a man “edvard moonke” sits at home thinking who he can rip the p*ss out of next. The sort of man who complains to newspapers and magazines for using either incorrect grammar in a sentace or will use a colon instead of a semi colon.
    Quite frankly this man obviously has no life
    He needs to move or stop complaining about harrogate
    so shutup

  15. Being a Harrogate lad, and having attended the Grammar School and played for Harrogate RUFC, it is with dismay that I read the responses to your post. I agree whole heartedly, in that Rudy is something of a ‘character’; I remember rumours around the school yard of Rudy’s past, and encounters with local mental health services (of which there are very few in Harrogate). The somewhat pretentious nature of some members of the Harrogate population do irritate, insomuch as the belief that their town is second only to the capital, and on a par with, to name one conurbation, Bath. Harrogate is a beautiful town – it’s a shame about the people.

  16. Great post this. Love the way you have described the town, and its particular posts. Harrogate has a nice look, especially when it comes to tourists and visitors. The place has a nice and relaxed feel to it. You are right when it is ‘sheltered’ though. I feel some people here, are up their own, particularly when it comes to appreciating, other cultures and maybe more so, other towns and cities across Britain.

    As a young guy, growing up though, I don’t feel the Town does enough for it. There are about nine secondary schools across Harrogate, some of them really good schools. The population of schoolchildren and people just above 18 is quite big in contrast to other towns. When there isn’t enough to do for Children, it’s not common to see kids going out to the Stray as a ‘hang-out’ zone or gathering. The fact the council refuse to build a skatepark at the moment in time is not good, particularly in relations.

  17. i like the fact that you’ve focused on the 2 bad points of harrogate over and over again.
    I suppose every other town is perfect as well.
    and don’t slag off rudy.
    Rudy is awesome.
    Thank you for also noticing the great schools… oh no wait you didn’t.
    Oh and also well done for saying something about the great health care- oh no you didn’t do that either.
    What a modest and un-biast veiw on Harrogate.
    You must be so proud.

    • Harrogate Girl,

      Just for the record, I never slagged off Rudy. You need to learn to read a little better. I guess that great Harrogate education just didn’t work for you… I think Harrogate would be a marvellous place, if only it wasn’t populated by benighted, bumptious and parochial bores such as yourself. 🙂

      • you were right you didn’t slag off Rudy I was just annoyed that you chose to bad mouth my town that is actually brilliant.
        I am actually still in the school system in Harrogate and have just sat my GCSEs and am in fact predicted A*s in all of them. I’m aware that it probably isn’t as good as your BS qualification from some obscure university that gives you enough confidence to write with a certain superiority that probably makes everyone around you want to harm you in some way. It’s also quite rich that you chose to call me a “Benighted and bumptious bore” (I agree with the parochial) when all that self absorbed crap you’ve put up there is benighted and bumptious. And also very, very offensive.

  18. I think Harrogate is a great place. I come from the South and when I go back to visit my family I come across the Southern natives who seem to think where they come from is the be all and end all – have they never been anywhere else! Harrogate has it all, great schools, nice shops, excellent restaurants and beautiful countryside. The only thing that lets is down is the weather. And Rudy is fab!

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