It is fitting that the Harrogate Club should feature in these columns regularly as it has been the town’s most prestigious address for decades before the establishment of Harrogate’s Council in 1884 and today’s most popular meeting places where people gather to socialise and discuss the affairs of their community and business.
Since 1886, the central location of 36 Victoria Avenue has provided the perfect venue for Harrogate people to meet, its lofty and noble rooms forming a superb backdrop for both intimate and formal socialising, dining, talks, debates and lectures, meeting and making friends, playing billiards, bridge, snooker, chess, cards and such other agreeable pursuits as wine tastings.
Here, older club members no doubt relished recalling how Sir Titus Salt enjoyed his Country Membership, enthralling club members with his descriptions of Saltaire and the alpaca business; here, Samson Fox would have astonished society with an account of his building the London Royal College of Music and his American adventures with Diamond Jim Brady.
It was as a Country member that architect Cuthbert Broderick would have thrilled club members with his memory of Queen Victoria opening his new Town Hall in Leeds, possible describing his forthcoming and unique design for the Leeds Corn Exchange.
It was at the club that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle certainly played snooker, and was reputed to have on one occasion held a seance! And the fact that Harrogate’s Mayors are automatically given honorary club membership shows further the close relationship between the town’s elected representatives and club members.
Unquestionably, the Harrogate Club is the place for people from the wider Harrogate District to join, particularly since a refurbishment programme began recently which has already restored one of the club’s five great public rooms into a space of such magnificence that the Mercer Art Gallery agreed to display therein several mayoral portraits from its collection of fine art.
For perhaps too long for 20th century tastes, the Harrogate Club was a bastion of male membership, but the wind of change which began to blow even before the turn of the last century has ensured that women are playing an important and very welcome role in club life, including the committee.
Membership has never been as high, and it is a sign of the club’s successful adoption of modern technology (eg Wi-Fi) that increasing numbers of young professional people are flocking to join, one sign of which are the numbers of lap-tops in evidence.
Over the next couple of weeks, the club is due to host a Burns Night Dinner on Saturday, January 28 which, as usual, was sold out well before the event.
The series of ten powerpoint presentations by Malcolm Neesam have enlivened alternate winter Sunday afternoons since October, the next one in the series being on Sunday, February 5 on the subject of entertainment in Harrogate since the 18th century.
These well-attended 3pm events are preceded by a 12.30pm carvery in the club’s handsome dining room, and the club has been particularly pleased to welcome members and their guests from Harrogate Civic Society.
Indeed, many of Harrogate’s other societies, organisations and private residents hire the club for their own use, so visitors encounter a wide cross-section of the community within its premises.
Other pending events are the live music evening at 7pm on Friday, February 10 when Beau, a favourite performer of BBC Introducing with Jericho Keys, is being promoted by Jason Odle of Ont’ Sofa (ontsofa.com), and the regular snooker contests in the club’s breath-taking billiards room which has two huge Victorian tables maintained in perfect condition.
For the future, the club’s committee intends to refurbish all the rooms to the same superb standard as the new upper lounge, and to upgrade the building to comply with modern standards for access.
But for the immediate present, the Harrogate Club, like Harrogate itself, is booming, and quite simply the place to join.