The history of worship on Harrogate’s Harlow Hill with historian Malcolm Neesam

Harlow Hill's All Saints Church 1997 (S)
Harlow Hill's All Saints Church 1997 (S)

There is evidence, admittedly of only a secondary kind, that Harlow Hill was the earliest site for organised worship in what is now the Borough of Harrogate.

The first surviving reference to the existence of a chapel in Harrogate, occurs in a will dated July 1439, in which Thomas Lyndley left the sum of twelve pounds to chaplain John Brig who was daily to celebrate mass in the “chapel of Harowgate”.

From the evidence of later wills, such as those of John Benson in 1525, Robert Kirkby in 1537, and John Linley in 1541, it can be deduced that Harrogate Chapel was a chantry chapel.

The first known chantry was that of Bishop Hugh of Wells at Lincoln Cathedral, c.1235. Following the plague of 1349, the number of chantry foundations increased substantially, and it is reasonable to assume that Harrogate’s chantry chapel was established at some point between the outbreak of the black death in 1349 and 1372, when Harrogate and the surrounding royal forest were granted by Edward III to his son John of Gaunt, the second duke of Lancaster.

The location of the Harrogate chantry is a mystery. In 14th and early 15th century Bilton-with-Harrogate, the principal routes led from old Bilton, and what is now Bilton Lane and King’s Road before reaching Cold Bath Road in Pannal. Equally, the ancient Harro-gate ran from the Nidd up to the crown of Harlow Hill.

Of these two routes, the proximity of old Bilton to the church of St John in Knaresborough mitigates against the liklihood of Harrogate chantry being at Bilton, whereas the Harro-gate, being virtually equidistant between Pannal’s St Robert’s Church and Knaresborough’s St John’s Church, is a more realistic possibility. But where?

References to the Harrogate “great puddingstone cross”, have led some historians to assume that it was a relic of the Harrogate chantry chapel, and that the location of the cross, could it be identified, would furnish the location of the chapel.

This is unlikely, as the earliest known reference to the cross occurs in 1199 (A.11), well before the chantry fad. The location of the great pudding stone cross may be identified by examining the charters between 1199 and 1587, from which a Harlow Hill location may be identified. The map which accompanied the 1587 Plumpton dispute depicts the pudding stone cross south of the broade way (the Harro-gate) leading from Harlowe to the Stokkbrige, more or less at the point at which Stone Rings Beck rose from the hill side.

Intriguingly, the map also shows a building on an east-west axis, with what could be an apse, a little to the south of the great puddingstone cross, and as it is the only structure depicted in the whole area between Stone Rings Beck, the river Crimple, and the Star Beck, it was clearly a building of some importance.

By 1587, the Harrogate Chantry Chapel had ceased to exist, having been dixssolved in 1549, but it is reasonable to assume that its buildings may have survived. If this structure was indeed Harrogate’s Chantry Chapel, then in terms of the early 21st century, its location was somewhere in the vicinity of Rossett Acre County Primary school.

Puddingstone cross seems to have vanished by 1610, as the surveyor John Moore noted that he was shown by Sir Edward Plumpton’s men “…the place …called Puddingstone Crosse by (ie near) Pannal, but the inhabitants of Pannal knoweth noe such place”.

The references to Harrogate Chapel, as distinct from the chapel of Bilton-with-Harrogate, or even Bilton Chapel, are significant, and may have indicated a chapel serving a wider geographical, rather than a tight communal, locality.

Such a reading would enable Harlow Hill to be a candidate. Until the 1840s, the Harrogate side of Harlow Hill was inhabited sparsely, with the main centre of population being in Pannal, with Cold Bath Lane (as it then was) running down the hill side as far as Low Harrogate.

There was a tiny settlement at Birk Cragg, where the stone quarry provided a meagre living for a handful of people, and after c.1830 a new observation tower encouraged further growth. St Mary’s Church, in St Mary’s Walk, had been consecrated in 1825, and served the residents of Low Harrogate, the parish being part of the Diocese of York.

Christ Church, in High Harrogate, served a much larger population, and lay within the Diocese of Chester (the modern Diocese of Ripon was created in 1836).

St Mary’s Church had been completed 20 years before the Duchy of Lancaster began to develop their “Red Bank estate”, ie the lands between Otley Road, Beech Grove, Esplanade and Cold Bath Road. This huge development, carried out between c.1845 and c.1910 obviously produced a great population increase, and one that the increasingly unstable St Mary’s was unable to accommodate. Before old St Mary’s was closed before the Great War, with a temporary church having been provided in July 1903, the area was provided with a second Anglican Church, and a Methodist Chapel.

The latter was opened in February 1903, but the new Agnlican Church of All Saints was built in 1870, the foundation stone having been laid on April 19. The architect was Isaac Thomas Shutt, who, among other things, had designed the Royal Pump Room which opened in 1842. Some of the burials in All Saints cemetery include the great artist, Bernard Evans, RA, actor Michael Rennie, and town clerk J Turner-Taylor, who served the town from 1897 to 1935.

Recently, Walter Tapper’s St Mary’s replacement of 1915-16 became redundant. Now, I understand the Diocesan authorities have closed All Saints as well. It seems only yesterday that the townspeople were being told that St Mary’s was about to be turned into a modern Health Spa, but to the best of my knowledge, nothing further seems to have happened. It would be doubly unfortunate if the Harlow Hill area was to loose such a useful amenity as All Saints, which, apart from its religious worth and historical merits, has been a valuable community meeting place since 1870. Let us hope it can find new communal life, and one which will respect and preserve that fine cemetery.