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New book looks at men and women who laboured in Harrogate

EVERYONE knows Harrogate as the once internationally renowned spa town and still today it is often thought of as a desirable place to live and visit.

My new book, Working-Class Lives in Edwardian Harrogate, revisits its Edwardian heyday, from 1901 to the Great War, but for the first time looks at the men and women whose labours supported the comforts and enjoyment of its wealthy visitors and residents.

There were, for example, some 3,000 mostly young women working as servants, chiefly in private homes but also in the town’s hotels and boarding houses, in its many private schools and in institutions like the Royal Bath Hospital.

The town was also a thriving regional up-market retail centre, with well-known names like Marshall and Snelgrove and Fattorini (sadly, soon to close).

Working in shops such as these was seen by young women as preferable to service but was nonetheless still hard work, on your feet all day for up to 75 hours a week.

Women also worked as waitresses in the town’s cafés and restaurants but also in dressmaking and millinery, in commercial laundries and as cleaners.

Men, like women, worked in hotels, one of the few areas of work shared by the sexes. In the Edwardian period, many came from Europe, particularly as chefs and waiters. Indeed, the presence of so many German waiters caused resentment among some people. Germans also were involved in making music in the town, like Otto Schwarz’s band.

But for men, the main areas of employment were building work and the railways.

The last years of Victoria’s reign and the first of Edward’s witnessed a veritable building boom in Harrogate. There was both housing and great public buildings like the Royal Baths, Opera House, Kursaal (now the Royal Hall) and the Majestic Hotel.

With several hundred railway men living and working there, Harrogate was something of a railway town. Their work was essential to bring in the visitors but also for the many commuters into Leeds and Bradford.

In those days, there was a through line from the town into Bradford, with a journey time that is much quicker in fact than a century and more later! Men also drove the hansom and hackney cabs within the town, although during the Edwardian years the car and taxi were beginning to replace them.

My book then details the work that people did but also explores the family lives of working people, their homes and neighbourhoods, how they enjoyed themselves, in the pub or playing sport for example, and at their religious observances.

It looks particularly at their schooling. For it was in school that we see the Edwardian class system at its starkest.

Working-class children went to state schools, whereas their middle-class peers were educated at home or in one of the many private schools in the town, some of which like Ashville or the Ladies College are still there.

For workers’ children, school was meant to fit the girls to be good servants and wives and the boys to be working men like their fathers. Only a tiny minority went on to secondary schooling or into professional work as clerks or teachers.

Overall, the book seeks to present a portrait of the working class in a resort town, a place quite different from industrial cities like Leeds or Bradford, which we usually associate with workers.

It was because they had hitherto been neglected in historical work, both on the town and in history writing generally that I was drawn to this subject. That, and a personal inclination towards the history of so-called ordinary men and women, as distinct from that of the wealthy and famous.

Now, six or seven years after the idea came to me - and after much research in libraries and archives and talking to the descendants of some of those workers - the book is finally published, after inevitable delays caused by the pandemic.

Its subject matter also forms part of a forthcoming exhibition at the Pump Room Museum in Harrogate.

l Working-Class Lives in Edwardian Harrogate by Paul Jennings has 280 pages illustrated with 67 photographs and maps.

It is available from bookshops at £14.99 or, until the end of December, with a 10per cent discount from the publishers Carnegie at using Code JHX21