The Dragon Hotel

RECENT reader requests for information on the Dragon Hotel have made me break a promise I once made to myself, never to repeat a Bygone Harrogate article, apart from being rude to those who wished to see the Royal Hall demolished, and my annual moan about the continued public inaccessibilty of the Royal Baths Grand Pump Room.

But several readers who are new to Harrogate have asked me to explain why there are so many places in town using the name of "Dragon".

This week's photograph dates from about 1901, and shows the demolition of what had once been the Dragon Hotel, which filled the site between today's Mornington Crescent, and the railway line. The Dragon seems to have developed from a 17th

century farmhouse, its unusual name having come from Dragon, one of King Charles II race-horses. Eventually the Dragon became one of High Harrogate's great hotels, the others being the Granby and the Queen.

It was because the Dragon was frequented by the eighteenth century's "fast set" - by the gamblers, the military, the gold-diggers, the sportsmen, and anyone on the make, that the Dragon had the nickname of the "House of Commons", to distinguish it from the Granby, known as the "House of Lords", or the Queen, known as the "Manchester Warehouse" because it was frequented by those in trade. In Low Harrogate, only the Crown could rival High Harrogate's glorious triumvirate.

The great artist WP Frith spent his boyhood at the Dragon, and it has been a source of wonderment to me why the Mercer Gallery's Frith exhibition has so completely ignored this Harrogate connection.

When the fashion for Low Harrogate's sulphur water grew in the 19th century, custom fell away from High Harrogate, and in 1863, the Dragon Hotel was put up for sale, eventually being tenanted by High Harrogate College, a boys school. Frith returned to visit the Dragon during its last hours, when its appearance would have been as recorded on this week's photograph.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries the Dragon estate was built up by the Chippindale brothers, who also gave it a swimming pool. In a nice gesture of historical awareness, the New Inn on Skipton Road re-named itself Dragon, to keep the old name alive, and, indeed, the present Skipton Road pub still has a plaster Dragon over an old entrance.