Harrogate historian Malcolm Neesam’s Our Heritage: Cedar Court hotel

Queen Buildings during the post 1987 rebuilding (S)
Queen Buildings during the post 1987 rebuilding (S)

The attractions for visitors to High Harrogate were considerably enhanced in 1788 when the owner of the Granby Hotel built a theatre in Church Square, which was convenient not only for guests at the Granby, but also for the Queen’s Head and Dragon Hotels.

Guests were able to select which plays the actors performed, as on fJuly 20 1797, when the comedy The Road to Ruin and a farce called No song, no supper was headed by the announcement “By desire of the Ladies and Gentlemen at the Queen’s Head”. Another great attraction for guests at the Queen’s Head was the race course, laid out in 1793 on Harrogate Stray directly opposite the hotel’s front windows. This was the work of Colonel Clement Wolsley, having a circumference of one and a quarter miles, and a width of 16 yards.

The ball room was placed in the old "Queen's Head" long room. (S)

The ball room was placed in the old "Queen's Head" long room. (S)

The French wars at the end of the 18th century saw the medical profession taking up the use of sulphur water treatments, and as High Harrogate had no sulphur water, Low Harrogate, with its rich supply, began to flourish. Landlord William Thackwray must have been aware of the changing fashion, as on December 21 1793, he announced that he was moving into Low Harrogate’s Crown Hotel, and that the entire contents of the Queen’s Head would be sold by auction, including “upwards of 80 feather beds, nearly as good as new, with bedding, linen, bed heads, and hangings, and all kinds of furniture; likewise brewing utensils, cows, horses, chaises, harness etc.”. This sale signalled a period of difficulty for the old inn.

A new landlord, Francis Haw, took over, and attempted to revive business by reducing his prices. Despite this, and other devices, the Queen’s Head does not seem to have enjoyed the Regency years to the same extent as either High Harrogate’s Dragon and Granby Hotels, or Low Harrogate’s Crown. In November 1813, Francis Haw closed his hotel, and auctioned of all the contents. However, the hotel was soon taken by a new landlord, one James Settle, who ran the establishment, including the farm. During Settle’s term as landlord, the rates for a day’s board and lodging were seven shillings and six pence per visitor, which placed the Queen’s Head as one of the most expensive places of accommodation in Harrogate. The sale dragged on until 1828, a bad sign, but eventually it was acquired by the Dearlove family, with whom it soon became synonymous.

Under the Dearloves, the great days returned to the Queen’s Head, and as if to symbolise a revival of the hotel’s fortune, its name was also changed to that of the Queen Hotel. John Dearlove senior retired in 1849, aged 69, a few months after the railways reached Harrogate. The railways enabled many more people to visit the Spa, which hitherto had been the preserve of the rich, and the Queen’s Hotel benefited. So much so, that in 1855-6, a major rebuilding was undertaken, when the centre portion was rebuilt. Sixteen “handsome private sitting rooms, and forty lodging rooms, “furnished regardless of cost, with every comfort and convenience” were provided, and the grounds extended and embellished.

In 1861 the eastern portion was renovated, and enlarged, and the characteristic portico added, giving the building its present uniform and elegant architectural appearance. Family ownership of the Queen Hotel appears to have ended in about 1881, when the Dearlove’s sold out to a London company headed by Sir William Magnay. Following the change of ownership, the Queen adapted to the needs of a new class of visitor, including Royalty, and Princess Victoria became a regular visitor, occupying a suite during the summer. As the 19th century drew to its close, there was the feeling in Harrogate that the Queen was the best hotel in town, a view shared by the chairman of the important chain of Frederick Hotels, Sir Blundell Maple. It was Sir Blundell’s choice to reside at the Queen whenever he visited Harrogate, and in about 1896, he had a heated exchange with the management that led to his throwing a sovereign at them and saying that the money was in case there was a piece of carpet he had walked across without paying for it! As a parting shot, the infuriated Sir Blundell told the management that he would build a rival hotel in Harrogate that would put the Queen Hotel out of business.

The Hotel Majestic was the result, but fortunately for Harrogate, the Queen Hotel continued to thrive. Although most Harrogate hotels provided music for the entertainment of their visitors, the Queen appears to have been the first one to have arranged formal concerts which the public could attend. These concerts were given in the great ballroom, and consisted of musical recitals for solo and chamber groups, the programmes being unusually progressive for the times. Indeed, the first known Harrogate performance of music by Delius took place in the Queen Hotel in January 1899. After the Great War, the Queen entered the jazz age with vigour, and new decoration mirrored the taste of the times. Advertisements made mention of cocktails, and an American bar was introduced, perhaps copying the successful bar of the rival “Grand” Hotel.

A new manager was appointed in 1934, and interviewed by a Yorkshire magazine. In what must have been one of the most inept interviews ever undertaken in Harrogate, the interviewer failed to press the manager on his comment that he had been well used to handling difficult customers in his last post. This had been Berlin’s “”Kaiserhof” Hotel, which was the base used by Hitler, Goebbels, and Goering during their grab for power in the Reichskanzlei, just across the road. It would have been interesting to have learned more about the “difficult” customers. When war broke out in September 1939, most of Harrogate’s great hotels were soon occupied by government ministries keen to escape the long-feared bombardment of London.

The Queen was filled by the no.7 personnel reception centre of the Air Ministry, with about 700 officer aircrew. The sight of dozens of Air Ministry staff sitting on the Stray in front of the Queen, during lunch breaks, soon became a regular sight. The great ballroom was filled with dozens of little cubicals filled with typists, and the former billiards room was converted into a communications centre. Althouth the Queen was released by the government in December 1939, it was reoccupied in February 1942. In 1946, the first full year of peace in Europe, the British Government de-requisitioned the Queen’s Hotel (it took until 1958 for the Crown Hotel to be similarly de-requisitioned) and handed it back to its owners.

The new manager, Mr A P Tregenna, had a difficult task before him, in that the Harrogate Spa increasingly relied upon visitors sent by the new National Health Service, so the old wealthy clientele who had formerly patronised the Queen’s Hotel, were no longer apparent. Between 1946 and 1950 the Queen struggled to regain its former supremacy, but in December 1950 the management decided to merge with the Prince of Wales Hotel, and to sell the Queen’s Hotel building to the Leeds Regional Health Authority. Henceforth, the Prince of Wales Hotel would be known as “The Prince of Wales Hotel incorporating the Queen Hotel”, but the reality was that people soon dropped all reference to the Queen. After nearly 300 years, it seemed that the Queen had taken her final bow.

It was perhaps a sign of the times that the Mayor of Harrogate, Alderman CE Whiteley, spoke of the great advantage to the town which would result from the Leeds Regional Hospital Board’s decision to open its headquarters, a training school and a nurses home, at Queen buildings. This was when Harrogate was establishing itself as a national centre for rheumatic treatment and research. The Leeds Regional Health Authority had not long enjoyed their new elegant surroundings, when a charge of gross extravagance was levelled at them in Parliament by the Conservative MP for Ripon, Colonel Malcolm Stoddard-Scott. This was a charge which was to re-surface again and again. In 1967 Colonel Stoddard-Scott asked questions in Parliament about the cost to the National health Service in occupying the premises of a former luxury hotel, and the general tenor of the reply he received was that “things were all right as they were” The answer included the information that of the 1,189 employees of the Hospital Board, 349 were stationed at Queen Buildings, occupying 221 of its rooms.

As it approached the opening of its fourth century, Queen Buildings began to show signs of decay. In 1987, the Department of the Environment gave permission for two-thirds of Queen Buildings to be dismantled, subject to the principle facades being re-erected exactly in accordance with their historic appearance. The whole exercise was hugely expensive, and raised further questions about the wisdom of a Public Health Authority occupying such a historic and prestigious building. Shortly after having spent millions on the reconstruction of Queen Buildings, the Health Authority decided to pack its bags and move out of Harrogate altogether. The magnificent building was, in 1998, then acquired by Wakefield based Cedar Court Hotels, one of Yorkshire’s largest independent hotel chains. After a year long programme of conversion, decoration and furnishing, the Cedar Court Hotel re-opened to the public on February 22 1999 since when it has resumed its historic role as one of Harrogate’s finest hotels.