21 May 2023

Harrogate is a surprising
delight in Yorkshire, even
on a rain-soaked afternoon

Betty’s is a Harrogate landmark at the corner of Parliament Street and Montpelier Parade (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

I enjoyed Geography at school. It was less about topography and more like an undergraduate module in economics. Teaching methods in the 1960s were still difficult, at times, to say the least. We learned lists by rote, such as the industrial cities of Yorkshire: ‘Leeds, Braford, Halifax …’

I blame the system and the curriculum at the time for this rote learning rather than my teachers, many of whom were excellent. Thanks to them, Geography was one of my honours subjects in the Leaving Certificate in 1969, the equivalent of A Levels.

But I still remember some of those lists … ‘Leeds, Braford, Halifax …’

It took me some years to realise that Yorkshire is not all industrial smoke stacks and mills, on one hand; nor, on the other hand, is it all about sheep, Pennines and Emmerdale.

I first visited Yorkshire as late as the early 1980s, when I was at a CND conference in Leeds. But I only started to get to know Yorkshire in recent months, staying in hospital in Sheffield and receiving generous hospitality in York.

During our stay in York earlier this month, I ought not to have been surprised by the beauty of the Yorkshire Moors, the coast around Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay, and villages and towns such as Hebden Bridge, Heptonstall and Knaresborough.

The former Winter Gardens, opened in 1897 as part of the Royal Baths (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Indeed, learning the names of the industrial centres of Yorkshire by rote ill-prepared me for the surprise of visiting Harrogate, even on a rainy and cloud-covered afternoon.

Harrogate is regularly voted as ‘the happiest place to live’ in Britain. It first developed not as an industrial centre but as a spa town, thanks to the discovery of chalybeate-rich and sulphur-rich spring water in the 16th century. More mineral-rich spring were discovered in the 17th and 18th centuries, and visitors began arriving in large numbers to ‘take the waters.’

The popularity of Georgian and Regency Harrogate brought new facilities, including the Georgian Theatre (1788), Royal Bath Hospital (1826), and the Royal Pump Room (1842).

The Royal Pump Room oepned in 1842 and now houses the town museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Royal Pump Room on Crown Place, opposite the Valley Gardens park, houses the town museum but was built as a spa water pump house. It stands on the corner of Crescent Road and Royal Parade, and retains both its stone rotunda and a glazed annexe that opened in 1913.

The Royal Pump Room offered guests an all-weather facility where they could drink sulphur water pumped from a natural spring known as the Old Sulphur Well.

Hale’s Bar on Crescent Road is a reminder of Harrogate’s gas-lit past (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A local engineer Samson Fox perfected the process of creating water gas in his home in 1870, and it became the first house in Yorkshire to have gas lighting and heating. He then built a town-sized plant to supply Harrogate, and Parliament Street became the world’s first route to be lit by water-gas.

One report proclaimed: ‘Samson Fox has captured the sunlight for Harrogate.’

We had a brief encounter with Harrogate’s gas-lit past when we popped into Hale’s Bar on Crescent Road. It dates back to the coaching inns of the mid-18th century, but may have first opened in the late 17th century for visitors to the world’s strongest sulphur well.

Hale’s was a favourite with Sir John Barbirolli when he visited Harrogate each summer with the Halle Orchestra throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and it appeared in the film Chariots of Fire.

Today, the Winter Gardens is a JD Wetherspoon pub (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Winter Gardens on Parliament Street were built so visitors to the Royal Baths could relax and stroll in any weather. The Winter Gardens and the Turkish Baths were opened in 1897 as part of the Royal Baths, a project initiated by Richard Ellis, who has been described as ‘the father of Victorian Harrogate.’

The Royal Baths were opened by the Duke of Cambridge and were described as ‘the last word in Bathing Establishments’. The Winter Gardens Baths became one of the town’s most famous landmarks, and the Turkish Baths next door was part of the facilities available in the Royal Baths complex.

Amid luxurious surroundings, a variety of treatments was available, including sulphur baths, electric peat baths, and poultices of local fango or hot mud. In the 1920s, people could relax here amid potted palms, listening to music from a grand piano. In the 1930s, the Municipal Orchestra played every morning throughout the year, with free admission for the patients of the baths.

Today, the Winter Gardens is a JD Wetherspoon pub.

The Turkish Baths opened in 1897 as part of the Royal Baths (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Another landmark in the centre of the town, Betty’s, is to Harrogate what Bewley’s once was to Dublin. The family business was founded in Harrogate in 1919 by a Swiss confectioner, Fritz Bützer, who changed his name to Frederick Belmont,and opened the first Betty’s Café Tea Rooms at 9 Cambridge Crescent.

Betty’s bought CE Taylor & Co, tea and coffee merchants, in 1962 and opened Betty’s flagship branch at the corner of Parliament Street and Montpelier Parade in what was previously Taylor’s Café Imperial. The Swiss-Yorkshire heritage lives on as strongly as ever, but to this day the identity of ‘Betty’ remains a mystery.

Another mystery in Harrogate involves the disappearance of the crime novelist Agatha Christie in December 1926. Her car was found by a road near Guildford, and many thought she had been abducted or killed.

For a week, police and volunteers searched for her on the Surrey Downs. But after 11 days, she was found dancing the Charleston at the Old Swan in Swan Road after musicians in the hotel’s resident band recognised her from a missing poster. The public was told she had briefly lost her memory after a car accident, some reports suggested she had a nervous breakdown, while others believed it was all a publicity stunt. Two years later, Agatha Christie and her husband Colonel Archie Christie were divorced.

Harrogate was elegant and was fun to visit. No longer shall I list the names of Yorkshire towns by rote as though they are one industrial centre after another … ‘Leeds, Braford, Halifax …’ And, reluctantly, I may even have to change my opinion of the interiors of Wetherspoon pubs.

Samson Fox introduced gas lighting to the streets of Harrogate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (43) 21 May 2023

The Ascension depicted in the East Window in Penmon Priory Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Ascension Day was last Thursday (18 May 2023), today is the Seventh Sunday of Easter and the Sunday after the Ascension. Eastertide and Ascensiontide continue throughout this week, until the Day of Pentecost next Sunday (28 May 2023).

A note on the Easter Season in the service booklets in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, and Saint George’s Church, Wolverton, reminds us:

‘The Great Fifty Days of Eastertide is where the joy created on Easter Day is sustained through the following seven weeks, and the Church celebrates the gloriously risen Christ.

‘The Paschal Candle we lit on Easter Day stands prominently in our church for all the Eastertide services. The Alleluia appears frequently in the liturgy, speech and song, and white or gold vestments and decorations emphasise the joy and brightness of the season.

‘On the fortieth day of Easter, there is a particular celebration of Christ's ascension. He commissions his disciples to continue his work, he promises the gift of the Holy Spirit, and then he is no longer among them in the flesh. The ascension is therefore closely connected with the theme of mission.

‘The arrival of the promised gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost completes and crowns the Easter Festival.’

Later this morning I hope to be at the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford.

But, before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection. I am reflecting each morning during Ascensiontide in these ways:

1, Looking at a depiction of the Ascension in images or stained glass windows in a church or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Ascension depicted in the East Window in Saint Seiriol’s Church at Penmon Priory (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The East Window, Saint Seiriol’s Church, Penmon Priory:

This morning (21 May 2023) I am looking at images of the Resurrection in Saint Seiriol’s Church at Penmon Priory, outside Beaumaris, on the island of Anglesey.

Penmon is one of the earliest Christian sites in Wales. Saint Seiriol’s Church at Penmon may be part of the oldest remaining Christian building in Wales. According to tradition, a community grew up at Penmon around a monastery (clas) established in the early sixth century by Saint Seiriol on land provided by his brother, Saint Einion, King of Llyn.

Two friends, Saint Seiriol and Saint Cybi, founded monasteries at opposite ends of Anglesey. Saint Cybi’s monastery was on the north-west tip of the Anglesey at the heart of what is now Holyhead, whose Welsh name Caergybi recalls the saint. Saint Seiriol set up his monastery at Penmon, at the eastern tip of the island.

According to folklore, these two saints met weekly near Llanerchymedd, near the centre of the island. Saint Cybi would walk from Holyhead, facing the rising sun in the morning and the setting sun in the evening. Saint Seiriol, travelling in the opposite direction, had the sun to his back during his journey. And so they were known as Cybi the Dark, because he was tanned on his journey, and Seiriol the Fair.

Although Saint Seiriol later moved offshore to a hermitage on Puffin Island, Saint Seiriol’s Monastery prospered and grew in size. By the 10th century, the monastery had a wooden church building, and two crosses that probably stood at the entrance to the monastery complex.

After Penmon was destroyed in Viking raids in 971, the church was rebuilt in stone, and Penmon survived the initial Norman invasion of Gwynedd between 1081 and 1100, when it was defended by Prince Gruffudd ap Cynan of Gwynedd.

During the 12th century, the Priory Church was rebuilt in stone under Gruffudd ap Cynan and Owain Gwynedd in 1120-1123, and the oldest parts of the Priory Church today date from 1140. This is the most complete building of its age in north-west Wales.

In the 13th century, under Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, the monasteries in Wales were reorganised under the Augustinian rule. Penmon became an Augustinian priory, the church was enlarged and new conventual buildings were built.

Penmon Priory expanded and survived the English conquest of Wales in the reign of Edward I. There are records for the election of Priors back to 1306, when Iowerth the Prior is named.

The dining hall was on the first floor, with a cellar below and dormitory above. In the 16th century, a kitchen and a warming house were added at the east of the building. The eastern range of buildings has gone, but the southern one, containing the refectory with a dormitory above, still stands.

In the period immediately before the Reformation, Penmon Priory was already in decline, and by 1536 the community included only the Prior and two other members. The priory was dissolved in 1538, and the buildings and land became the property of the Bulkeley family of Beaumaris, a prominent local family who used most of the land for a deer park and built the dovecote near the church.

However, the church survived the Reformation and Saint Seiriol’s Church, which was the centrepiece of the monastery, remained in use. Much of the church was rebuilt in 1855, and the chancel now serves as the parish church, while the transepts and nave remain part of the church complex.

Below the church, Saint Seiriol’s Well was believed to have healing powers. It is said that the lower stone walls near the well were part of Saint Seiriol’s church in the sixth century. If so, this would make it the oldest remaining Christian building in Wales.

The three-light East Window in the chancel of Penmon Priory Church dates from 1912. The centre window depicts Christ in glory, holding the chalice and the host, with rays of light emanating from the wounds in his hands and feet. He is surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelists.

This window, with its Anglo-Catholic sacramental imagery, was given in 1912 in memory of Henry Owen Williams and his wife Sarah (Holborn) of Tre-Castell, near Beaumaris, by their children. Their children included the Revd Raymond Owen Williams, who was presented to the Vicarage of Fisherton Delamere in Wiltshire by Athelstan Riley (1858-1945), the Anglo-Catholic hymn writer and hymn translator.

In the left side of the window, Sarah Williams is shown with the women and children being blessed by Christ.

In the right side of the window, Henry Williams is depicted in a scene depicting the blessing and distribution of the loaves and fishes.

Fragments of the original East Window in the Priory Church can be seen in a small stained glass window that is the east window of the south transept. This window depicts the Priory’s founder, Saint Seiriol, watching Saint Christopher carrying the Christ Child across a river.

The window, with its Anglo-Catholic sacramental imagery, is in memory of Henry and Sarah Owen Williams (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 17: 1-11 (NRSVA):

1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

6 ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.’

The chancel in the Priory Church in Penmon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s prayer:

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘Accountability and Care.’ USPG’s Research and Learning Advisor, Jo Sadgrove, introduces this theme this morning as she reflects on accountability on the anniversary of George Floyd’s death. She writes:

‘One of the challenges of spending time thinking about history, the past, and our corporate archives is connecting what might seem like other times and different worldviews to present-day activities and concerns. The death of George Floyd remains a stark reminder that patterns of thinking laid down in another time, in the era of transatlantic slavery, persist in the present and continue to perpetuate violence and dehumanisation.

‘Thinking about how the power imbalances of the past continue to exist in the present-day functioning of the Anglican Communion, sometimes perpetuated by agencies like USPG, remains a necessary if uncomfortable part of our work. Whilst USPG no longer trades in human beings, how does its investment portfolio continue to prioritise profit over people? Where does USPG continue to use the security of its financial power to foster dependency rather than agency amongst partner churches who are sometimes reliant on funding?

‘We are members of organisations and institutions with troubling histories. Holding in balance their purpose in the present whilst honouring those who have been marginalised in their pasts through historical analysis is a critical part of our moral accountability and our duty of care to those historically marginalised partner churches whom we seek better to serve.’

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (Sunday 21 May 2023):

Risen and ascended, Lord,
give us eyes that look with compassion on the world
and hearts that rage at injustice.
Give us breath to raise our voice in protest
and hands and feet that bring life not death,
and, by your grace, make our broken body whole.


O God the King of glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
we beseech you, leave us not comfortless,
but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us
and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Eternal God, giver of love and power,
your Son Jesus Christ has sent us into all the world
to preach the gospel of his kingdom:
confirm us in this mission,
and help us to live the good news we proclaim;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Priory Church in Penmon is the most complete building of its age in north-west Wales (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org