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Old Harrogate

Vintage pictures

The Royal Hall (Kursaal)

by Malcolm Neesham (2001)

For pictures, see:
Historical Harrogate Music
Early Contests
Talk on Harrogate Bands
Philip Wilby's Local Composers
Harrogate Band Song

Music at the Spa
Daily Spa Routine
The Royal Hall (Kursaal)
Early Victorian Harrogate

When Harrogate's Royal Hall, or Kursaal, was opened on 28th May 1903 by Sir Hubert Parry, a culminating point in Spa development was achieved, as the "hall for the cure" was at one with the drinking of mineral water from Harrogate's Wells, exercising the body on the Stray, and practising a balanced lifestyle and diet at the Spa's hotels and inns. To these important practices, the relief of stress through pleasure and amusement was a vital ingredient, a fact recognised by the hoteliers, who paid for the Georgian theatre of 1788, the doctors, who paid for the assembly room of 1805, and the local business community, who paid for the Spa Rooms of 1835. The importance of the Royal Hall was that for the first time in Harrogate, it was possible to practice all the elements of the "cure" under one root including that of music. Mineral water could be obtained from Europe's most famous Chloride of Iron Well, the building's encircling ambulatories, or promenades, enabled exercise to be taken in all seasons and weathers, and entertainment was provided by an astonishing range of performers.

Musicians such as Sydney Jones, Julian Clifford, Howard Carr, and Basil Cameron, directed music making in the Kursaal (known as the Royal Hall after 1918) and also brought the cream of international musical talent to enrich concert season after concert season. The first two years saw musicians of the stature of Sir Hubert Parry, Edward German, Granville Bantock, Ferrucio Busoni, Coleridge Taylor, Joseph Holbrooke sharing the stage with the Carl Rosa Opera Company, whose productions of Carmen, Don Giovanni, Lohengrin and Tannhauser attracted capacity audiences. Ten years later, standards were still high, the summer's programme feature the great Polish pianist Ignace Paderewski, Sir Edward Elgar, John McCormack, and Fritz Kreisler.

Fifty years ago, visitors included the Hallé Orchestra with Paul Kletzki and Sir John Barbirolli, the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra with Hugo Rignold, and the first appearance in Harrogate of Petula Clark. Other performers included the Beverley Sisters, the New BBC Trio with Max Jaffa, Victor Silvester and his ballroom orchestra, and Joe Loss and his orchestra. Whatever the audience's taste in music, sooner or later it was satisfied by the Royal Hall's brilliant programming.

Famous premieres include the first provincial performance of Elgar's Second Symphony, on 9th August 1911, and the first provincial performance of Vaughan William's London Symphony, and these were followed by appearances from just about every significant figure of the British musical establishment, with the significant exception of Frederick Delius, despite inaccurate published accounts to the contrary.

Throughout two world wars the Royal Hall has played an important role in maintaining local morale, from the time in 1915 when the scamp Horation Bottomley gave one of his infamous "patriotic" rabble rousing speeches on 13th August 1915, through to post-battle of Britain performances by Billy Cotton and his band, Nat Gonella and his famous Georgians, Geraldo and the Savoy Orpheans, and Jack Payne and Peggy Cochrane. The history of the twentieth century Royal Hall is the history of twentieth century Harrogate.