Knaresborough and Harrogate
The view from 1900 was - “It is sometimes said that Knaresborough is an overrated town from the point of view of its attractiveness to visitors, but this depends very much upon what we hope to find there. If we expect to find lasting pleasure in contemplating the Dropping Well, or the pathetic little exhibition of petrified objects in the Mother Shipton Inn, we may be prepared for disappointment. It seems strange that the real and lasting charms of the town should be overshadowed by such popular and much-advertised 'sights.' The first view of the town from the 'high' bridge is so full of romance that if there were nothing else to interest us in the place we would scarcely be disappointed. The Nidd, flowing smoothly at the foot of the precipitous heights upon which the church and the old roofs appear, is spanned by a great stone viaduct. This might have been so great a blot upon the scene that Knaresborough would have lost half its charm. Strangely enough, we find just the reverse is the case, for this railway bridge, with its battlemented parapets and massive piers, is now so weathered that it has melted into its surroundings as though it had come into existence as long ago as the oldest building visible. The old Knaresborough kept well to the heights adjoining the castle, and even to-day there are only a handful of later buildings down by the river margin.
When we have crossed the bridge, and have passed along a narrow roadway perched well above the river, we come to one of the many interesting houses that help to keep alive the old-world flavour of the town. Only a few years ago the old manor-house had a most picturesque and rather remarkable exterior, for its plaster walls were covered with a large black and white chequer-work and its overhanging eaves and tailing creepers gave it a charm that has since then been quite lost. The restoration which recently took place has entirely altered the character of the exterior, but inside everything has been preserved with just the care that should have been expended outside as well. There are oak-wainscoted parlours, oak dressers, and richly-carved fireplaces in the low-ceiled rooms, each one containing furniture of the period of the house. Upstairs there is a beautiful old bedroom lined with oak, like those on the floor below, and its interest is greatly enhanced by the story of Oliver Cromwell's residence in the house, for he is believed to have used this particular bedroom.
Higher up the hill stands the church with a square central tower surmounted by a small spike. It still bears the marks of the fire made by the Scots during their disastrous descent upon Yorkshire after Edward II.'s defeat at Bannockburn. The chapel north of the chancel contains interesting monuments of the old Yorkshire family of Slingsby. The altar-tomb in the centre bears the recumbent effigies of Francis Slingsby, who died in 1600, and Mary his wife. Another monument shows Sir William Slingsby, who accidentally discovered the first spring at Harrogate. The Slingsbys, who were cavaliers, produced a martyr in the cause of Charles I. This was the distinguished Sir Henry, who, in 1658, 'being beheaded by order of the tyrant Cromwell, ... was translated to a better place.' So says the inscription on a large slab of black marble in the floor of the chapel. The last of the male line of the family was Sir Charles Slingsby, who was most unfortunately drowned by the upsetting of a ferry-boat in the Ure in February, 1869.
When we have progressed beyond the market-place, we come out upon an elevated grassy space upon the top of a great mass of rock whose perpendicular sides drop down to a bend of the Nidd. Around us are scattered the ruins of Knaresborough Castle—poor and of small account if we compare them with Richmond, although the site is very similar; where before the siege in 1644 there must have been a most imposing mass of towers and curtain walls. Of the great keep, only the lowest story is at all complete, for above the first-floor there are only two sides to the tower, and these are battered and dishevelled. The walls enclosed about the same area as Richmond, but they are now so greatly destroyed that it is not easy to gain a clear idea of their position. There were no less than eleven towers, of which there now remain fragments of six, part of a gateway, and behind the old courthouse there are evidences of a secret cell. An underground sally-port opening into the moat, which was a dry one, is reached by steps leading from the castle yard.
The keep is in the Decorated style, and appears to have been built in the reign of Edward II. Below the ground is a vaulted dungeon, dark and horrible in its hopeless strength, which is only emphasized by the tiny air-hole that lets in scarcely a glimmering of light, but reveals a thickness of 15 feet of masonry that must have made a prisoner's heart sick. It is generally understood that Bolingbroke spared Richard II. such confinement as this, and that when he was a prisoner in the keep he occupied the large room on the floor above the kitchen. It is now a mere platform, with the walls running up on two sides only. The kitchen (sometimes called the guard-room) has a perfectly preserved roof of heavy groining, supported by two pillars, and it contains a collection of interesting objects, rather difficult to see, owing to the poor light that the windows allow. There is a great deal to interest us among the wind-swept ruins and the views into the wooded depths of the Nidd, and we would rather stay here and trace back the history of the castle and town to the days of that Norman Serlo de Burgh, who is the first mentioned in its annals, than go down to the tripper-worn Dropping Well and the Mother Shipton Inn.
The distance between Knaresborough and Harrogate is short, and after passing Starbeck we come to an extensive common known as the Stray. We follow the grassy space, when it takes a sharp turn to the north, and are soon in the centre of the great watering-place.
There is one spot in Harrogate that has a suggestion of the early days of the town. It is down in the corner where the valley gardens almost join the extremity of the Stray. There we find the Royal Pump Room that made its appearance in early Victorian times, and its circular counter is still crowded every morning by a throng of water-drinkers. We wander through the hilly streets and gaze at the pretentious hotels, the baths, the huge Kursaal, the hydropathic establishments, the smart shops, and the many churches, and then, having seen enough of the buildings, we find a seat supported by green serpents, from which to watch the passers-by. A white-haired and withered man, having the stamp of a military life in his still erect bearing, paces slowly by; then come two elaborately dressed men of perhaps twenty-five. They wear brown suits and patent boots, and their bowler hats are pressed down on the backs of their heads. Then nursemaids with perambulators pass, followed by a lady in expensive garments, who talks volubly to her two pretty daughters. When we have tired of the pavements and the people, we bid farewell to them without much regret, being in a mood for simplicity and solitude, and go away towards Wharfedale with the pleasant tune that a band was playing still to remind us for a time of the scenes we have left behind.”