One of the two finest places to have tea in Harrogate is the Old Swan Hotel http://www.classiclodges.co.uk/The_Old_Swan_Hotel_Harrogate. (The other is the famous, and famously crowded, Betty's http://www.bettys.co.uk.)
I took my cousin Cathryn and her family to the Old Swan when she received her Open University degree (thereby absolving me of being the only black sheep – that is, graduate – in the family). We waded for above two hours through sandwiches, and cake, and scones, and pots of tea, and eventually admitted defeat. It was wonderful. I didn't need to eat again till breakfast.
For that reason, I've arranged afternoon tea at the Old Swan as a feature of next year's tour Taking the Waters: the history of spas & hydros (May 13th-15th 2011).
The Old Swan is also a relevant historic site because, although there was a hotel on the site in the eighteenth century, the present building is a fine example of a Victorian hydro, designed to offer the hugely popular "water cure". Built for the Harrogate Hydropathic Company in the late 1870s, the building is a conscious imitation of the even bigger Smedley's Hydro at Matlock Bank.
Its major claim to fame, however, dates from 1926 when the crime novelist Agatha Christie (1890-1976) holed up at what was by then called the Swan Hotel for eleven days after her husband, Archie, declared he wanted a divorce so he could marry his mistress, Nancy Neele.
After a huge row he left their Berkshire house to spend the weekend with Nancy, and Agatha subsequently left, abandoned her Morris Cowley near Guildford and completely disappeared, as only a writer of murder mysteries can.
The ensuing search had elements of farce – the Home Secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, harassing the police for a "result", Arthur Conan Doyle having one of Agatha's gloves examined by a medium and Dorothy L Sayers inspecting the location of the abandoned car, later referenced in her novel Unnatural Death.
Eventually Agatha Christie was found, having an enjoyable time at the Swan, registered under the name Mrs Teresa Neele.
That gave Archie something to think about.
Archie and Agatha Christie divorced in 1928, and two years later she married the archaeologist (Sir) Max Mallowan (1904-1978). He once said that she said, "An archaeologist is the best husband any woman can have; the older she gets, the more interested he is in her," but she denied it.
For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture, Taking the waters: the history of spas and hydros, please click here.
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