< UNITED KINGDOM | HARROGATE: The Majestic Hotel
Set in 8 acres of private gardens in the heart of the elegant spa town Harrogate, The Majestic Hotel was built at the height of Harrogate’s prosperity in the 19th Century. According to a popular anecdote, the inspiration for building a hotel here came to Sir Blundell Maple of Frederick Hotels after being overcharged at Queen’s Hotel in what was known as High Harrogate, the hillside rising up behind The Majestic Hotel. Sir Blundell, having failed to gain satisfaction from the manager of Queen’s, stormed out, vowing he would put it out of business by building his own hotel.
A palatial and stately Victorian property, designed by London architect George Dennis Martin, was constructed between 1898-9 on the site previously occupied by a villa called Springfield House. When it
formally opened on 18 July 1900 the newly completed Majestic, with its many windows, wide external staircase, portico and dome, more resembled a great railway station hotel, or a French chateau.
The Majestic Hotel was the first modern Victorian hotel built to accommodate Harrogate Spa’s growing popularity. Among the features that impressed the national press were the 100-foot Great Lounge, which ran the full length of the hotel on the ground floor displaying murals of eight great English spa towns, including Harrogate. The 8-foot tall mahogany clock which Fredericks brought from their Grand Central Hotel in Marylebone is now on display in the hotel’s Regency bar, as well as the six Venetian chandeliers in the Reading and Drawing Room.
However, the greatest acclaim was reserved for the Winter Garden, a glass structure covering 8,000 square feet on the west side of the hotel, soon nicknamed the Yorkshire Crystal Palace. An innovative feature of the Winter Garden was the planting of palms in individual pots so that they could be moved aside to create a central banqueting space within the glasshouse.
In the years before the First World War, Europe’s spas were frequented by royalty. While organising an Anglo-German car rally in Yorkshire, Prince Henry of Prussia stayed at The Majestic. the Maharajah of Patiala was a also a guest, as were a number of Russian grand duchesses. Harrogate, like London, had its Season and the staff of the Majestic grew used to receiving some remarkable guests. With the outbreak of the first world war, England’s long, calm ‘Edwardian Summer’ came to an end in 1914.
When The Majestic re-emerged in the 1920s, it attracted just as many celebrities as before: the composer Percy Grainger, the movie star Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, playwright George Bernard Shaw, the splendid Shanghai entrepreneur Sir Victor Sassoon, and even Edward, the playboy Prince of Wales.
On 20 June 1924, disaster struck when the top floors of the hotel caught fire. The dramatic rescue of a young French maid by 21-year-old waiter John Lester, who scaled the outside of the building, made headline news. The building cost L50,000 to restore but Frederick Hotels reinvested immediately. Harrogate was still making money as a spa town. In fact following the American stock market crash of 1929, a report commissioned by the British Spa Federation concluded that of the UK’s eight top spas only Harrogate in Yorkshire was making a profit.
During the Second World War, the Majestic was requisitioned by the British government who feared carpet-bombing of London and intended to move the Air Ministry up to Harrogate. In 1939, the management of the hotel received permission to reopen for Christmas, however on 12 September 1940, a lone Junkers 88 dropped bombs on the hotel. While one of the bombs lodged on the fifth floor without exploding, another blew a huge crater in the gardens, killing the wife of the head doorman and shattering windows in the Winter Garden.
After the War ended, the Majestic received all necessary repairs and restoration, but the Winter Garden was judged beyond repair. It had lost all its glass and was deemed unfashionable. In 1968, the National Health Service stopped prescribing spa stays and the town of Harrogate closed down its Royal Baths and even dropped the word Spa from its name. The hotel also witnessed a change of emphasis in the 1960s as popular entertainers performing in Harrogate became increasingly those who appealed to the younger market. The hotel’s guest list reflected this change with names like Sir Thomas Beecham, soprano Elisabeth Schumann and the Ray Ellington Quartet, giving way to Cliff Richard, the Bee Gees, the Bay City Rollers and Nigel Kennedy.
With an elegant façade that’s been a Harrogate landmark since Victorian times, the Majestic Hotel today is a grand, imposing hotel set in extensive landscaped grounds. It is a popular choice for corporate and private events, as well as opulent base from which to discover the town’s many fine buildings, excellent shops and beautiful parks and gardens, or head out into the magnificent Yorkshire Dales National Park.