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Harrogate Decorative and Fine Arts Group hits half a century with Royal Hall celebration

Richard Catton


We caught up with members of one of Harrogate’s biggest supporters of the arts as the group prepared for its golden jubilee celebration.

The first ever lecture of HDFAG in 1967

IF YOU’VE ever thrown your time and effort into setting up a successful organisation you’ll understand the emotions when reaching a milestone anniversary. For the small business owner, reaching your first full year of successful trading is a cause for celebration and reflection.

Reaching your first decade means you’ve really arrived but it’s when, as an organisation, you hit your half-century that you’ve really earned the right to get the champagne corks popping.

This year sees Harrogate Decorative and Fine Arts Group (HDFAG) achieving that very milestone and the group is celebrating in the Royal Hall – the historic theatre the group helped to save.

We caught up with the members of the HDFAG committee as they prepared for Thursday afternoon’s Golden Jubilee Lecture by renowned art historian and critic Andrew Graham-Dixon.

Andrew Graham-Dixon will deliver the Golden Jubilee lecture in The Royal Hall

Looking back, chairman, Gaby Robertshaw, said: “We still have in our possession the 1967 membership list. Then, as now, HDFAG members covered a wide area radiating out from Harrogate at a time when not everyone had access to a car.

“There were no mobile phones, and communications relied on Royal Mail rather than our committee email, as in the 21st Century.”

Gaby said that with a ‘young and glamorous’ membership in the sixties, hats were often de rigeur and sherry receptions took place with an ‘alarming regularity’.

The group held its inaugural lecture at the Cairn Hotel on January 25, 1967, under the chairmanship of Chita Hutton-Wilson, attracting a very respectable 175 attendees.

The event took place following a small advert in The Yorkshire Post asking for “young and energetic persons to help launch a midweek study”. What followed was 50 years of like-minded art-lovers meeting up for lectures, trips and field visits.

In the early seventies, the group became involved in a major project to put more than 3000 pieces of early Leeds Creamware pottery on display at Temple Newsam House.

This was HDFAG’s first foray into volunteering and it was a course that would eventually lead them to The Royal Hall, which Heritage Volunteer Leader, Val Freeman happened to be driving past one fateful day in 2006.

The Hall was, at this time, in a poor state of repair and Val remembers seeing a skip outside the venue full of fittings from the historic theatre. It was at that moment she knew what HDFAG’s next project had to be.

“It was being cleared out before an inventory was taken,” she recalled.  “The Council and the Royal Hall Restoration Trust allowed me to assemble a team to do just that.

“Measurements and plans had been the careers of four of our eight volunteers. In the space of five weeks, every pane of stained glass was measured with surgical instruments, as was every area from the famous ambulatories to the Grand Circle and Stage.

“It transpired that Heritage Lottery Funding would not have been granted without our detailed inventory.”

The group’s work proved invaluable in the restoration of the Royal Hall, as did the incredible £2.7million raised by HDFAG member Lilian Mina.

The Harrogate Decorative and Fine Arts Group in the Royal Hall - 2017

Today the group continues its popular programme of lectures
and visits; alongside a flourishing group of Young Arts projects and challenges
for the Church Recorders and Heritage Volunteers.  

Tickets for Thursday afternoon’s lecture by Andrew Graham-Dixon are almost sold out so hurry to whats-on for more information.

If you would be interested in joining Harrogate Decorative and Fine Arts Group, contact Joanne Pellow on 01132 037287 or email for details.

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