Harrogate Ladies’ College opened its doors to pupils for the first time in 1893. The School was part of the very significant growth in girls’ education which took place in the second half of the nineteenth century. Led by pioneers such as Frances Buss, Dorothea Beale, Emily Davies and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, major girls’ schools were established in different parts of the UK and, for the first time ever, women began to gain admission to university.
The original Harrogate College was, in fact, a boys’ school, seemingly established in the 1880s. However, it struggled, and quite quickly failed, leaving the baton to the school set up for their sisters in 1893. Little seems to be known about HLC’s first Head who worked under the aegis of the boys’ school, but the second Headmistress, Elizabeth Wilhelmina Jones, was a worthy proponent of the revolution in girls’ education and under her constructive, imaginative, and long-lasting direction (she was Headmistress from 1898 until 1935), HLC forged its reputation as a leader amongst girls’ schools.
Just eleven years after its original establishment, Harrogate Ladies’ College moved to its present magnificent, purpose-built home. Such buildings, on such a scale for the education of girls, were still quite unusual, but the new school fitted in well amidst the surroundings of the increasingly handsome Duchy of Lancaster estate in Harrogate which was being developed around the same time. Many of the College’s rooms, which are still in use, had an elegance entirely fitting for the purpose of the education of young ladies.
In 1924, the School opened its own new Chapel on site. The Chapel had originally been St Mary’s Church in Low Harrogate, but it had had to be dismantled because of subsidence. The new Chapel’s decorative restraint was entirely in keeping with the School’s evangelical traditions, and a marked contrast to the Anglo-Catholic splendour of the new St Wilfrid’s Church, situated just across the road from the College. St Wilfrid’s, designed by the eminent ecclesiastical architect, Temple Moore, was still under construction at the time of the latter’s death in 1920.
Additions to the School’s accommodation were made in the inter-war years, not least a gymnasium and a swimming pool, as numbers expanded and there were developments to some of the neighbouring buildings which it had either purchased or acquired on long leases from the Duchy of Lancaster.
War brought temporary evacuation. The College buildings were commandeered for military administration purposes. The School moved to Swinton Park near Ripon, the magnificent stately home constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries, of the Cunliffe-Lister family. Recently, the connection has been revived and a reception was held at Swinton Park (now a sumptuous hotel and restaurant), in 2010 for old girls who had spent some of the war years there to mark, if a little belatedly, the seventieth anniversary of their removal in 1939.
The return of peace allowed the College to resume its development. A science block, new library and gymnasium were added in the 1950s and 1960s. A large Sports Hall was built in the early 1980s. New outstanding facilities for the teaching of Art, notable for the quality of their light and their outlook over the School’s playing fields, were added at the turn of the century. Around the same time, Highfield was made into a preparatory department and splendidly refurbished. In 2004 a new floor was constructed above the science labs and made into a state-of-the-art Food Technology suite. In 2006-2007 the two parts of Design and Technology were brought together, comprising a spacious graphics studio and refitted workshop.
Around the same time, further expansion into buildings leased from the Duchy of Lancaster saw new boarding houses established and the purchase of Bankfield allowed the setting up of the School’s pre-prep department. All in all, the grounds, playing field, tennis courts, houses and gardens occupy some 28 acres of the Duchy Estate.
Refurbishment and redevelopment form a continuous project in any school. In 2010, a little-used part of the Main Building was transformed into a Business School for the teaching of business-related subjects, such as Economics, Business Studies, Accountancy and Psychology, and to encourage entrepreneurial opportunities for all pupils. The Assembly Hall and Memorial Room (The Mem) were completely refurbished in 2012 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the building.