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Pre 1862

The Past

There were Dissenters here in Cromwell's time, but it was early in the 19th century that Rev William Howell of Knaresborough began holding prayer meetings in private houses in High Harrogate. This led, circa 1813, to the renting of a room in Skipton Road which was fitted out as Hope Chapel, followed by the small cruciform-shaped Cross Chapel being erected further north, at Smithy Hill, in 1823.

Rapidly outgrowing these premises, the Congregationalists bought the fabric of the redundant St John's Church (precursor of the present Christ Church) for £100, dismantled and transported it to a site that had been acquired at the junction of James Street and John Street (now a toy shop) and named it Providence Chapel. By 1859 these premises also became too small and so were sold and the brave step of acquiring one of the finest sites in the new Victoria Park Company's estate - the present position - was taken.

Before the erection of the church, Harrogate consisted of two ancient villages, High Harrogate and Low Harrogate. (The former had traditionally been the centre of Harrogate's spa and social life, the two being inextricably mixed. Here was where the community's first post-reformation church had been built, in 1749, as an amenity for the visitors. Low Harrogate, which developed only after the turn of the century in 1800, had to wait until 1825 for its own church, St Mary's. Between the two Harrogates there existed nothing but farmer's fields, which produced crops, grains and livestock for the great Inns of the two villages.

But in 1860, with the coming of the centrally-sited railway station, the Victoria Park Company was founded to develop this central area, and link up the two Harrogates into a uniform, modem town. At the heart of this project was the construction of a splendid show Avenue - Victoria Avenue, which ran from West Park, overlooking the Low Harrogate valley, as far as Queen Parade, which backed on to High Harrogate's prestigious Queen's Hotel. Victoria Avenue was intended to be a potent demonstration for the Victoria Park Company, so it is understandable that the company decided to sell its two most important sites on the avenue, at its junction with the very fashionable West Park, to the rich banker John Smith, and the Congregational Church. The former, in 1861, built the magnificent Belvedere Mansion, on the south-western comer of the avenue, directly opposite the new Congregational Church, built on the avenue's south-eastern corner.

The Victoria Park Company intended to line Victoria Avenue with churches and chapels for the leading faiths of the time, in order to encourage as wide a section of the population to move to Harrogate, preferably by means of the railway, whose central station stood at the heart of the Victoria Park company's lands.

The Baptists, Catholics, Christian Scientists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians were all encouraged to purchase sites, and by way of inducement, the company ensured that the very first building on the avenue - the Congregational Chapel - was built in as imposing a manner as possible.

Within a mere sixty years, all of the above named denominations built places of worship on Victoria Avenue, apart from the Catholics who obtained a site, on neighbouring Robert Street, a few yards from Victoria Avenue. The chapel for the Congregationalists was, however, the first to be erected.

The foundation stone was laid on 14 August 1861 
and the church opened on
13 August 1862

 "West Park United Reformed Church, is undoubtedly 
one of the most
significant monuments in the locality"