This History is written for The Stray Ferret by Harrogate historian, Malcolm Neesam:
Eighty years ago this summer, the Battle of Britain was fought in the skies of southern England, when as is widely known, the immortal achievements of Spitfire pilots saved our nation. The cost in terms of pilots and planes lost to enemy action was formidable, and to try to compensate for planes destroyed in combat, the British Government started a campaign for communities throughout the land to raise funds to build more Spitfires.
The campaign was successful, but a few communities achieved so much that in 1941, the Government decided to recognise their efforts by awarding them a plaque, and Harrogate was one such community to receive one for its astounding success in raising the huge sum of £7,000.
For many years, the plaque was proudly displayed in the old Council Offices in Crescent Gardens, but by the 1970’s the metallic surface had begun to deteriorate, so it was removed and subsequently lost. Following a local history lecture by myself in which the plaque was described, one of the audience -who was the son of a Spitfire pilot trainer – suggested to me that the plaque should be restored, and efforts then began to either locate the lost original, or to create a replica to mark the eightieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
Thanks to a number of generous donors, Harrogate Civic Society, the assistance of Harrogate Borough Council’s Planning Office, and the kind co-operation of the Crown Hotel, a replica of the Spitfire plaque was obtained which was unveiled in a temporary location yesterday by The Lord Houghton of Richmond, GCB, CBE, DL, the retired Chief of the Defence Staff.
The unveiling was also in the presence of the Mayor of Harrogate, Councillor Stuart Martin MBE and Mayoress April Martin, and also representatives from the Harrogate RAF Club.
Very soon the plaque will be fixed in a permanent position on the facade of the Crown Hotel, which during the War was occupied by the Ministry of Aircraft Production.
Malcolm Neesam was born in Harrogate and graduated from the University of Leeds as a professional archivist and librarian. He subsequently worked in Hereford, Leeds, London and York where, for twenty-five years, he was North Yorkshire’s County Music and Audiovisual Librarian. Malcolm is a much-published author. In 1996 Harrogate Borough Council awarded Malcolm the Freedom of the Borough for his services as the town’s historian.