The FOC Northern Get-Together By John Linford, G3WGV
Reprinted from FOCUS #97
FOC History at Harrogate
The Get-Together was the happy inspiration of Mike, G3IGW and Pete, G3PDL. The idea was hatched in the mid ‘80s while travelling back together from the London dinner at Lords Cricket Ground. They used to stop off at the George Inn in Stamford for Sunday Lunch where Mike, G3IGW; Pete, G3PDL; Geoff, G4GLL and later Dave, G3RXP with their respective partners enjoyed another dinner.
The first unofficial dinner took place in 1986 mainly to check out the Crown Hotel in Harrogate where Mike’s brother David Whitaker(BRS25429) worked as an accountant. The first official dinner was in 1987 at the same venue. Mike and Pete would take it in turns to organise the event. Unfortunately the costs at the Crown were escalating so a new venue had to be found. Pete, G3PDL’s research came up with the Imperial Hotel and in 1988 the dinner moved there. Mike and Peter continued to organise the event. In those days the London dinner was a very formal affair, with toasts and numerous speeches. Mike, with typical northern bluntness wanted none of that and decreed that the Harrogate event would be a “get-together” rather than a formal dinner and would have no speeches or anything else to keep members away from the bar! Dave, G3RXP took over the organisation in 1997, running the event for an amazing 11 years.
The Crown Hotel
The Imperial Hotel came under new ownership in 2004 and changed its name to the Yorkshire Hotel. It was around this time that the hotel was having difficulty organising a large event like ours due to staff changes. So Pete, G3PDL and Dave, G3RXP went looking around Harrogate for another venue and settled on the Cedar Court Hotel, which hosted the 2005 dinner. It has remained there to the present day.
By 2008 Dave, G3RXP had pressing family matters to attend to and the event organisation was taken over by Tony, G4UZN. For various reasons the numbers attending had been declining for some years and the 2009 get-together was almost cancelled due to lack of numbers. This was at a time when the London dinner was also going through a lean time – support for social events seemed to be waning.
As longstanding supporters of the get-together, Bill, G3LTV and I decided that we couldn’t let it die. We worked hard on promoting the event and the 2010 get-together attracted 31 diners. Sadly Bill passed away in 2011 but the dinner has continued with an established cadre of regulars and a growing number of members experiencing our northern hospitality. Many of our regulars travel a considerable distance each year, notably Mick, G3LIK and Allison who travel up from the south coast, and Ron, G3KTZ, all the way from Kent.
For many years, committee meetings, which in those days were real meetings around a table, were held in Harrogate to coincide with the dinner. It is a shame that the march of technology has rendered these very enjoyable face to face meetings obsolete but we still manage to attract a few committee members to most of the dinners. Three years ago it was the only FOC dinner in the UK and we were pleased to be able to host in the installation of Ivan, G3IZD as President in 2011.
About the event Members travelling from further afield often make it a leisurely journey on the Friday, arriving in the late afternoon and enjoying Harrogate’s hospitality in the evening. More members start arriving from about lunch time on Saturday and by late afternoon there is a large gathering in the bar area. There is no organised programme during the day but various small groups come and go throughout the afternoon enjoying shopping trips or a walk around the parkland. Some members, including your scribe more often than not, sit in the bar for most of the afternoon, supping ale and swapping tall stories!
By 6pm the bar is getting busy with members, spouses and friends enjoying a pre- prandial and a chinwag. We move to the Queen’s Suite at 7pm for dinner. The room is arranged with a number of round tables, each seating eight or so diners. There is no seating plan but some members like to stake their claim during the afternoon with a strategically placed QSL card. The waiting staff are very attentive and will happily take your wine orders.
Dinner is a relaxed affair, concluding with coffee and mints. Once we are finished we usually have a few words of wisdom from our President and perhaps an award presentation or two. As last year was the 75th anniversary of FOC we had a draw for a magnificent MagPad keyer.
Members settling down for dinner
For those that have stayed overnight at the hotel Sunday morning is an excuse for a late breakfast, following which members start making their way home or on to other activities in the area. All in all it is a relaxing weekend in great company with good food and fine wine.
About the Cedar Court Hotel
The Cedar Court Hotel in Harrogate is the spa town’s first purpose built hotel, dating back to 1671. Overlooking the famous 200 acre Stray, the magnificent hotel building is unique, and Grade II listed. Being just a little out of the town centre, the hotel has ample car parking and offers comfortable accommodation at a reasonable price.
We hold our dinner in the delightful Queen’s Suite, which provides us with ample space for the meal and for socialising afterwards. Nearby is the spacious bar with a wide range of real ales, cocktails and fine wines. Food is available throughout the day, either in the bar, or if you prefer a more formal meal, in the restaurant.
The Harrogate name can be found as far back as 1332 according to surviving documentary evidence. In 1399 Harrogate became Royal property when the possessions of the Duchy of Lancaster merged with the English Royal Crown.
Harrogate sprang from two hamlets related to the nearby historic town of Knaresborough. William Slingsby discovered the first Harrogate mineral well in 1571. Tewit Well was likened to Belgium spa waters and was said to have health properties. Dr Bright dubbed Harrogate “The English Spa” in 1596. Today, Harrogate is a vibrant town famous for its floral gardens, horticulture, historic buildings, stunning scenery and natural springs.
No visit to Harrogate is complete without a visit to Bettys Tea Rooms. Situated in the town centre, Bettys began in Harrogate in 1919 and has been welcoming locals and visitors ever since. Before you enter, it’s worth pausing under the impressive wrought iron canopy to feast your eyes on the mouth-watering window displays that vary with the season. Once inside the shop you’ll be spoilt for choice with over 300 breads, cakes and chocolates, as well as 50 different teas and coffees.
After Bettys, you’ll need some exercise to walk off the calories and a visit to the beautiful Valley Gardens just down the hill is perfect. The floral displays are at their best in June, with delightful water features and immaculate lawns. An English Heritage Grade II Listed Garden, it is situated in regal Low Harrogate, adjacent to a popular woodland known as The Pinewoods and covers 17 acres. It includes beautiful historical buildings such as the Sun Pavilion and Colonnades. And then there’s the shopping.
Gentlemen may wish to protect their credit cards, for there is a vast array of shops from small speciality outlets to the usual large retail department stores. Harrogate centre is quite compact and the shops are readily accessible. In the heart of the town is the Victoria Shopping Centre, set out on four floors in a delightful Victorian building.
Opposite the hotel is a 200 acre park known as The Stray . Established in 1778 as common land, the Stray is open to all and hosts numerous public events throughout the year. It’s a delight to stroll around it, discovering the various springs that made Harrogate famous. It is also a good place for walking off the excesses of the night before, prior to breakfast in the hotel! Further afield is the Yorkshire Dales, a National Park of outstanding natural beauty, with some of England’s highest mountains and pretty villages and limestone coves to explore.
The FOC Committee decided to hold the 2022 AGM at Harrogate, not least because it allows us to hold the AGM at an established FOC event in June, rather than awaiting until later in the year and finding a new venue at short notice. Since we have had to scale down or even cancel the AGM in the last two years due to COVID, Harrogate will be a great opportunity for members to renew their friendships in person in relaxed environment and over dinner in the evening.