The Ogden family have been stewards of their distinguished jewellery business since 1893, serving the families of Yorkshire as well as generations of both royal and public figures.
In the summer of 1866, barely a year after the ending of the American Civil War, two events occurred in Yorkshire which were to have considerable impact on the economy of Harrogate. A son was born to Charles and Ellen Ogden of Leeds, and in neighbouring Harrogate, a new and important thoroughfare, Station Parade, was opened for public use.
Charles Ogden, believed to be a grocer/confectioner, moved his family to Harrogate in 1867, together with his business. The town had an increasing population and there was a strong demand for groceries and sweetmeats (most likely driven by the unpalatable taste of the sulphur water.)
Much building work commenced as pits were dug deep into the Harrogate clay. Railways were extended and the dreams of ‘the imperious architects of Harrogate’s future’, George Dawson, Richard Ellis and the Carter brothers, were realised in marble and massy stone.
To cater for the growing numbers of visitors to 'take the waters', the New Victoria Baths opened, immediately proving their worth with the visitors.
On leaving school James Roberts Ogden apprenticed himself to Harrogate jeweller John Greenhalgh. He absorbed lessons on precious stones and metals, and was instructed in the art of watch and clock construction. He applied himself to his profession and throughout the late 1880s he also learnt the art of customer relations, and it was in this field that his natural talent was particularly brilliant.
Charles Ogden died in 1891, the year that James’ time of apprenticeship was at and end. Charles’ legacy and James’s own resources provided the engine for a new venture.
In 1893, premises in Cambridge street became available. Both time and location were fortuitous of success and The Little Diamond Shop opened on 27th April. The business never looked back. Author and researcher Malcolm G. Neesam says :
James Roberts in particular was blessed with a personality which appears to have captured all with whom he came into contact. One and a quarter centuries later, those who had known him in later life were unanimous in referring to James Roberts Ogden in such terms as “electric”, “captivating”, or “of magnetic personality”.
The surviving record of sales for the first year of business at 23 Cambridge Street shows that the very first item sold was to Smith Kelly of Norfolk, a “hall clock”, for the sum of £2.12.6. Other items sold during those first few weeks of business included earrings, pins, musical boxes, brooches, chains, and other clocks.
The Company has in its possession what is reputedly the first pocket watch sold by J.R. Ogden, during his first week’s business, to a Mr Bennett, whose name is inscribed on the case. The watch, made of silver, bears a London hallmark of 1892, and was repurchased from a member of the Bennett family. It seems that the original purchaser, being unable to afford the price of purchase outright, was allowed to pay a deposit and take the watch away, agreeing to pay off the balance at so much per week from his weekly wage. Long before the purchase was concluded, Mr Bennett called to make one of his payments, and was taken in to JRO‘s office. James Ogden explained that he would not be requiring any further instalments. The reason for this generosity was that Mr Bennett, having proudly shown his acquisition to many friends and workmates, had brought about a large increase in the sales of pocket watches!
The council decided to proceed with a Spa development scheme which was on an unprecedented scale globally. The new Royal Baths building was the result, which set the seal on Harrogate’s pre-eminence as a Spa town. The new facilities attracted many visitors including celebrated names of contemporary fashion, who brought with them the latest crazes such as cycling. It is no surprise to discover that the enterprising JR Ogden used his Cambridge street shop as a basis for the Rudge British Cycle Safety agency.
The town attracted many wealthy visitors, including Royalty, aristocracy, landed gentry, successful manufacturers, society names and the cream of international creative talent.
“What a time to be Alive in Harrogate!”
The British Empire at its zenith. The seemingly immortal Queen Victoria celebrating her Diamond Jubilee (left is an image from Harrogate's parade) and the magnificent new Royal Baths scheduled to be opened by his Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge.
The new Royal Baths was far and away the most advanced centre for Hydrotherapy in the world and was even provided with steam tubes on the roof to melt the snows of Winter. Its importance lay not in its wealth of richly carved mahogany, marble, stone and stained glass but in the range and quality of scientifically applied treatments. Harrogate now deserved its nickname of "The Worlds Greatest Spa".
Economic growth in the town positively exploded in the years to 1914, boosted by the wonderful progress of public transport which allowed the wealthy manufacturing classes of the North of England to visit resorts, which had previously been the exclusive domain of the aristocracy.
By this time James Street had become the most fashionable street in Harrogate.
Harrogate was now at the peak of its Edwardian fashionableness, and thanks to a programme of publicity by the corporation, had become a byword for brilliant society and healthful living.
James Ogden moved ‘with unerring instinct’ to acquire the premises at no. 38 after the Marshall and Snelgrove company had to move from the premises in order to expand.
The building was built by George Dawson to a design by Hirst of Bristol. It was to prove the best investment ever made by James R Ogden.
In 1911, the Daily Mail had sponsored a round Britain air race from Hendon, with a £10,000 prize.
The Harrogate Chamber of Trade supported the race by offering a solid silver tea service to the first Englishman to reach Harrogate, (as they didn't want Harrogate money going abroad). Ogdens produced the silver tea service, which was displayed with pride in the James Street window.
The first aeroplane landed on High Harrogate Stray at 7.30pm, flown by the Frenchman, Vedrines. Two minutes later came Beaumont, also of France. At 7.42pm Valentine, an Englishman touched down, much to the relief of the Chamber of Trade.
Unfortunately the prize was too heavy for Valentine to take off with and it was left with the town clerk, with whom it stayed for another 70 years.
The last great social event of pre-war Harrogate was the visit to Harrogate of the Lord Mayor of London, Sir David Burnett, on 7th June 1913. The council arranged the most magnificent celebrations to welcome the Lord Mayor. He steamed into Harrogate Station, on duty to open the new annexe to the Royal Pump Room.
Civic dignitaries from every leading British resort were present and a great parade passed through the town along James Street, including the State Landau which had been brought from London especially for the event. As the parade passed the Ogdens premises, it drove under a banner stretched across the street which James Ogden had ordered for the occasion:
"WELCOME - TO LONDON ON THE MOORS"
That evening there was a splendid banquet in the Hotel Majestic, and before an assembly brilliant with jewels and orders, and seated before acres of white damask, silver and flickering candles, the Lord Mayor of the greatest and richest city on Earth paid tribute to Harrogate and its progressive citizens. J.R. Ogden was in the audience.
The first world war in August 1914 was a terrible shock to the citizens of Harrogate, who by now were used to having the crowned heads of Europe in their midst. James Ogden had himself made a diamond and pearl collet for Edward VII to give to his daughter Princess Maude, who later became the Queen of Norway.
Tragedy struck when in 1917, James Roberts Ogden's youngest son Walter was wounded on 1st December at the battle of Cambrai, dying the following day. He was 19 years of age and had the rank of Second Lieutenant when he met his gallant end, whilst in charge of a tank nicknamed 'Harrogate'. While carrying out the renovations in 2014, we discovered a cache of correspondence between Walter and his family and war memorabilia, including gas masks, orders for battle and other documents. These are currently on display in a specially created archive on the first floor of the Harrogate showroom.
The surviving Ogden sons, William, John and James Roberts junior, returned home after the war ended in November 1918. At the outbreak of war, Ogdens had closed the shops in Bath, Llandrindod Wells and Scarborough. Due to the uncertain economic times, JRO decided to keep them closed but instead open a new premises in London.
Whilst attempting to locate suitable business premises, JRO disguised himself in flat cap and working men's clothes whilst searching for the areas frequented by the most wealthy.
A location in Duke Street was chosen and the London branch was placed under the direction of his three surviving sons who ran the shop on a rota system, returning to Harrogate on weekends. The sons made a great success of the business and now James Roberts Ogden had the free time to devote himself to his other interests, in particular Archaeology.
James Roberts Ogden was deeply interested in archaeology. He corresponded with and acted as an adviser to two leading figures, Howard Carter and Sir Leonard Woolley. The discovery by Carter in 1922 of the tomb of King Tutankhamen in the valley of the Kings created a sensation.
JRO was not just an interested bystander. In the huge two volume publication of the excavation at the discovery of the Royal Graves, Woolley acknowledges his "generous and willing assistance" with the study of the gold work, and notes that "without such assistance from an expert craftsman in metals, indeed, much of the evidence as to technique must have been lost."
The Harrogate public were eager to learn more about the Egyptians and the new discoveries. JRO obliged them with an illustrated lecture slide show. All things Egyptian began to influence the jewellery business and Ogden found that sales of items with Egypians overtones enjoyed a sudden popularity.
The period from 1922 until the Wall Street crash of 1929 was an era of increasing prosperity. It was also a time which saw a sudden rise in the popularity of pearl jewellery, in which department the Ogden company specialised. JRO had always obtained his pearls from the best sources such as Bombay, but one of his most famous creations was made of the much rarer black pearl. In 1923, a Lady of title visited the Duke Street premises with a particular request. The recently widowed lady wished to acquire a necklace made of black pearls as a mourning tribute to her dearly beloved late husband. The cost, it seemed was to be no barrier to assembling the finest such necklace ever made. Pearl by pearl, JRO managed to assemble and grade a superb collection of the rare black pearls, which he strung together with a pearl and diamond clasp. The piece had a total weight of over 1000 grains. The delighted customer paid £16,000 for this necklace, a vast sum by any reckoning, and equivalent to £1million in today's money.
Ogden of Harrogate provided the authorities in both Harrogate and Ripon with tableware to present to Lord Irwin to mark his accession as Viceroy of India. A solid gold salver and 18 silver gilt desert plates were produced.
Perhaps one of the most famous artefacts to come from the Ogden workshops was the solid silver model of the Royal Pump Room which still graces the Mayor's table on the occasion of great banquets. The was presented to Harrogate in 1927 by the Major, Captain Whitworth.
Ogdens also supplied a superb gold casket for the scroll of Honorary Freedom of the Borough, conferred on Earl Jellicoe, whose Naval exploits in the First World War had made him a national hero. At this time JRO became a Justice of the Peace and chaired the Juvenile Court and Probation Committee.
Not all James Roberts Ogden's services were so public. Dr. Barnado's was close to his heart and he raised large sums of money for disabled children. In 1928 he decided to stand once more for election to the council, to which he was returned with a good majority. In the same year his sons acquired neighbouring premises to the James Street shop when no. 40, formerly occupied by Wilson the chemist, came on the market.
The acquisition of no. 40 James Street in 1928 enabled Ogdens to mount large window displays. One of the most impressive was when The Right Hon. Lord Illingworth of Denton commissioned Ogdens to make a silver sheep, to commemorate the octocentenary of the Worshipful Weavers Company AD 1130 to 1930. When the model was shown in the window it measured 18 inches in length by 13 inches in height, excluding a superb base and plinth.
At about this time, the Duke Street premises received a visit from Prince George (later, Duke of Kent), who was about to marry Princess Marina. The Prince brought with him a box of jewellery which had once belonged to Queen Alexandra, and asked that it be converted into a diamond and pearl necklace. The firm carried out the Prince’s request, greatly to the delight of the Prince - and, presumably, the Princess.
The Coronation of George VI brought much additional business to the Company, and one matter captured the imagination of the press. The Company acquired the famous diamond coronet (left) which had been created at the command of the Emperor Napoleon for this wife Josephine. The coronet was sold to a Lady of title, who wore it to great effect at the Coronation.
The contribution to local life made by James Roberts Ogden was fully recognised by the town in 1936, when the council conferred on him the honorary Freedom of the Borough.
A special casket was commissioned from the company and was made by craftsmen at Harrogate. It took form of a silver gilt cylinder placed on a plinth, and crowned with the borough arms in gold and enamel. The document of conferment lay within the cylinder. This casket can be viewed on display in the archive to the first floor of the Harrogate premises.
At a special ceremony in the Royal Hall the Mayor, Alderman Bolland, paid fitting tribute to the man who had given so richly of himself to public service in Harrogate, and whose professional activities had been a lustre to the town's crown. A photograph of occasion shows JRO seated at the foot of the stairs of the Winter Gardens, surrounded by his family of several generations.
The company had a further success in 1939, when it acquired a splendid three-string pearl necklace which had formerly belonged to Gaby Deslys, the dancer, singer and actress who had taken the Edwardian world by storm. JRO 2nd added a photograph of the necklace to the firm's cutting book, annotating that the necklace was 'in my possession five days after it was sold at auction in Paris'. It was sold to a distinguished customer.
Throughout the difficult winter of 1939-40, J.R.O. spent much of his time disposing of his vast collection of books, newspaper cuttings, historical notes, antiquities and photographs. Much went to appropriate specialist libraries, but all the local material remained in Harrogate, having been donated to the Public Library. This programme of distribution having been completed, James Roberts Ogden died, on 13th April 1940, surrounded by his loved ones. When the news of his passing reached the Council, the members stood in silent respect.
The mourners at the funeral included representatives of every aspect of life in Harrogate, as well as from the larger world of business and charity. Few would have witnessed the changes seen by J.R.O. since his first arrival in 1866. At that time, Harrogate was bursting with confidence, and was a hive of expansionist activity: visitors and new residents were flooding into the town. Already famous, Harrogate was shortly to become in reality, as well as by nickname, “The World’s Greatest Spa”, with the golden age of late Victorian and Edwardian Harrogate still to come. Yet on the day of his funeral, Harrogate was unrecognisable. The Spa was shut down, the great hotels occupied by government departments, and the Captains and the Kings departed. Truly, it was the end of an era.
The Harrogate shop had a notable sale during the war, when an order was received to supply a special cigar box for Churchill.
The Company was indirectly involved with the wife of the other great leader of the Free West and its fight against Hitler. On the 3rd November 1942, the British American Parliamentary Committee presented Mrs Franklin Delano Roosevelt with two silver tureens, supplied by Ogden’s, to commemorate her visit to the Houses of Parliament on that day.
Difficult as things were in Harrogate, they were worse in London, where constant aerial bombardment threatened life and property on an unprecedented scale. The Duke Street premises managed to survive the war virtually intact, but the Ogden family suffered tragedy. J.R.O.’s son, Jack, was playing snooker at the Eccentric Club in St. James when an air raid occurred. On leaving the club to check the Duke Street premises, Jack Ogden was killed by an exploding bomb. The Company managed to keep the London shop open during the war only with the greatest difficulty, but this was achieved, primarily so that when Guy and Denis Ogden returned, they would each be able to continue the family business.
And so it was to be. In 1946 Denis and Guy returned to take over the London branch. Throughout the war J.R.O. 2nd had managed the Company’s main office, in Harrogate. He was joined by his son James who had had an early discharge from the Army. Following Jack’s death, the two of them alternated between Harrogate and London, ensuring that business continued during this difficult period. Following his uncle’s death, James (known as Jimmy) was made a director, and Company Secretary.
In 1955 it was decided that Denis should move north to assist his uncle and cousin in the Harrogate business. His elder son Glen - great grandson of the founder, joined the business in 1959, his brother Jack following in 1965, later moving to London to join Guy.
JRO's grandson Denis was watching the TV programme 'Panorama', which showed members of the Prendergast family handing to the Burmese Government articles of historic furniture from the Palace of King Thebaw in Mandalay, which had been looted following Sir Harry Prendergast’s expedition across the Irrawaddy in 1885. In the course of the programme, the Ambassador expressed the hope that other lost items of furniture might turn up. Denis’s eye recognised one of the carved ivory chairs as being identical to a chair which had been acquired over forty years earlier by JRO, and indeed, it turned out to be one of the lost treasures of the Palace. The Company decided to present the chair to the Burmese Government, who accepted the gift with great pleasure.
In 1980 Guy moved to Harrogate and Jack took over the management of the Duke Street premises. His great interest, perhaps having been passed down from his Great Grandfather, was in the field of ancient jewellery and antiquities. Indeed, Dr Jack Ogden (left) remains a world authority on the history of jewellery materials and techniques, concentrating on writing, consulting and lecturing, and his 1982 book Jewellery of the Ancient World is still the standard work on early jewellery technology. Following a huge rent increase, which made the Duke Street premises less viable, Jack switched to a full time academic and consultancy career, enjoying positions at the pinnacle of the jewellery industry, including Chief Executive of The National Association of Goldsmiths, Secretary General to CIBJO (The World Jewellery Confederation) and Chief Executive of the Gemmological Association.
The year 1982 was indeed a year of change. Denis, Guy and Jim all retired, and Denis’s elder son Glen became the Managing Director, and his wife, Mary-Jane, was appointed Company Secretary.
Glen’s main interest had always been in fine jewellery and precious stones, and before he completed a course in gemmology, he worked for a time with the well-known Swiss jewellers Gübelin of Lucerne. Also an expert in antique jewellery and silverware, he has regularly been invited to discuss his work in the media.
Ogdens' Harrogate premises has often formed a backdrop to period television dramas. One example was the film ”A is for Acid”, which told the story of the acid bath murderer John George Haigh, starring Martin Clunes and Keeley Hawes. Other appearances have been “Agatha” in 1972, starring Vanessa Redgrave, ITV's Emmerdale and the 1992 television series “The Mixer”, with Simon Williams.
The year 1993 saw the centenary of the business opened by James Robert Ogden in 1893, by which time computers had begun to affect the way the business was run, and by the turn of the millennium, Ogdens had become involved with the new technology to an extent that would have amazed its founder. Computers improved the efficiency of stock control, administration, marketing and publicity, all of which benefited from the speed and flexibility offered by the new technologies.
Ogden of Harrogate was closely associated with the renovations and reopening of Harrogate's beautiful 'Kursaal', the Royal Hall, and presented HRH The Prince of Wales with a Breguet watch in 2006, when on 13th July he visited Harrogate to inspect progress with the restoration.
The Royal Hall, one of England’s most magnificent Concert Halls, built in 1902-3, underwent a major rebuilding and redecoration between 2006-2008, with Ogdens sponsoring special concerts and selling special commemorative jewellery and pill boxes. Samson Fox, the great inventor and philanthropist, and former Mayor of Harrogate, had been a driving force behind the building of the Royal Hall, so it was appropriate that his great grandson, the distinguished actor Edward Fox OBE, played a leading role in the building’s restoration, when he became Honorary President of the Restoration Trust.
Within sixteen years of the publication of the Ogden Centennial booklet, all the remaining members of the older generation of Ogdens had died. Denis, a former Director and grandson of the founder, died in 1997. His brother James, familiarly known as Jimmy, died in 2007, followed in 2009 by Guy, the last of the founder’s grandsons. The year of Guy Ogden’s death also saw the founder’s great grandson, Glen, entering semi-retirement after a splendid fifty years in the business, which passed to Glen’s sons, Ben and Robert Ogden.
Ben Ogden had joined Ogdens as a Director in 2002, following a career in the famous London auction houses of Christies and Bonhams. Prior to his auction house experience, Ben worked at Boodles jewellery, which had been founded in 1798 as Boodle and Dunthorne. Like his father, Glen, Ben achieved his Fellowship of the Gemmological Association qualification in 2000. Robert Ogden entered the business in 2009, following an interesting career in music, having read the subject at King’s College, Cambridge, The Royal Northern College of Music and in Amsterdam. Robert’s early experience as an opera singer in great opera houses round the world included his working with such stars as José Carreras and Placido Domingo. This led in 2004 to his co-founding the independent classical music label, Landor Records and becoming Artistic Director of the Northern Aldborough Festival.