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.
Barely a year after the end of the American Civial War. Two important events occurred in Yorkshire, station parade opened for public use in Harrogate following the opening of the central railway station in 1862 and John Roberts Ogden was born to Charles and Ellen Ogden of Leeds
Charles Ogden, believed to be a grocer/confectioner moved his family to Harrogate, including both sons Walter and James 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 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.
New Victoria Baths opened, immediately proving their worth bringing visitors flocking to Harrogate
1878 Charles Ogden moved business in to Dawsons spectacular Cambridge Crescent until he retired 10 years later. On leaving school James Roberts Ogden apprenticed himself to Harrogate jeweller John Greenhalgh(pronounced Greenhalsh). He absorbed lessons on precious stones, 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, at the same time James’ years of apprenticship were 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 Ogden in particular was blessed with a personality which appears to have captured all with whom he came into contact with. Described by many as “Electric”, “Captivating”, or “Magnetic”.
The council decided to proceed with the 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 prominence 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, higher 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 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 aquire the premises at no. 38 after the Marshall and Snelgrove company had to move from the premises in order to expand due to great success.
The building was built by George Dawson to a design by Hirst of Bristol. It was to prove the best investment ever made by J.R.O.
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 Valentine was too heavy to take off with the prize on board and had to leave it with the town clerk, with whom it stayed for another 70 years.
The last great social event of pre-war Harrogate was the Lord Mayor of London Sir David Bennet's visit 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 of 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.
1917 - Walter Ogden
Tradegy struck when in 1917, James Roberts Ogdens 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'.
1918 - London
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 in London.
Whilst attempting to locate suitable business premises, its said J.R.O. disguised himself in flat cap and working mens 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.
1922 JRO and Egypt
James Roberts Ogden was deeply interested in archaeology. He corresponded with and acted as an advisor 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.
J.R.O. 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 goldwork, 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.
1923 Black Pearls
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. J.R.O. 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.
1927 commission pieces
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 the most famous artefact ever 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 John Roberts Ogden's services were so public. Dr. Barnado's was close to his heart and he raised 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 aquired neighbouring premises to the James Street shop when no. 40, former occupied by Wilson the chemist came on the market.
The aquirement of no. 40 James Street in1928 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.
1932 JRO EGYPT
The contribution to local life made by James Roberts Ogden was fully recognized by the town in 1936, when the council conferred on him the honorary Freedom of the Borough.
A special casket was comissioned 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.
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 J.R.O. seated at the foot of the stairs of the Winter Gardens, surrounded by his family of several generations.
1937 Coronation of George Sixth
The coronation of George Sixth brought much additional business to the company and one matter captured the imagination of the press. The company acquired the famous diamond coronet which had been created at the command of the Emperor Napoleon for his wife Josephine. The coronet was sold to a Lady of title, who wore it to great effect at the Coronation.
The company had a further success in 1939, when it aquired 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. J.R.O. 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.