Harrogate International Festivals

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Harrogate International Festivals (HIF) is a registered charity[1] and one of the UK's longest running arts festivals, having been established in 1966.[2] Based in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.[3]

Festivals include the Harrogate Music Festival, Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate International Spring Series, Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival and a programme of outreach which includes the Spiegeltent and Children's Festival programmes. HIF also runs a programme of community outreach including literacy, music and arts programmes for young people and communities with least access to the arts due to rural isolation, geographical location or social exclusion.[4]

Charles, Prince of Wales is the Festival's patron,[5] and Peter Blackburn CBE is its honorary president.[6]

Dame Fanny Waterman, DBE was honorary president from 2009[2] until her death in 2020, the position having previously been held by Clive Leach CBE.[7] A past vice-president was Harrogate historian Malcolm Neesam.[8]

The current Chair of the Trustees is Fiona Movley.[6]

In 2017, HIF won the Northern Soul Arts Festival of the Year Award.[9]


The Harrogate International Festival was set up in response to local demand to re-establish the quality of event that people had been used to between the wars in the town's spa heyday. In 1966, with the help of composer Benjamin Britten and singer Peter Pears of Aldeburgh Festival fame, and financial support from Harrogate Borough Council and the Arts Council of England, Clive Wilson launched the Festival and became its first director. In artistic terms the Festival has changed radically from its origins in the late sixties.[2]

The Festival dates (originally in mid-August) were chosen as they had to fit into the town's conference & exhibition calendar. In its early days the Festival featured music, literature, drama, visual arts and science. However, over the following decades music came to the fore, making up around 90% of the programme.

In 1984 following a national Arts Council strategy review entitled "The Glory of the Garden" funding was withdrawn from all festivals north of Cheltenham. Up to that point Harrogate had received a guarantee against loss of £38,000, the biggest Arts Council grant of any festival in England. The loss of the grant demanded a more populist approach to programming in order to build ticket revenue and to enable the major scaling up of corporate sponsorship.[2]

In 1991 it was recognised that a broadening of the artistic programme was needed to extend the audience reach – geographically and the under 55s – as well as by genre and to increase sponsorship, trust funding and box office revenue, in order for the Festival to grow. An incremental expansion of the performing arts programming commenced initially with jazz, contemporary dance and classical ballet, World Music and literature.

In an average 12-month period the Festivals stage over 300 distinct events and attract over 90,000 people to its activities. Alongside box office sales they rely on sponsorship, grants and charitable giving.[10]


Harrogate Music Festival[edit]

International music festival held across various venues during the month of July.[11]

Harrogate Crime Writing Festival[edit]

Known as the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (TOPCWF), and held over four days in July, the festival was launched in 2003.[12] TOPCWF is sponsored by T & R Theakston and is held at The Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate.[13]

The winner of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award is announced on the opening night.[14][15]

In 2013 The Guardian described TOPCWF as one of the best crime-writing festivals around the world[16] and in 2016 TOPCWF was named by Elle Magazine as one of the six best literary festivals.[17]

Harrogate Literature Festival[edit]

Launched in 2012 and known as the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival, the festival is held in October. Selected by Harper's Bazaar as 'one of the UK's best literary festivals[18] the event celebrates great writing by bringing best-selling authors, politicians, comedians and stars of the stage to share their stories.[19]

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the 2020 festival was held online. Speakers included Bernard Cornwell, Lee Child, Matt Haig, Rory Bremner & Ken Follett.[20]

Speakers at the 2019 festival included David Cameron, Simon Weston, Sir Tim Waterstone & Louise Minchin.[21]

Harrogate International Sunday Series[edit]

A series of international chamber concerts are held at the Old Swan, Harrogate between January and April each year. The Sunday Series was launched in 1993.[2]

Salon North[edit]

Known as Berwins Salon North, the events consist of three speakers who explore ideas from art, science and psychology.[22]

Spiegeltent & Children's Festival[edit]

A week-long festival of club classics, soul and jazz is housed in a Spiegeltent on Crescent Gardens in Harrogate.[23] The venue is transformed through the day to house a Children's Festival featuring arts, music, science and literature that traditionally takes place during May and June.

Outdoor Work[edit]

HIF claims to have a reputation for bringing major outdoor installations to Harrogate.[24] Large scale projects include, Cie Carabosse Fire Garden – 2016,[25] Pentalum Luminarium by Architects of Air – 2018,[26] Museum of the Moon by Luke Jerram – 2019[27] & In Memorium by Luke Jerram in 2021.[28]

In October 2021, a temporary sound and light art installation, celebrating Harrogate's 450 year spa heritage, was installed next to the Royal Pump Room Museum in the town. Entitled '1571 The Water That Made Us' the installation was a collaboration between sound and light artists, Dan Fox, and James Bawn and HIF.[29]


  1. ^ "Harrogate International Festival". Charity Commission for England and Wales. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e Neesam, Malcolm (2017). Music Over The Waters. Manor Place Press. pp. 333–352. ISBN 978-0951096963.
  3. ^ "Harrogate International Festivals – About Us". Harrogate International Festivals. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  4. ^ "Harrogate International Festivals – Press Office". harrogateinternationalfestivals.com. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  5. ^ "The Prince of Wales's Patronages – The Harrogate International Festival". The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  6. ^ a b "Harrogate International Festivals Board of Trustees". Harrogate International Festivals. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  7. ^ Neesam, Malcolm (2017). Music Over The Waters. Manor Place Press. p. 436. ISBN 978-0951096963.
  8. ^ Horner, Ed (19 July 2022). "Finale of Harrogate Music Festival in memory of Malcolm Neesam". The York Press. Retrieved 25 September 2022.
  9. ^ "The Northern Soul Awards 2017: The Winners". 30 June 2017. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  10. ^ "About Us". Harrogate International Festivals. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  11. ^ "Harrogate International Festivals 2013 portfolio announced". Harrogate Informer. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  12. ^ "Best-selling Rebus author Ian Rankin to chair Harrogate's crime writing festival". Harrogate Advertiser. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  13. ^ Nixson, Matt (4 June 2021). "Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival announces authors line-up". Sunday Express. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  14. ^ "WH Smith partners with the Harrogate International Festivals". Harrogate Informer. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  15. ^ Gore, Will (7 July 2021). "How a mysterious Harrogate hotel became a Mecca for crime fiction fans". The Spectator. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  16. ^ Millar, Louise (19 July 2013). "The best crime-writing festivals around the world". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  17. ^ James, Anna (4 July 2016). "Goodbye Glastonbury: The Six Best Literary Festivals This Summer". Elle. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  18. ^ "What to book literary festival special". Harpers Bazaar. 26 February 2015. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  19. ^ "Raworths Literature Festival". Harrogate International Festivals. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  20. ^ Chalmers, Graham (25 September 2021). "Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival to go digital for the first time ever". Harrogate Advertiser. Retrieved 20 October 2021.
  21. ^ Behrens, David (25 September 2019). "Cameron makes rare appearance in Harrogate to promote book". The Yorkshire Post. Retrieved 20 October 2021.
  22. ^ "Berwins takes the sponsor's mantle for Salon North". Yorkshire Post. 28 September 2015. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  23. ^ Chalmers, Graham (19 May 2016). "The spiegeltent is back for Harrogate International Festivals". Harrogate Advertiser. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  24. ^ "Harrogate International Festivals Outdoor Installations". Harrogate International Festivals. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  25. ^ "Fire spectacular for Harrogate's Valley Gardens this week". The Yorkshire Post. 20 June 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  26. ^ "Giant Art Installation Heads To Harrogate". Yorkshire Times. 24 May 2018. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  27. ^ Fitzpatrick, Finola (12 July 2019). "10 breathtaking pictures that capture Harrogate's Museum of the Moon installation". Harrogate Advertiser. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  28. ^ Charmers, Graham (13 May 2021). "The Stray to host major tribute to NHS as Harrogate International Festivals links up with award-winning artist". Harrogate Advertiser. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  29. ^ Chalmers, Graham (18 October 2021). "Spectacular installation in Harrogate town centre highlights town's 450-year spa heritage in build-up to Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival". Harrogate Advertiser. Retrieved 20 October 2021.