Photographs that record hospital work of Duchess on way to town

HISTORIC photographs of the Grand Duchess George of Russia, who was in Harrogate running hospitals for soldiers injured in the First World War when her husband was murdered by the Bolsheviks, are returning to the town in May.

The Grand Duchess, wife of Grand Duke George Mikhailovich, visited Harrogate on several occasions with her daughters, Princess Nina and Princess Xenia, staying at 11 York Place overlooking the Stray while they drank the spa waters and drove into the country to visit places like Fountains Abbey.

She visited again in 1914 but a fortnight before they left their home in the Crimea the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo – an incident which led to the First World War. When Britain declared war on Germany the Grand Duchess was in Harrogate and never returned to Russia.

The Grand Duchess, who was born Princess Marie of Greece in March 1876, was determined to help the war effort, so she took over a nursing home in Tewit Well Avenue and turned it into a 12-bed hospital. She also took first aid lessons and qualified as a Red Cross nurse.

The hospital was a great success but was soon too small and the Grand Duchess moved it to Heatherdene in Wetherby Road, where she established 52 beds in what had been a convalescent home for the Sunderland Royal Infirmary.

Another 25 beds were provided at Wood Garth on the corner of Dragon Parade and East Parade, which she renamed St Nicholas. In 1915 she began taking cases from the front line and opened a house in Duchy Road, which she named St George’s after King George V.

The Grand Duke wrote to her in 1918: “We have become semi-beggars and prisoners of the mob who have as yet not begun to massacre us, but we are still living under a note of interrogation. Our lot has not yet been decided. Are we all to be massacred or sent to the devil – that is exiled?”

Three months later he was arrested and soon afterwards the Russian Imperial family were slaughtered by the Bolsheviks. In January, 1919, the four Grand Dukes were executed.

She settled in Rome where one room was full of photographs of her time in Harrogate. Some of the photographs will be exhibited by Argyll Etkin, of London, at the Harrogate Antique and Fine Art Fair in the International Centre from May 2 to 5.