MAXINE GORDON looks back over 100 years of tea and cake at Bettys

WHEN you think of tea and cake in Yorkshire, one name springs to mind: Bettys.

The tearooms have become a legend in their own lunch-hour, with sites in Harrogate, York, Ilkley and Northallerton.

This year, Bettys is celebrating its centenary. The first tea rooms opened on Cambridge Crescent in Harrogate on July 17, 1919, later moving to its current prime position on Parliament Street. A sister cafe was opened in York in 1930s.

Over the years, intrigue has surrounded the name of the business. The company's website suggests four possibilities for the original "Betty": Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, mother of Queen Elizabeth II (which seems unlikely because she did not come to public prominence until marrying the Duke of York in 1923); Betty Lupton, former manager of the Harrogate Spa; the daughter of a previous occupant of the Harrogate premises who died of tuberculosis; or a small child – Betty Rose, granddaughter of Mary Wood, first chairman of Bettys – who interrupted a meeting at which the choice of name was being discussed. It is this latter Betty that appears the most likely.

Owner, the Swiss-born Frederick Belmont (real name Fritz Bützer), opened the St Helen's Square tea rooms in York in 1937, in a former furniture store directly opposite the long-established Terry’s café.

No expense was spared for his York tea rooms. Frederick was inspired by his trip on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary and commissioned the ocean liner's designers and shop fitters to create his dream grand café for York in the style of the luxury ship. Today, the art deco-inspired interiors can still be seen throughout the branch.

In the 1940s, Frederick opened a bar in the basement at York – affectionately referred to as ‘The Dive’ – which became popular among servicemen, many of them Canadian and stationed at the airbases surrounding York. Some left a permanent reminder of their visit by inscribing their name on to a mirror which still hangs in the basement café today.

In 1942 the York café was hit by an incendiary bomb but escaped major damage.

A year later, the army tried to requisition Bettys in York, but reconsidered after Frederick explained that Bettys was providing 20,000 meals and beverages per week, making a valuable contribution to the war effort. The army withdrew its request.

Frederick died in 1952 and his nephew Victor Wild took over. An espresso bar opened on Street Lane in Leeds while an Italian restaurant opened at Bettys in York.

In 1962, Victor bought CE Taylors & Co – a Yorkshire based café chain and local tea and coffee merchants – and Bettys became Bettys & Taylors.

This enabled Bettys to expand: taking over Taylors' kiosk in Ilkley and its Café Imperial on Parliament Street, Harrogate, with its prized corner location that remains today.

In 1971, a tea room also opened at Northallerton.

In another successful initiative, Bettys Cookery School opened in 2001 and to date more than 2,600 people have attended its courses.

In its centenary year, the tea rooms are hosting a range of special events to celebrate 100 years in business.

Today, there are six branches of Bettys across Yorkshire and the firm makes 8,500 of its famous Fat Rascals each week while serving some 2.5 million customers in the café tea rooms each year.

Many happy returns!