Radisson agree George Hotel deal to all but end National Rugby League museum hopes

James Gordon
The George Hotel wont house the National Rugby League Museum

Picture by Simon Wilkinosn/SWpix.com

The George Hotel in Huddersfield is set to become a boutique hotel under the Radisson brand, in the final nail in the coffin for hopes to house a National Rugby League Museum there.

Kirklees Council reneged on a previous agreement to turn the historic hotel, where rugby league was founded in 1895, in to a museum for the sport.

A deal has now been agreed to turn it into a Radisson Red, one of the chain’s boutique hotels, to open in 2024. The George Hotel is a Grade-II listed building which dates back to 1851.

A Rugby Leagues Cares spokesperson said: “We remain hugely disappointed by the council’s actions and feel they have missed a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the part Huddersfield, and specifically the George Hotel, played in the birth of Rugby League.

“We continue to explore our options for establishing a world class National Rugby League Museum and remain optimistic, despite the challenging economic climate and experiences so far with prospective partners, of delivering a world class facility the whole sport will be proud of.”

What might have been for the National Rugby League Museum

Several other towns and cities have previously expressed an interest in housing a National Rugby League Museum, including Bradford, Leeds, Warrington and Wigan.

There hasn’t been a rugby league museum since the closure of the Rugby League Heritage Centre in 2013. An exhibition went on tour the following year, before it was initially announced in 2016 that a permanent museum would be sited in Bradford.

When that fell through, it was announced back in June 2020 that Kirklees Council had won the bidding process to house the National Rugby League museum.

It had been hoped that the Museum would open in time for the sport’s 125th anniversary in 2020.

At the time, Councillor Shabir Pandor, Leader of Kirklees Council, said: “This is absolutely fantastic news and we’re really excited to get started and bring Rugby League home.

“We asked our residents what they wanted to see in Huddersfield town centre and one of the most popular answers people gave was to get the George Hotel back open. We listened and made the decision to buy the building so we can make sure it not only reopens but stays open.

“It is so much more than a building to local people and to Rugby League fans across the world. This is where it all began for Rugby League and there is no better place to create a museum that celebrates and remembers the history of the game.”

“A separate, fitting tribute to the birthplace of rugby league”

The bid had centred around it being located at the George Hotel, which the council purchased in December 2020 for £1.8m.

However, Kirklees Council u-turned after winning the bid, saying that it wasn’t financially viable.

Their latest position on the rugby league museum situation came in December, when a spokesperson from the council said: “Housing the Rugby League Museum within the George wasn’t financially viable, so we instead reached out to Rugby League Cares about the possibility of including the museum in our Cultural Heart plans – just a short walk from the George Hotel.

This decision now lies with Rugby League Cares and their partners, and in the meantime our plans for the George will include a separate fitting tribute to the birthplace of rugby league!”

The latest news hasn’t come without controversy either – the plans include knocking down two wings of the landmark building to accommodate expansion to suit the needs of the hotel.

The Victorian Society said: “Our principal concerns are the lack of a convincing justification for the demolition and the proposed extension’s inappropriate design for a very prominent and historically significant location beside the Grade I listed Huddersfield Station.”

Historian Dr Victoria Dawson said: “It could have been the National Rugby League Museum, complete with all wings, but instead it’s going to be yet another hotel that Huddersfield doesn’t need. Travesty.”

Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman recently invited the Sports Minister to visit the John Smith’s Stadium to be briefed on the latest developments and to support a campaign to keep the museum close to the George Hotel.

Where will the museum end up

There are fears that it could be lost to Yorkshire altogether.

Cleckheaton Councillor John Lawson said back in July: “It’s a fact now that, barring another U-turn, the Rugby League Museum will not be at the George Hotel. That is still extremely upsetting for those who felt Rugby League was coming home.

“What makes matters worse is that after a long period in limbo, Rugby League Cares still faces an extremely vague offer from council that constructively blocks their capacity to make decisions.

“I can only think Wigan will be still waiting in the wings but it would be a great loss to Yorkshire fans if Rugby League Cares were forced to go over the Pennines.”

Attempts to move the rugby league museum project forward in recent years have been thwarted by the challenges caused by COVID, which has put a significant strain on funding for galleries and museums.

A rugby league museum was mentioned as part of ambitious plans to re-develop Odsal, which were eventually scrapped when it missed out on local funding.

Batley chairman Kevin Nicholas had previously offered their ground as a possible location, to keep the museum within the Kirklees Council boundaries.

He told the Dewsbury Reporter: “It’s disappointing the museum is not there (at the George Hotel). Hopefully there will be something put there to commemorate the fact it was there for rugby league.

“You would hope that the Radisson would think of doing that really, even if it was a small area of the hotel.

“As far as the museum is concerned, we didn’t get positive feedback (about it coming to Batley), certainly from Kirklees, who want it in another area of Huddersfield basically, which I don’t see the relevance in terms of rugby league history.”

Comment from Love Rugby League

It’s a travesty that a decade on, rugby league still has nowhere to properly celebrate its rich heritage.

There are challenges around locations and funding as it is, without it being exacerbated by a local council that has plainly taken the sport for a ride.

Had an alternative location been selected in the first place, then perhaps rugby league fans everywhere would have somewhere to go to celebrate its history.

In difficult times for rugby league, it’s important to remember its culture, heritage and tradition – after all, that is one of its biggest selling points, particularly in the communities it serves which are often overlooked.

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