Gala Land was an underground entertainment complex in Scarborough. Originally a public aquarium, it was built in 1877 beneath the Spa Bridge, and initially operated as The People’s Palace & Aquarium (see below).
Above: Entrance to the old aquarium (source)
Designed by Eugenius Birch (who also designed the Brighton Aquarium and the Blackpool North Pier Indian Pavilion), the 2.25 acre complex also included a concert hall, reading room, dining area and fernery. With an interior inspired by Hindu temples, the aquarium boasted the (then) largest tank in the world. Holding over 75,000 gallons of water, the tank was also used for swimming exhibitions.
Scarborough Art Gallery has a painting of the interior in its permanent collection.
You can view it here.
Above: Brighton Aquarium, also designed by Eugenius Birch (source)
Various sources refer to the impressive decoration inside the aquarium, for example:
Red, buff and black encaustic tiles with a central hawthorn blossom pattern ornamented the dados, while those used on the floor were patterned with shells, seaweed, starfish and dolphins. Amid this colourful mass of international motifs, English pastoral scenes in oils were intended to add light and interest to the concert hall…
The aquarium struggled to attract visitors, and after just nine years it was sold to William Morgan – the manager of Blackpool Winter Gardens. It was not until Morgan’s tenure that the venue became a success. By 1890 a monkey house, aviary, seal and alligator ponds had all been added, and for a number of years the attraction thrived. Later additions included a swimming pool, theatre and skating rink. However, eventually the underground complex faced financial difficulties again, prompting Scarborough Council to take it over in 1925.
Above: Another view of the Aquarium entrance (source)
The venue was renamed Gala Land by council bosses, who oversaw its running until 1966.
Former Scarborough resident Margaret Smolensky refers to the attraction in Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society’s Community Archive:
At roughly about the bottom of Vernon Road where it intersects with the Valley Road was Gala Land. An underground sort of amusement park which I can only just remember. I do vaguely recall though that there was an all girl orchestra. In that same area, at the end of the Valley Road were the swimming baths. They were underground and what seemed to me at that time a long way down. The girls walked there from the old Girls‟ High School in the valley for lessons. Those of us who had bikes cycled and waited for the others. Once in the front door there were stairs going round and round and down and down to the low level baths. Since Margaret Dean and I had to wait for the walkers we spent the time leaning over the railing at the top spitting and trying to hit one or another of the black and while tiles on the far below floor. We never did get caught!!!
The Gala Land buildings were demolished to make way for an underground car park in 1968, which still stands today.
Above: Demolition of the site (source)
Adrian Hanwell, a member of Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society, remembers the demolition from his schooldays, and kindly contributed the following memory:
It was closed down (to make way for the underground car park) whilst I was at school (1965 to 1969) and we were horrified to see many of the wood and glass cased Victorian amusement machines smashed and dumped into skips. We did gain from this vandalism ourselves though, because many of the machines ran on lovely little Parvalux electric motors, so many pupils rescued them for use in our own projects. Even in the 1960s, those Victorian machines would have fetched worthwhile money at auction if anyone had bothered to send them there. Today, those machines would fetch anything upwards of £350.00 each and the more desirable ones could possibly fetch over £1,000.00.
I only got one motor myself. It was a geared motor and I used it to drive a small workshop sandstone (for sharpening knives and tools). That sandstone got smaller and smaller, then wore out during the last 40 years. I still have the motor and I have another sandstone, but I have yet to couple it up to the motor.
I became an Engineer and was not interested in the puppets (automatons) and only salvaged mechanical bits myself. Others did get backcloth pictures, puppets and other bits. I do not know whether they kept them.
Just as Adrian and his schoolmates rescued and reused parts of Gala Land in new projects, Stories From Scarborough similarly aims to use the memories of old attractions to inspire new ideas and art. Scarborough has a long history of reinvention and the rise and fall of its many former attractions are a testament to this.
Galaland is a recent addition to Stories From Scarborough– if you’d like a particular attraction to be added to the list, then please leave a comment below. Likewise, if you remember Gala Land/Galaland) please share your memories!
(The society’s Community Archive is an excellent resource for anyone investigating the history of Scarborough)