Scarborough Aquarium: Did You Know…?

Scarborough Aquarium opened in 1877 beneath the Cliff Bridge in Scarborough. It was re-named Gala Land in 1925 and was eventually demolished in 1968 (after closing in 1966) to make way for an underground car park. You can read more about it on the following links:

Gala Land

Captain Webb At Scarborough Aquarium

The Armless Wonder And The Empress Of The Sea

This post brings together a number of short stories and facts about the aquarium – odds and ends which don’t quite make a complete article on their own.

So, without further ado, did you know that…

1) The original idea was to build medicinal baths…

Above: The site before the aquarium (source)

Scarborough’s popularity as a seaside resort originally derived from the perceived medicinal qualities of its air and water, therefore it is unsurprising that the committee behind the aquarium had originally hoped to cash in on this reputation. However, these original plans proved too expensive, and the aquarium was built instead. Ironically the attraction ended up losing large amounts of money, and even the efforts of successful entrepreneur William Morgan only secured temporary success for the palatial venue.

*EDIT* The medicinal baths plans actually came much later. After purchasing the aquarium in 1925, the Scarborough Corporation originally hoped to convert the attraction into aforementioned baths. The changes were too expensive, therefore the venue became Gala Land instead.

2) The building was used as a drill hall during WWI…

Following the closure of the aquarium (the company was liquidated in 1914), troops commandeered the space for training exercises. Apparently some of the opulent architecture (designed by Eugenius Birch back in the 1800s) were damaged during this period, due to the heavy duty training that took place there. Nonetheless, the Scarborough Corporation decided to buy and restore the building after the war, renaming it Gala Land.

scarbcorp

Above: Members of the Scarborough Corporation in an undated photograph (from Some Scarborough Faces – Past and Present, 1901)

3) The aquarium opened with a grand concert…

On Whit Monday in 1877, the venue opened with music from Leeds Harmonic, Glee and Madrigal Union at the cost of one shilling per ticket. The previous Saturday a private opening had been held for Scarborough residents, and featured music from the Band of Yorkshire Militia.

Above: An early Victorian shilling – the equivalent of a modern day 5p piece, which certainly wouldn’t cover the costs of a concert ticket today! (source)

4) There were lions and tigers…

Scarborough Aquarium hosted an array of exotic animals following William Morgan’s takeover, including lions, tigers, monkeys and birds. Stories From Scarborough has as yet been unable to ascertain how long and under what conditions these animals were kept at the venue. The lions and tigers were a later addition, joining the newly expanded Zoo section in 1913, only a year before the aquarium closed at the start of the war.

aquarium

Above: Illustration of exotic creatures and the grand aquarium interior from an unnamed article held at Scarborough Library (without the publication name it has not been possible to identify the exact source)

5) One of the elephants got angry…

A performing elephant at the aquarium attempted to attack an audience member who resembled a former trainer. Apparently said trainer had not enjoyed a good relationship with said elephant; the latter apparently seeking revenge on an innocent lookalike. Below is the original text from the 1889 Manchester Guardian.

The beast in question, while going through a performance, saw among those present Mr. Philburn, a detective in the local police. He unfortunately bears a strong facial resemblance to a former keeper of the elephant, with whom the creature had quarrelled, and he was for some time viewed by the offended pachyderm with that “disgust concealed” which, according to Cowper, “is ofttimes proof of wisdom”. But even an elephant may feel that it is surfeited with wisdom. Hence the performing beast at Scarborough gradually sidled up to Mr. Philburn and “went” for him with fearful trumpeting. The victim of the animal’s mistaken fury was badly hurt, and he is scarcely likely to endorse the popular impression that elephants are creatures of shrewd perspicacity. Vengeance, however, is not a sentiment that usually harmonises even in the human subject with these excellent but prosaic qualities.

(source)

6) There was also a theatre…

Victorian and Edwardian visitors were treated to performances from the likes of Miss Flo Everette and her Clever Canine Pets, Mr Walter Wade (Lady Impersonator), Zasma the acrobat and Professor Deveno (conjurer and juggler). Miss Ada Webb, Captain Webb and Unthan (The Armless Wonder) have already been mentioned, but other more mysterious acts included the Clock Eyed Lady, Madam Leva (The Electric Lady) and Professor Finney (perhaps a magician of some sort?).

Above: A visualisation of the Clock-Eyed Lady drawn by the author (Copyright: Sarah Coggrave)

7) The venue was known ‘The Umbrella’…

This title emerged during the early 1900s, and became a popular nickname for the aquarium, which not only resided underground, but was also a source of alternative entertainment during the inevitable rainy days that blight British summertime.

Do you know any facts about the old Scarborough Aquarium? Are any of the above false or misreported? Stories From Scarborough wants to hear your views – please comment below or email.

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