There are few physical reminders of the Scarborough Aquarium (or its successor – Gala Land) around the base of the Cliff Bridge. Gone are the underground palatial arches and the overground entrance – the sunken wonderland is now an undergound car park, bearing little resemblance to its former self. However, the area itself is still known locally as Aquarium Top, and the current conversion of the St. Nicholas Cliff Lift (into a café, apparently) pays homage to this Victorian namesake.
Above: The ongoing conversion of the St. Nicholas Cliff Lift (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)
Below: Detail (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)
Likewise the bus stop opposite the Rotunda Museum, also acknowledges a past that many holidaymakers and casual visitors to Scarborough, may be completely unaware of.
Above: The Aquarium Top bus stop (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)
Indeed, whereas today the road is teeming with cars – and its underbelly houses a car park – the area was once the turning point for Scarborough’s electric tramway system.
Above: From aquarium to car park (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)
Between 1904 and 1929, five miles worth of track carried electric trams around Scarborough, covering destinations such as Foreshore Road, North Marine Road and Eastborough. The trams also made their way past Scarborough Aquarium (later Gala Land) to make the steepest of all climbs – up Vernon Road.
You can view a picture of the tram climbing Ramsdale Valley here.
In 1925, streetcar number 21 (or 25, depending on which report you read) caused considerable damage to the glass roof of the aquarium ballroom, in the same year that the Scarborough Corporation purchased the site and re-named it Gala Land. According to the Scarborough News, greasy rails and brake failure were blamed for the accident, causing the vehicle to make a dramatic backwards descent whilst trying to climb Vernon Road. The wall that separated the aquarium from the road was also destroyed. Driver George Smith was still in the car when the crash occurred, although was not seriously hurt – several passengers and the conductor had managed to jump free before impact.
Above: The aftermath – there has been difficulty locating the source of this image, given that the link on which it was found is no longer operational. If you own the copyright or know of any reason why it should not be included here, please get in touch, and it can be taken down.
Scarborough Aquarium or rather the stretch of land nearby, was also the destination and boarding point for the old St Nicholas Cliff Lift. Part of Scarborough’s collection of funiculars (which also included tramways on the North Cliff, Queen’s Parade, South Cliff, and Central Tramway – only the latter two still operate today). The South Cliff Lift was the first funicular railway to operate in Britain, and was created by the Scarborough South Cliff Tramway Company Limited in 1873. It didn’t open until 1875, by which point the Marine Aquarium Company Scarborough Ltd had formed to build the aquarium. Although they formed in 1874, the aquarium didn’t open until 1877.
It is worth noting that early tramway and aquarium plans were mooted by the Scarborough Sub Tramway Aquarium & Improvement Company Ltd – an organisation that formed in 1871. It has been difficult to establish what, if any, role(s) they played in the later establishment of both in Scarborough.
Above: Cliff Lift ticket (source)
However, whilst the Queen’s Parade (1878) and Central (1880) lines opened soon after, it wasn’t until 1929, shortly after the aquarium was renamed Gala Land, that the St. Nicholas line opened. Its boarding point at the base of the cliff was (and still is) referred to as the Aquarium Top, and passengers initially boarded the tram directly – there was no station and all mechanics were controlled from the top of the cliff. A station was later added however, and whilst the line closed in 2006, it is now being transformed into an aptly named Aquarium Top Café. A touching reminder of the former aquarium’s existence.
What do you think of the café idea? Should the St. Nicholas Cliff Lift Return? How about the aquarium – should it be commemorated more visibly in the landscape today? Ought tourists to be informed of it and its fascinating history?
Please comment and share your thoughts.