In 1859 an exotic building was erected on Scarborough’s Foreshore. The new Turkish Bathing House, also known as Bland’s Cliff Baths, was created to meet the growing demand for bathing treatments in the town, and was accessed directly from the sands of the South Bay.
Above: Drawing of the Turkish Baths (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)
The baths were later adopted by Jimmy Corrigan, who turned the building into an amusements arcade, with a World of Holograms upstairs. Today the venue is named Coney Island, after the famous New York beach side theme park, but still hosts slot machines and amusements.
But what happened in between these two dramatically different attractions?
Just as the Turkish Baths had appropriated the idea of Turkish bathing, with its spiritual associations, Scarborough’s Indian Village attraction likewise capitalised on the obsession with all things Oriental and Eastern, which permeated the 1800s and early 1900s in particular. The ‘village’ in Scarborough operated during the early 1900s, after the building ceased to operate as a Turkish baths, but before it was taken over by Jimmy Corrigan. It has so far been difficult to establish the exact duration of the attraction.
Above: The Indian Village attraction (from the author’s collection)
Such an attraction would arguably be branded as crude and demeaning today, but back in the early 1900s, the idea of bringing India (albeit a stereotyped and overly simplistic version of the country) to the British seaside was an exciting one for tourists. Or so the then owners believed. In fact, the idealised Indian village – the notion of a primitive feudal settlement – represented for Victorians and Edwardians an antidote to the mechanised bustle of the (then) modern industrial age.
The Indian village has often been seen as the ultimate signifier of “authentic native life”, a place where one could see or observe the “real” India and develop an understanding of the way local people organised their social life.
(source – full reference at the end of the post)
The British Empire saw itself as the height of civilisation, colonising countries and people who were considered primitive and backward. Yet at the same time those of the so-called civilised West harboured romantic visions of many Eastern (and non-European) cultures, seen as exotic, strange, and in many cases, closer to Nature.
Above: This disturbing and demeaning plaque, which commemorates the invention of the Gutenberg printing press, shows Western colonialists ‘civilising’ native people, who are depicted as animal-like and inferior (source)
There were a number of Indian Village attractions across Britain during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and Scarborough’s was typical in terms of the ‘entertainment’ offered. There were “jolly” Indian monkeys, a lion, “sixteen Indians”, native palmists and presumably other cultural appropriations. The lion was supposedly born on coronation day in 1937, a fact regularly advertised in press surrounding the attraction.
Above: Postage stamp commemorating the 1937 coronation of King George VI (source)
Due to the lack of documentation available it is difficult to speculate about the exact nature of the attraction, which sounds patronising and insulting towards the country it claimed to represent, reinforcing the British colonial idea of India as a wild, jungle-like expanse populated by superstitious natives and exotic animals. But this judgement itself is ill-informed, and lacks any concrete supporting evidence. Were there genuine Indian-born performers? Or was this a case of Westerners masquerading as their Eastern counterparts? Were these entertainers well treated? How about the animals? Indeed, Scarborough, like the rest of the UK, was no stranger to entertainment inspired by the far reaches of the British Empire (and beyond), with regular minstrel performances at the theatre(s) and Zulu warrior performances at Gala Land.
You can view an old poster for a minstrel show at Scarborough’s Futurist Theatre here.
Whilst entertainment preferences have long since changed, the desire for holiday snaps has not. They may have lacked camera phones and fancy digital devices, but Edwardian tourists were just as keen as the holidaymakers of today to get their picture taken – and the Indian Village offered a conveniently placed photography establishment, neighbouring the main attraction, where photographs could be taken and developed on the day. Sandwiched between this and the entrance to the village was the intriguingly titled Hall of Laughter. No details on that one. Yet.
On the other side of the attraction visitors could enjoy another tourist staple – waxworks. This small establishment was opened in 1921 by Ernest Gambart Baines, and later taken over by his daughter, a Mrs Dale, and her husband in 1929. Lifelike models of a policeman and fireman stood outside.
Indeed, Scarborough’s Foreshore has always been a lively and varied stretch of road, designed to lure in the tourists. The Indian Village represents a brief moment in this long and diverse history, which frequently references Chinoiserie, and the Victorian/Edwardian obsession (and reduction) of all things Oriental. This applies to Scarborough more broadly, and includes Peasholm Park (with its Chinese and Japanese inspired features), the Hindu-temple inspired aquarium, and ostensibly many more attractions (yet to be uncovered). All join the Turkish Baths and Indian Village in a colourful yet ultimately inaccurate attempt to bring the Far East to a British seaside town.
Do you know anything about the Indian Village attraction in Scarborough? Much of this article is based on guesswork, so it would be helpful to hear from anyone who knows more. Please get in touch if you have any information.
Jodhka, S.S. (undated) “Book-view” to “Field-view” – QEH Working Papers
Cannadine, D. (2001) Orientalism: How The British Saw Their Empire, Oxford University Press
Various articles and news clippings held in the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library