Scarborough’s Pierrots, Catlin’s Arcadia

Scarborough’s Foreshore has always provided a colourful display of changing shopfronts, alternating amusement sites and unusual attractions. From the Turkish Baths (later an Indian Village and now Coney Island Amusements) to the Madhouse and Millennium living history attraction, tourists have always had plenty of entertainment to choose from.

foreshore

Above: The bustling Foreshore in the early 1900s (source)

Caitlin’s Arcadia occupied the site of the now closed Futurist Theatre.

Catlin's Arcadia

Above: Catlin’s Arcadia on the Foreshore during the early 1900s (source)

It’s story begins with theatrical entrepeneur Will Catlin (real name William Fox) whose popular pierrots were a regular sight on Scarborough’s South Bay during the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth.

Scarborough Pierrot Performance

Above: Catlin’s Pierrots perform on the South Sands (source)

Often referred to as the ‘sad clown’ the pierrot character has a long history – dating back to the seventeenth century, but became popular during the nineteenth century in France and beyond, as a recurring motif in theatre. With a whitened face and baggy attire, the pierrot was a naive, innocent character, whose antics included comedy, mime, song and dance.

Catlin's Pierrots

Above: Catlin’s Pierrots (source)

Catlin, a former music hall performer first visited Scarborough in 1894, and it was during that time that he formed his renowed group of exclusively all-male pierrots. Whilst his pierrots toured widely – even over the winter months, when they visited a variety of cities and towns – in Scarborough they performed (during the early days) on a makeshift stage on the South Bay.

Catlin's Pierrots

Above: The troupe were also known as Catlin’s Royal Pierrots (source)

They were not the only pierrot group in town – George Royle’s ‘Imps’ performed a similar act on the South Sands from the early 1900s, but adopted different tactics after being invited to entertain audiences at Floral Hall in Alexandra Gardens. Unlike Catlin’s group, Royle’s performers were male and female, and in their new venue wore period costumes, calling themselves the Fol-de-Rols.

You can read more about the Fol-de-Rols by visiting this website.

Catlin, on the other hand, was rapidly becoming frustrated by rising rental fees for beach performances. Seeking his own venue, he purchased land on the Foreshore and opened Catlin’s Arcadia – the pierrot shows operated from here between 1909 and 1912.

Catlin's Arcadia

Above: The Arcadia (source)

A shrewd businessman, Catlin sold souvenir postcards (depicting the pierrots) at performances, and even met visitors at the railway station to promote the shows.

Such was the popularity of his troupe by 1912 that they were named the most popular entertainers in Britain.

In 1912, he sought to cash in on the popularity of motion pictures, by creating the Palladium Cinema, which, by 1920 was deemed far too small to meet rising demand. Consequently it was then replaced by the Futurist, a huge, state of the art complex that opened in 1921 to accommodate larger audiences and more entertainment. It initially also contained an ice cream bar and soda fountain. The latter would become a popular fixture in Scarborough, with one at the future Corner Cafe, and Evelyn’s Soda Fountain at the Windmill Site on the Foreshire.

evelyns

Above: Evelyn’s Soda Fountain (source)

Catlin remained involved with the entertainment business – he also operated theatres in Llandudno and Colwyn Bay, and according to this article, when he died in 1953, his coffin was fittingly topped with a pierrot hat, made from white flowers, and an inscription reading “King of the Pierrots’ final curtain”. The Futurist, on the other hand, became one of Scarborough’s premier entertainment venues, finally closing in early 2014. Its future remains uncertain. There’s even a film being made about it – you can check out the progress of this project by visiting this link.

Did you ever visit the Futurist? Do you know anything about the Palladium, the Arcadia or the famous pierrots? Please comment below.

Sources and Further Reading

The Theatres Trust

The Cambridge History of British Theatre

Arthur Lloyd Theatres Page

Scarborough News

Fol-de-Rols

Will Catlin

 

 

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One thought on “Scarborough’s Pierrots, Catlin’s Arcadia

  1. Pingback: Floral Hall’s Former Stars | Stories From Scarborough

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