Scarborough Spa and the First British Seaside Resort: Part II

This is an article originally published in the Yorkshire Journal (Spring Issue, 2010) by Sarah Harrison. She has kindly given permission for her work to be republished – for Part I of the article please click here.

When the York and North Midland Railway established links with Scarborough in 1845, it became much easier for visitors to reach the town, which, in turn, led to large-scale investment in tourism. However, hotels and entertainment facilities had been increasing steadily since the 1700s, following the discovery of Scarborough’s natural springs in the 1600s.

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Left: In the late 1700s, wealthy visitors whiled away the afternoon at the theatre on Tanner Street, now St Thomas Street, where many famous actors performed. In 1825 a seat in the boxes cost three shillings, in the pit two shillings and in the gallery one shilling. The theatre was demolished in 1929 (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

In 1867 the Grand Hotel was completed – then one of the largest hotels in the world and one of the first in Europe to be purpose-built. Another first for Scarborough was the cliff tram, built in 1875, to link the South Cliff Esplanade to the Scarborough Spa. There would eventually be five cliff lifts in operation – three on the South side and two near the North Sands. Only two operate today – one by the Scarborough Spa (referred to as the South Cliff lift), and the other near at the side of the Grand Hotel (not to be confused with the one pictured below).

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Above: The Grand Hotel and the Cliff Bridge. The Cliff Tram in the centre of the photo is now closed (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Only eighteen years after the official opening of the Scarborough Spa on 8 September 1876 the building was destroyed by fire and had to be rebuilt. By June 1879 the new Grand Hall was opened to the public, with the formal opening ceremony taking place on August 2nd, 1880. So began a great era of music and entertainment – indeed, a range of leading musicians, conductors and performers all performed at Scarborough Spa.

Additions and alterations have been made over the years and a major restoration programme was carried out in the early 1980s to reinstate some of the original features and decorative styles.

Today the Scarborough Spa complex is a Grade II listed building which includes the Spa Theatre, the Grand Hall for concerts, the Ocean Room, the Promenade Lounge, Sun Court (for open air concerts), and various other rooms. It is also home to the Scarborough Spa Orchestra, the last remaining seaside orchestra in Britain. The orchestra gives 10 concerts every week during the summer months, playing from an extensive repertoire of classical and light music.

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Above: Sun Court for open air concerts (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Although taking the waters declined in popularity during the 19th century, the Spa’s reputation as a fashionable location for entertainment and relaxation grew in popularity. Also, the chemical composition of the water has altered considerably over the years and so the practice of “Taking the Water” came to an end in the late 1960s.

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Above: Steps leading down to the well (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Today the only visible evidence of the Spa water – that made Scarborough the first seaside resort in Britain – is a well set in the wall and the steps leading down to the beach on the north side of the Spa Complex. The strong mineral content of the water has stained the wall’s stones a reddish-brown colour. Likewise, it was this same staining that led to the discovery of the waters close to this site back in 1626.

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Above: The spa well set in the wall (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Today, the spa water is no longer recommended for drinking – there is a sign above the well which reads “Not Drinking Water”. The waters may have changed somewhat, but without Mrs. Farrer’s discovery in the seventeenth century, Scarborough would not have developed into the first English (and arguably, in its time, most famous) seaside resort.. Maybe one day the Spa will open again when the water is safe to drink and the well given a new look.

Sources

For a full list of acknowledgements, and to see the article in its original format, please visit the Yorkshire Journal (Spring, 2010). All copyright retained by the author.

Many thanks to Sarah for sharing this article with Stories From Scarborough!

Floral Hall: An Introduction

Floral Hall was a popular Scarborough entertainment venue, characterised by its resemblance to a large ornate conservatory. Located within Alexandra Gardens on Scarborough’s North side, this former attraction has recently been added to Stories From Scarborough at the request of readers.

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Above: An early picture of the theatre, before it acquired a roof (source)

In 1889, the Scarborough Corporation purchased the site under the name of Alexandra Field, as a protective measure to save the land from prospective building. Comprising a four acre site, the field remained little changed until Borough Engineer Harry W. Smith – architect of many a Scarborough treasure (the South Bay Pool, Peasholme Park, Northstead Manor Gardens etc) proposed a complex containing bowling greens, tennis courts and a space for open air entertainment.

At a cost of £4000, the renamed Alexandra Gardens opened on June 27th, 1908.

As a entertainment space, Floral Hall had humble beginnings, being completely uncovered and often showcasing the popular pierrot shows that typically took place on the beach.

Scarborough Pierrot Performance

Above: The popular pierrot show that often took place on Scarborough’s South Bay (source)

However, in 1911, Floral Hall, as depicted on many a picture postcard, was born. A more substantial concert pavilion was built, seating 1500 and with further space for standing audience members. The name was coined due to the hanging baskets, flowers and sub-tropical plants that decorated the venue.

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Above: Floral Hall exterior view (source)

The addition of a ceiling prompted the development of a full scale, indoor concert hall, and presumably offered more adequate protection from the unpredictable British weather. Furthermore, as the popularity and complexity of shows grew, the flowers and shrubs were phased out to accommodate lighting and production equipment.

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Above: Inside the venue before the gradual removal of the floral decorations (source)

During its heyday, Floral Hall attracted some of the top names in British entertainment, including Barbara Windsor and Kirsten Cooke. On the Stories From Scarborough Facebook Page, Beverley has kindly shared imagery and information about this, which are reproduced below:

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Above: Image contributed by Beverley via the Stories From Scarborough Facebook Page.

1983 “The Mating Game” tour resumed after Pantomime in April. In July the show opened for the Summer Season at Scarborough’s Floral Hall- a 1,600 seater. Presented by Charles Vance in association with Newpalm Productions it starred Barbara Windsor, Jack Smethurst, Kathy Staff, Ian Masters and Kirsten Cook.http://www.its-behind-you.com/spotlightbarbarawindsor.html

This was probably the summer Barbara Windsor met her future husband, a Yorkshire (Scarborough I think) chef who was 19 years younger than herself. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/3583375/Bar-lady.html

Kirsten Cooke also appeared at the Floral Hall in a season of ‘Allo Allo, also in the 80’s but I can’t find much info about that. There is a ref. here to the stage show https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/’Allo_’Allo!

(Above text: from the same source as above)

However, these lively years of excited audiences and popular performances eventually took their toll on the venue. Eventually the concert pavilion became structurally unstable, as noted by Susan on the Stories From Scarborough Facebook Page:

I worked there the last year it was open ’86 and it was in need of some serious tlc

By 1987 Floral Hall had closed, and, with funds lacking for the necessary restoration work to make it safe, the structure was demolished two years later. The site is now occupied by Scarborough Bowls Centre.

Huge thanks to Beverley for the image and information, and to Susan and all the other people who have offered comments about Floral Hall on the Facebook Page. New comments, information and pictures are always welcome!

Sources

Scarborough Civic Society

Scarborough News

Arthur Lloyd Music Hall and Theatre History Website