Scarborough’s Glorious Gardens: Part I

Aside from Peasholm Park, Northstead Manor Gardens and Alexandra Gardens, which have already been covered here, Scarborough has, over the years, boasted numerous splendid gardens. In this post you can enjoy a visual feast of some of the others, whose histories will be covered in more depth soon.

Clarence Gardens

In the nineteenth century, Britain was still coming to terms with the effects of rapid industrialisation, and problems associated with urban growth led public officials across the country to develop public parks. Such places offered respite from gruelling city life, as well as fresh air, flowers and trees. Scarborough was no different, and in the 1800s and early 1900s, a plethora of parks and gardens appeared, including Clarence Gardens.

Clarence Gardens

Above: Clarence Gardens (source)

Clarence Gardens was located on the North Bay, overlooking the doomed North Bay Pier. It was laid out by Leonard Thompson, Superintendant of Scarborough Cemetery (1865 – 1911) and opened in 1896 alongside the Royal Albert Drive.

Clarence Gardens

Above: View of the gardens and Royal Albert Drive, plus the remains of the pier, in approximately 1905 (source)

The gardens featured a bandstand and a stage, winding walkways across the cliffs and even a small bridge.

Clarence Gardens

Above: Performers entertain a small audience (source)

Although the bandstand, much of the seating and the live entertainment are now long gone, the winding pathways remain, and the nearby Clarence Gardens Hotel, keeps the name alive.

Italian Gardens

Italian Gardens

Above: The Italian Gardens Lily Pond (source)

The Italian Gardens were yet another creation of Scarborough’s legendary Borough Engineer, Harry W. Smith. During his tenure he set about transforming areas of wasteland into beauty spots for tourists and locals, and his successes include Peasholm Park, Alexandra Gardens and the South Bay Pool.

Italian Gardens

Above: The statue of Mercury (source)

The centrepiece of the gardens is a lily pond surrounding a pedestal which sports a statue of Mercury – Roman god of financial gain, poetry, communication, and travel, amongst other things. Since 2000 a resin cast has replaced the original statue, but before it was constructed, Smith had one of his staff pose on the pedestal to check positioning and measurements.

Italian Gardens

Above: Edwardian visitors at the gardens (source)

Two raised platforms at each end of the gardens feature pergola shelters with teak seats, which were added in 1914 and enabled visitors to enjoy views across the garden. Interesting fact – the stone used in the development of this area was excavated from the site of what would later become the South Bay Pool.

Rose Gardens

Rose Garden

Above: The Rose Garden (source)

Below: In colour (source)

Rose Garden

Measuring 57m by 13.4m, the Rose Garden, located close to the Esplanade on the South Cliff, features 32 rose beds, including 10 circular beds in the centre, 18 side beds and 4 corner beds. The garden is sheltered by conifers and deciduous trees and was the subject of a major restoration project, completed in 2015. Originally known as the Belvedere Rose Garden (or, The Large Rosary), the garden was part of a larger site acquired in 1883 by Lord Beeforth.

Part II will include Holbeck Gardens and Valley Gardens, and of course, many more pictures of beautiful Scarborough gardens.

Have you ever visited any of these gardens? Share your thoughts in the comments section below…

Sources

Historic England

Friends of South Cliff Gardens

South Cliff Gardens Leaflet

Scarborough Civic Society

Floral Hall’s Former Stars

In the heart of Scarborough’s Alexandra Gardens, now a bowling green, Floral Hall once stood.

Floral Hall

Above: The original Floral Hall theatre (source)

After beginning as an open air home for pierrot performances – then for George Royle’s popular fol-de-rol entertainers, Scarborough’s Floral Hall gained a roof, lost its floral decorations and welcomed a number of big name acts.

Floral Hall

Above: Floral Hall – with roof (source)

This post compares a number of the venue’s programmes from the 1970s, with those from the earliest days. These were the times of the summer season, the variety performance and the triumph of British seaside entertainment. However, the story of Floral Hall begins with pierrots – and Edwardian Scarborough was a good place to be one.

Scarborough Pierrot Performance

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

These French and Italian inspired performers dressed in white and performed a mixture of comedy, music and mime, primarily on the beach. Will Catlin’s pierrots were a huge success on Scarborough’s South Sands, as were Carrick’s Original Pierrots. Catlin eventually built the Arcadia on the Foreshore, to showcase these performers, but with the development of cinema, he soon transformed the site into the Palladium Picture House, and the grander theatre that became known as the Futurist.

Futurist and Palladium Picture House

Above: The Futurist and Palladium Picture House (source)

George Royle also led a troupe of pierrots, and when Harry W. Smith – Borough Engineer extraordinaire – set about designing Alexandra Gardens, the open air theatre was to provide a home for Royle’s performers. However, Royle quickly rejected the idea of continuing with the pierrot performances, instead preferring his troupe to dress in eccentric period costumes. Top hats for the men and bonnets and crinoline for the women. Known as the Fol-de-Rols they were Floral Hall’s original resident act.

Fol-de-rols

Above: The Fol-de-Rols in the traditional white usually associated with pierrot performances (above)

Below: Looking slightly more like pierrots, the troupe were also known as George Royle’s Imps (source)

Fol-de-rols

The Fol-de-rols were immensely popular, but WWI changed everything – audiences dwindled (the 1914 Scarborough bombardment was a stark reminder of the dangers of wartime) and George Royle signed up to join the army. When he returned he was invited back to Floral Hall, but rents were rising and tastes were changing – the Fol-de-rols would not return.

Fol-de-rols

Above: Dresses and top hats (source)

Below: An early programme (source)

Floral Hall Programme: Fol de Rols

Fast forward to the 1960s and 70s, and seaside entertainment had been completely transformed. Gone were the old fashioned music hall acts, replaced by an altogether more modern form of variety. Furthermore, another huge influence was television – which was where many budding performers made their name. Talent shows such as Opportunity Knocks and New Faces provided many big breaks. Programmes from Floral Hall provide a fascinating insight into the seaside summer circuit at this time, and how stars of the day broke into the entertainment industry.

Floral Hall Programme: The Krankies

Above: The Krankies – a Floral Hall programme (source)

The Krankies are a Scottish husband and wife duo. They starred in TV’s Crackerjack, amongst other things, and Stu Francis, is another comedian who also featured in the same programme. Joe Longthorne, a singer from nearby Hull, found fame in TV shows such as Junior Showtime, and Search for a Star, while American singer Diane Solomon, made a name for herself on the BBC.

Freddie Starr was another act who was ‘discovered’ on a TV show – Opportunity Knocks. See below:

Floral Hall Programme: Freddie Starr

Above: Freddie Starr programme (source)

He was joined in Floral Hall for the 1979 summer season by a puppet show, Mike Lancaster (another comedian), and Patsy Ann Scott, known for her appearances on 1970s TV shows. The Maurice Merry Orchestra are mentioned on most of the programmes here, as is the director Peter Sontar.

Floral Hall Programme: Les Dawson

Above: Les Dawson programme (source)

Les Dawson, like Freddie Starr, benefitted hugely from an appearance on TV talent show Opportunity Knocks, and was a comedian famed for his ‘mother-in-law’ jokes and piano playing. Dougie Squires, on the other hand, was a contemporary version of George Royle or Will Catlin. Instead of leading a troupe of pierrots, he created a singing and dancing group called The Young Generation, who were TV regulars in the 1960s and 1970s. Second Generation was an ill-fated attempt to reform the group.  As for Bobby Bennett, he presented Junior Showtime, another TV show with strong Floral Hall connections. Finally, Kenneth McKellar was/is a singer who represented Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest in the 1960s, and made numerous television appearances.

Floral Hall Programme: Peters & Lee

Above: Peters & Lee programme (source)

1970s folk duo Peters & Lee were Opportunity Knocks alumni – indeed, Floral Hall seemed to recruit heavily from TV talent contests, and featured in the Royal Variety Performance of 1973. Roy Walker is today perhaps best known as the former presenter of Catchphrase, the popular long-running TV gameshow. but he started off as a comedian, and yet another TV talent show alumni – New Faces this time. Lee Wilson was also a comedian and another former New Faces contestant. Singer-songwriter Berni Flint had a record number of wins in Opportunity Knocks, whereas Janet Brown was an actress and impressionist famed for her impressions of Margaret Thatcher.

Below: Frank Ifield and Ken Goodwin programme (source)

Floral Hall Programme

In this final programme, Frank Ifield – a singer who represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest. He came a respectable second in 1962, during the decade that made him famous, but in 1976 he was less successful and finished twelfth. Opportunity Knocks gave Floral Hall another performer in Mancunian comedian Ken Goodwin, and Luie Caballero is/was an actor and impressionist. Bert Weedon was a guitarist and a regular performer for the BBC.

As the above selection of programmes demonstrates, Floral Hall hosted an impressive array of performers for nearly eighty years, but sadly closed in 1987 – there were insufficient funds to restore the building, and the heyday of the British seaside holiday was slowly slipping away.

Who would have thought that a simple open air theatre from 1908 would last so long and provide so much entertainment?

Floral Hall

Above: The sun sets on Floral Hall (source)

Do you remember Floral Hall? Do you have any old programmes, or recall the performers you saw?

Please get in touch if you’ve got any information to share…

Sources

Scarborough Civic Society

Scarborough News

Arthur Lloyd Music Hall and Theatre History Website

This wonderful Fol-de-Rols website

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.

spa5

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).

spa1

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.

spa2

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.

spa3

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.

spa4

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!

An Open Air Theatre

Scarborough was once a treasure trove of theatrical venues. Scarborough Opera House opened on St. Thomas Street in 1876, the Spa Theatre in 1879 and there was also live entertainment at the Aquarium, which opened in 1877.

Scarborough’s oldest theatre was the Theatre Royal, which opened in 1771, and there were many more not mentioned here, since demolished and/or redeveloped.

Some, like the Futurist (1920) and the Palladium Picture House (1912) served first as cinemas before accommodating live entertainment, and the outdoor performance space in Alexandra Gardens (1908) proved so popular that a roof was added, later becoming a full-blown theatre that could accommodate visitors during all weather conditions.

You can read more about Scarborough’s many former theatres by visiting this link.

The Open Air Theatre in Northstead Manor Gardens, however, was a little different. Once described as ‘The Drury Lane of the open air’, there was no protection here from the unpredictable British weather. It opened in 1932, and performances took place on a stage that was in fact located on an island in the middle of the lake at the centre of the gardens. This was truly an ambitious and exciting project for Scarborough…

Open Air Theatre

Above: The Open Air Theatre (source)

The site in question was purchased by the Scarborough Corporation in 1926, to be developed into pleasure gardens, which would include a water chute, boating lake and miniature railway line. Known locally as Hodgson’s Slack, this natural ampitheatre offered an ideal setting for live entertainment, and would eventually accommodate as many as eight thousand audience members. For sell-out performances some would even sit on the nearby grassy banks, when seating proved insufficient to meet demand.

Open Air Theatre

Above: From the opening night (source)

The first performance was a grand affair, opened by the Lord Mayor of London in the summer of 1932. He reportedly said:

The setting is ideal and constitutes a wonderful tribute to the imagination of whoever realised the possibilities to be derived from this particular park of the park, and also to the engineers who carried out the necessary embellishments and alterations which provide such a picturesque stage and background and also such splendid accommodation.

 
Merrie England, a well-known light opera penned by Sir Edward German, was the first production to be performed at the theatre, and one of many ambitious performances by Scarborough Amateur Operatic Society over the following decades. First performed in London, in 1902, the story is set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Open Air Theatre

Above: Cast members from Merrie England at Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre (source)

Many productions enjoyed success here – West Side Story, Annie Get Your Gun, Carmen, Bohemian Girl, Hiawatha….

Open Air Theatre

Above: Annie Get Your Gun (source)

Below: King’s Rhapsody (source)

Open Air Theatre

In the 1950s It’s a Knockout became a popular addition to the theatre’s repertoire, continuing well after the last musical – West Side Story – was staged in 1968. The latter featured Hi-di-Hi actress Ruth Madoc in a starring role. Nine years later the dressing rooms and much of the scenery buildings on the island were removed, as was the seating, and, following the complete closure of the venue in 1986, the remaining structures fell into gradual decay.

Open Air Theatre

Above: The theatre during its heyday (source)

In 2008, the go-ahead was received for a major redevelopment, and in 2010 the rejuvinated theatre was re-opened by the Queen. With a slightly reduced seating capacity of 6, 500, the venue has hosted, to date, a range of different acts, including Boyzone, Tom Jones and Elaine Paige in 2015, as well as community events in the past and even televised showings of England World Cup Matches in 2010, via a large screen.

You can see a list of upcoming events here.

Have you ever been to the Open Air Theatre? How do old and new compare? See any mistakes in the history above? If so please comment or get in touch. For more pictures and memories see the Facebook Page.

Sources

A brief history of the theatre

Scarborough theatre history

Scarborough News

Scarborough Civic Society

Materials held at the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library