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

 

 

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

A Corner Cafe Memory

The Corner Cafe opened in 1925. Located on corner, opposite Scarborough’s North Sands, the cafe sold food, drink and entertainment for decades until it was eventually demolished in 2007 to make way for the brand new Sands development.

Above: The Corner Cafe can be seen on the top and bottom left of this multi-view postcard (from the author’s collection)

The site now hosts apartments and modern retail units. You can read more about the cafe’s history by visiting the following links:

Have You Even Been To…?

Bertram Otto And His Model Railway

The Corner Cafe Soda Fountain

In this post, a regular contributor to Stories From Scarborough Mark – has kindly shared some more up to date memories of the cafe from the 1990s. You can read more of his memories about other former Scarborough attractions on the following links:

Memories From Atlantis

Memories From Marvel’s

Kinderland Memories

His first memory of the Corner Cafe references the its model railway. Having hosted the world’s (then) largest and most intricately constructed model railway in the 1960s, the Corner Cafe apparently acquired its own smaller model. What happened to the larger version, which was then on tour, is something of a mystery.

I have a vague recollection of a larger scale, something like G scale I think, track going back and forth on a high up ‘shelf’ in the corner cafe, when me and mum used to call there to eat – I was always fascinated by it. At that point, I never knew the other model railway had existed.

Indeed, the original model came to Scarborough many decades earlier. Mark also remembers the entertainment at the cafe, which hosted names from both home and away, including early career performers and, during the cafe’s heyday in the 1960s and 70s, bigger stars also.

We usually went to a show there, most years – it wasn’t generally anyone famous, but kids/childrens entertainment, till I eventually became too old for them – at which point we transferred to shows at the futurist.

Sadly Scarborough’s Futurist Theatre closed early this year – its future at present remains uncertain. The Corner Cafe, on the other hand is now just a memory. Those who never visited will thus rely on those who did, to find out what it was like inside.

I remember always trying to sit in near the high windows, as we liked to look out onto the north bay as we ate – they used to do a kids lunch meal, and I often wound up taking some of it with me – I wanted to get onto the beach and build sand castles!

I remember there being something of a ‘square’ outside the Corner Cafe (although, it definitely wasn’t square) where there always used to be a booth, where an elderly gentleman sold newspapers and scratch cards – it used to be a daily treat, to get one of those scratch cards – we even won, sometimes!

The only other thing that really sticks in my mind about the Corner Cafe, is it (at one point, anyway) seeming to be a massive white ‘cliff’ almost, to a young me.

Thanks to Mark for continuing to share his memories with the project.

Did his recollections bring back any memories for you? Did you visit the Corner Cafe in Scarborough? Please get in touch or comment below.