This is the fourth in a series of posts featuring short stories and facts about former Scarborough attractions. You can read the others here:
Scarborough Aquarium: Did You Know…?
Gala Land: Did You Know…?
Scarborough Zoo: Did You Know…?
You can also read more about the Hispaniola, Scarborough’s very own pirate ship, by following the list of links on the Places page.
But for now it’s time to find out whether or not you knew that…
1) The Hispaniola was specifically built at the request of the Scarborough Corporation
As already mentioned in this post, the boat’s construction was painstakingly researched, under instruction from Scarborough Council’s predecessor – the Scarborough Corporation.
This enterprising group of local officials feature heavily in the history of many attractions researched within Stories From Scarborough. They purchased the Northstead Estate, back in the early 1900s, as well as overseeing the building of the bathing pools, parks and the rescue of Gala Land. You can see a picture of them here.
The resulting boat boasted two decks, 3 masts and 26 gun ports (minus actual guns), features that sought to emulate the miniature schooner’s namesake and inspiration in Treasure Island (the famous novel penned by Robert Louis Stevenson). Hispaniola actually refers to a Caribbean island (historically referred to by various names), and was appropriated by Stevenson as an exotic name for the starring vessel in his book.
1) A local pastor wanted to borrow it
The Hispaniola was a unique creation – its designers scrutinised three different editions of the Treasure Island book in their attempt to create an authentic copy. In spite of its small size (a quarter of a real schooner), it was popular with amateur filmmakers, who wanted an authentic prop for seafaring adventure stories. However, one of the more unusual requests came from a local parson, who wanted to recreate the voyage of the Pilgrim Fathers for a church production.
Above: A painting depicts the Pilgrim Fathers setting sail in 1620 (source)
The Pilgrim Fathers were a group of English separatists who travelled first to the Netherlands and then to North America, in a bid to secure certain freedoms not available in Elizabethan (and later, Jacobean) times. England, during this historical period, required its citizens to attend Church of England services, following the 1559 Act of Uniformity. As a result, dissenters endured harsh penalties for absence and likewise for the attendance and arrangement of alternative ceremonies. The success of the Pilgrim Fathers (a name later bestowed on the settlers in the early nineteenth century) has become a celebrated narrative, particularly in the US – the Pilgrim Fathers established the first permanent colony in New England in 1620.
The Hispaniola could have played a starring role in the reconstruction of this story.
Whether it did or not was a mystery – there was no mention of whether or not the parson’s request was granted.
2) 1949 was a busy year
The Hispaniola took its first voyage at the start of the summer season in 1949, and approximately 46,000 children travelled aboard over the summer holidays. Between twenty and thirty passengers travelled at a time, and the steady flow of customers proved the attraction’s popularity.
Above: The Hispaniola on Scarborough Mere (source)
The ride initially cost one shilling, but the price went up to 1/6 in the 1970s, when children could also opt to buy a small packet of sweet cigarettes (not real ones!) with an island map on the reverse. The treasure then came in the form of metal doubloons, which were in later years replaced by plastic ones. You can see a picture here.
3) The Mere it sailed on was once part of a huge lake
The Mere is all that remains of the Great Pickering Lake – a massive body of water that filled the valley between Scarborough and Pickering.
Above: Diagram depicting the expanse of Lake Pickering (source)
Lake Pickering gradually drained away following the last glacial period of the current ice age; a process which began between 12,000 and 100,000 years ago, leaving behind considerably less water, and a considerable amount of marshy land.
The Mere represented one of the remaining vestiges of the great lake when it was drained in 1880. Although it was restored in 1896, old photographs depict a somewhat barren place, which contrasts with the leafy oasis that stands today. Long popular with anglers, the Mere enjoyed a heyday as a place for boating, picnics and of course Hispaniola trips from the 1940s until the 1990s, before returning to the quieter place of times gone by.
4) There were slides on Treasure Island
The destination for all Hispaniola travellers was Treasure Island – the small piece of land at the centre of the Mere. The slides arrived years after the boat’s first voyage in 1949, and replaced the lookout towers that characterised the early days of the attraction. The island itself was (and perhaps still is?) 200ft long, 30ft wide and covered in tons of sand – to make it fit for purpose. Other features included firing platforms, loop holes and a tree top sitting post. Entertainments manager George Horrocks, who ran the attraction initially, also ensured old muskets and cutlasses were on display. Reputedly there was even a goat on the island at one point, although the truth of this story is questionable.
Above: Jim Hawkins on Treasure Island (source)
As in Stevenson’s story, Scarborough’s Ben Gunn also ‘lived’ on the island, although unlike his fictional counterpart, the man who played him opted for daytime occupancy only. His time here occurred primarily over the summer months during which the Hispaniola sailed.
5) Jim Hawkins was a sea cadet
The first Hispaniola crew were carefully recruited to ensure relevant credentials were possessed. War veteran Tom Hunt had only one leg, which made him an ideal candidate to play Long John Silver, whereas sea cadet Harry Moore, aged fifteen, was evidently keen to gain seafaring experience as Jim Hawkins. For those that don’t know the book, the story is told by Hawkins, the young son of an innkeeper, for whom an encounter with a mysterious visitor leads to a swashbuckling adventure on a far away island. Here he becomes acquainted with the likes of Long John Silver and fellow character Ben Gunn.
Above: Geoffrey Wilkinson as Ben Gunn in the 1950 Treasure Island film (source)
Ben Gunn is the half-crazed former pirate Hawkins meets whilst on the island, whereas Long John Silver is the villain of the story, albeit a complex one. It is arguably difficult if not impossible to condense the subtle nuances of this story into a an affordable seaside attraction for children, nonetheless the Scarborough Hispaniola crew brought much enthusiasm to their roles. They simultaneously engaged visitors and maintained the pirate masquerade. They were incredulous when bosses suggested changing their names and the context of the attraction in 1958.
5) The wooden leg survived!
Sadly Scarborough’s one (and perhaps only – details are sketchy) truly one-legged Long John Silver died relatively soon after the attraction began. However, the wooden leg he wore whilst ‘in character’ was reputedly retained by the Scarborough Corporation until the 1970s, and was rumoured to make occasional appearances at office parties. Stories From Scarborough wonders what became of it.
Do you know? As always any memories, feedback and information would be gratefully received.
Most of the information in this post was found in old newspaper articles and the Doris and Cyril Prescott Collection at Scarborough Library.