The North Bay Miniature Railway

Scarborough’s North Bay Railway is one of the town’s most enduring and well-loved attractions.  Passengers can board the train at either Northstead Manor Gardens (the stop, however is called ‘Peasholm‘, after nearby Peasholm Park) or Scalby Mills, and take a scenic ride through park, along the seafront and back again.

North Bay Railway

Above: The North Bay Railway (source)

The railway opened in 1931, as part of the brand new Northstead Manor Gardens (Pleasure Gardens), which would eventually include a water chute, open air theatre and boating lake. The gardens were the brainchild of Harry W Smith, a prolific engineer who designed many of the town’s most successful tourist attractions. However, the miniature railway proposals met with a mixed reception from locals, gaining the nickname ‘the Borough Engineer’s Toy’.

Northstead Manor Gardens

Above: From the early development of Northstead Manor Gardens at Hodgson’s Slack (source)

At 2pm, Saturday May 23, 1931, the railway began taking passengers. As with all of Scarborough’s opening ceremonies of this era, the occasion was a grand one, with the presentation of artefacts to the driver (see below). Neptune was the name of the original locomotive, and Alderman Whitehead, presiding over the occasion, made the following solemn decree:

“On behalf of the National Union of Drivers, Engineers and others, I have to present you, the first driver of the North Bay Railway Engine, with your insignia of office, your oil can and your ‘sweat rag’.”

Neptune is the oldest engine, having begun its service in 1931. Triton and Robin Hood followed only a year after, and in 1933, Poseidon. The first two locomotives are still owned by Scarborough Council (then the Scarborough Corporation), with the remaining two owned by the operators (North Bay Railway Company), to whom Triton and Neptune are leased.

North Bay Railway

Above: The train setting off from Peasholm station (source)

A number of companies were involved with the construction of the trains and carriages, including Robert Hudson Ltd (Leeds), Hudswell Clark, Slingsby and Armstrong and subsequent additions and restorative work completed by Rail Restorations North East Limited, of Shildon. The original carriages have undergone much restoration to ensure their survival to the present day. Furthermore, the Patent Enamel Company provided the station boards whilst advertising boards and posters were provided by LNER (London and North Eastern Railway).

North Bay Railway

Above: Passengers enjoy the picturesque Manor Gardens (source)

However, after only a year of operation disaster struck. In 1932, 10 July, a collision occurred at the now disused Beach station, overlooking the North Bay.

Driver Herbert Carr, only 25, lost his life, and numerous passengers were injured. Thankfully when a similar accident occurred in 1948, everyone survived and injuries were minimal.

On July 6, 1940, the attraction closed until Easter 1945. WWII no doubt led many to fear a repeat of the bombardment that occurred during WWI, and securing coastal defences took priority over the running of the railway. Interestingly enough, the small tunnel in Manor Gardens gained a new function – as a place for the Royal Naval School of Music to store their musical instruments whilst operating from the nearby Norbreck Hotel.

North Bay Railway

Above: The tunnel at Northstead Manor Gardens (source)

The railway was acquired from Scarborough Council in 2007 by the North Bay Railway Company, who also now operate the Water Chute, Boating Lake, Sky Trail and more. Thanks to their continuing hard work, the miniature railway still delights passengers today, and aspiring train drivers can even book a session at the controls.

North Bay Railway

Above: The train and the water chute in the background (source)

There are plenty of stories to be told about the railway – any memories are very welcome, as are corrections, additional details and so on.

Please comment below or get in touch via the Facebook Page.

Sources

North Bay Railway’s website

A short history of the North Bay Railway

In-depth history of the attraction here

Scarborough Civic Society

Materials held at the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library

 

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