Holbeck Hall And Scarborough Millennium

When Millennium officially opened in Scarborough at the start of June 1993, the attraction’s creator, Henry Marshall, issued an unusual statement:

This week [in Scarborough] we have had a death in the family….but we have also had a birth, with the Millennium.

(Scarborough Evening News, Wednesday June 9th, 1993)

The death he refers to is not of a person, but a landmark.

Holbeck Hall Hotel – a large Victorian building that stood on a cliff on the southern edge of Scarborough – collapsed during a landslide in June 1993. You can view pictures of what happened by clicking here.

This dramatic event made headlines across the UK, and somewhat overshadowed the opening of Scarborough’s newest attraction: Millennium.

Above: The opening of the new Millennium attraction coincided with the loss of Holbeck (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

Built in 1879, by George Alderson Smith, Holbeck Hall was originally designed as a private residence.  Smith was reputedly warned about the unstable location of his new abode, but built it nonetheless. Fortunately for him, the prophesied problems arrived well over a century later, by which point the hall had become a hotel, owned by English Rose Hotels. The landslide began on June 3rd, following heavy rainfall, which eventually precipitated the collapse of the building two days later. Parts of the hotel fell into the sea, and the remainder was later demolished.

Although Millennium had been open to the public since the end of May, the official opening was scheduled only days after the collapse of Holbeck.

Consequently Henry Marshall found himself competing for publicity as local (and national) press became flooded with the tale of the disaster.

Above: A voucher for the new attraction, which was competing for coverage in the local press (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

Although the official opening of the attraction occurred on June 9th, visitors were able to sample ‘1000 years of Scarborough history’ in the preceding week also. Marshall worked hard on a comprehensive publicity campaign, which included invites sent to 36,000 primary and secondary schools across the country, with bookings pouring in from as far afield as Aberdeen and Kent. Schools in Peterborough and Buckinghamshire were the first to secure their places, but the very first visitors were in fact two ladies from Batley, who happened to be holidaying in Scarborough at the time the attraction opened!

Above: A visitor guide profiles the attraction (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

Local hoteliers were also invited to sample the attraction, and Marshall injected some star quality by securing the support of famous Scarborian playwright Alan Ayckbourn, who created characters and scripts for the museum guides. Each guide assumed a fictional persona, based upon a different historical period.

Above: Millennium sought to emulate Scarborough’s historical characters (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

Millennium lasted almost a decade, eventually closing in 2001. It was particularly popular amongst children and schools, and even featured in the famous children’s television show Blue Peter. Strange to think that its early days were overshadowed by the tragedy of Holbeck Hall; the latter commemorated by an information board close to the site, whilst the former – the illustrious Millennium Museum – is now confined only to memory.

Above: The site of the landslip has since been re-landscaped (source)

Having said that, a road sign on Falsgrave Road still includes Millennium – a touching oversight that generates an unexpected tribute to the former museum and tourist attraction.

Do you remember Millennium?

Sources

All of the above information was sourced from old local newspaper articles held in the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library.

Inside The Millennium Experience

Until recently, Stories From Scarborough was struggling to find information about the Millennium Museum, which operated opposite Scarborough Harbour between 1993 and 2001. You can read more about it on the links below:

The Mysterious Millennium Museum (brief history and introduction)

A Viking House in the Millennium Museum: Fact or Fiction? (Viking references in the museum)

Now, thanks to Leonie (who also shared this video of Atlantis), a much more complete picture of the attraction can be compiled. She has kindly uploaded a series of photographs and promotional material onto the brand new Stories From Scarborough Flickr Page.

If you are interested in uploading/donating material to this page, please comment below to receive more details.

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More information can be found by reading the Disclaimer Page.

Anyway, back to the Millennium Experience.

During its heyday in the 1990s, Millennium won several awards and was much praised by visitors. The promotional material depicts a thrilling attraction for all the family:

Above: Millennium Advert in a visitor guide from 1995 (source)

The museum marketed itself as a ‘time travel experience’ and was ambitious in its goal to represent all the many historical faces of Scarborough – some, such as the town’s supposed Viking origins, based more on speculation and popular myth than proven fact.

Above: More about Millennium from the 1995 guide (source)

On the top left you can just about see where Millennium was once located. Amusements now occupy the building that stands opposite Scarborough Harbour. On the bottom right you can see some of the many waxwork figures, designed to illustrate Scarborough’s former occupants, from famous monarchs to the everyday people who occupied the town during its days as a humble fishing village.

Above: A medieval banquet – reference perhaps to the town’s famous castle? (source)

Below: A creepy fortune teller? (source)

Prior to the popularisation of British seaside holiday during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, coastal economies primarily rested upon the fishing industry.

Above: A waxwork fish merchant (source)

Below: Another model, hard at work (source)

The Millennium Experience was no ordinary museum – seeking to emulate York’s successful Jorvik Centre, the attraction prioritised reconstructed scenes over relics in glass cases. It boldly sought to bring the history of Scarborough into one small building, mixing fact with supposition, and providing an engaging and imaginative experience of times gone by.

Above: A flyer including the Millennium ticket design (source)

Sadly, in spite of receiving praise from visitors, Millennium was short-lived; another victim of the town-wide cull of children’s attractions that occurred during the early to mid 2000s. Other victims of falling visitor numbers and struggling finances included Marvel’s, Kinderland and Atlantis.

The above images are just a small selection of materials from Leonie’s collection – more to come in subsequent posts.

All that remains is to say a huge thank you to Leonie, and indeed all those who have contributed memories so far. Without public contributions attractions such as the Millennium Experience risk slowly fading into obscurity. If you are reading this and remember a photograph, souvenir or even a memory that you may have stored away somewhere, please get in touch.

All submissions are treated with the utmost care – anything you submit can be removed at any time, and you retain full ownership of the material.

A Viking House at the Millennium Museum: Fact or Fiction?

Like York’s famous Jorvik Centre, the Millennium Museum in Scarborough enthusiastically celebrated the town’s supposed Viking origins.

millenniumviking

Above: A waxwork Viking making tools at the Millennium Museum (source)

Below: A similar exhibit at the Jorvik Museum (source)

The museum’s waxworks and wooden scenery included a Viking house, complete with a family of inhabitants, illustrating the alleged founding of a settlement in Scarborough by the Viking raider Skarthi.

Skarthi, otherwise known as Thorgills Ogmundarson, is said to have given the town it’s early name – Skarthaburg, from which modern-day equivalent Scarborough is derived. More recently alternative claims have indicated Anglo-Saxon origins, with the town’s name referring to ‘the hill with the fort’.

Above: The Viking connection even inspired Scarborough rides, such as the one above from 1987 (source)

Indeed, in spite of the popular belief that Scarborough was founded by Vikings – there is little firm evidence to support this claim. Certainly there seems to have been various early settlements in the area, dating back to the Bronze and Stone Ages – and a Roman signal station in the fourth century.

Above: Details of another Roman signal station in nearby Filey (source)

Although Scarborough’s pre-Middle Ages colonisation is unclear, parts of North and East Yorkshire certainly received visits from Viking raiders. As already mentioned, York has created a popular museum inspired by early Scandinavian invaders, whilst Hull had a speedway team named after them.

Above: Hull’s speedway team alluded to the city’s Viking history (source)

Likewise, Scarborough RUFC has also adopted ‘the Vikings’ as its moniker. Certainly, the idea of a Viking Scarborough is an appealing one, not least given the glamorisation of Vikings by popular culture and legend. They are often depicted as fierce, savage warriors, complete with horned helmets, long blonde locks and primitive weapons – popular inspiration for fancy dress costumes and films.

Above: Viking stereotypes in an Asterix cartoon feature film (source)

Historical sources unsurprisingly paint a more complex picture – for instance weaponry was much more sophisticated than the crude hammers and axes brandished by cartoon characters and Hollywood actors in traditional epics.

Above: The Vikings (1958 film) – plenty of fighting and basic weapons (source)

Nor did all Viking warriors have blonde hair – whilst this is thought to have been the ideal (some bleached their hair), their exploits across various regions (including establishing settlements as far away as North Africa and Russia) resulted in a diverse population. Indeed, the term Viking itself refers to one participating in a seafaring expedition, rather than denoting a specific geographical region of origin.

Above: A Viking sailing vessel at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway (source)

Given this propensity for travel, it is of course plausible that Vikings may have at one time passed through or even settled in Scarborough. It is also plausible that these claims are exaggerated – tourism websites proudly profess this Viking heritage without the backing of substantial evidence. Indeed, it is thought that the link was originally made back in the 1960s – a reference to an 1000 year old Icelandic/Viking Saga.

Above: Section from an Icelandic Saga – these prose histories described events in the tenth and eleventh centuries and earlier (source)

Regardless of who settled in Scarborough first, and when, the Millennium Museum no longer offers any argument either way. The exhibits, which also included King Edward I’s castle (complete with loo and smell machine!) were sold and the attraction closed down in 2001.

Above: The real Scarborough Castle – once owned by King Edward I, who held court there on several occasions (source)

History itself is never completely objective –  tourist organisations and businesses in particular have strong investments in popular myths and legends.  After all, these stories bring people (and their money) to places such as Scarborough. Stories From Scarborough aims to explore some of these tales – not necessarily to separate the fact from the fiction, but to demonstrate that myths, legends and misconceptions are just as much a part of history as archaeological finds and official documents.

Do you have anything to add about the origins of Scarborough? Is the Viking story a myth? Did you ever visit the Viking House in the Millennium Museum? Share your thoughts below.

Sources

English Heritage

BBC History

Yorkshire England Site

Medieval Scarborough: Studies in Trade and Civic Life

Jorvik Museum Website

The Yorkshire Post