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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Scarborough Spa and the First British Seaside Resort: Part I

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 here.

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Above: The Scarborough Spa Complex (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

It happened by chance, in about 1626, when a Mrs. Farrer discovered natural springs bubbling out beneath the cliff to the south of Scarborough. She saw that the waters stained the rocks a reddish-brown colour and that it tasted slightly bitter. The spring water was later found to cure minor ailments.

Mrs. Farrer was the wife of one of Scarborough’s leading citizens, John Farrer who was several times Bailiff of Scarborough.

When she told her neighbours and friends about the beneficial effects, they too drank the waters, and this became a widely accepted medicine for local townspeople.

The mineral waters were analysed by medical professionals and found to contain a high level of magnesium sulphate – its healing properties were just as effective as Andrews’ Liver Salts are today.

Dr Robert Wittie of Hull was the main medical supporter promoting the mineral waters and in 1660 he published his book “Scarborough Spa”, in which he proclaimed the waters as a cure for all ills. He recommended that the waters were best drunk in the summer season, mid-May to mid-September. He also began promoting the health benefits of sea bathing, and by the middle of 1660 the resulting publicity made the town’s wells famous.

Scarborough developed not only as a fashionable spa town but as the original English seaside resort. “Taking the Water” quickly became a popular medicine, and attracted a flood of visitors to the town

The first Spa House was built on or near this site in about 1700. This basic wooden structure designed for the sale and dispensing of the waters, and to provide basic amenities to visitors. The water was also bottled and sold further afield. Dickie Dickinson was appointed the first Governor of the Spa and was responsible for keeping order and collecting money from visitors. 

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Above: Dickie Dickinson, first Governor of the Spa (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

All went well until a massive landslide buried the Spa House, conveniences and the springs in 1737. Fortunately the water source was quickly located again, and in 1739 a sizeable building or saloon was built. This offered fine views over the sea and a long flight of stairs to reach the wells.

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Above: The Spa, depicted in a plate from the Poetical Sketches of Scarborough, 1813 (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Scarborough was now well established as a seaside resort and Spa town providing every fashionable amenity. There was a Long Room in St Nicholas Street that provided nightly dancing, music, gaming tables and billiards. In the afternoon, plays were acted under the management of Mr. Kerregan in 1733, and from 1776, evening performances were given in the theatre.

There was also a whole range of accommodation to suit every pocket – board and lodgings, rooms at inns and hostelries, a Georgian house for rent, and later, top quality hotels. Tourists could visit coffee shops and bookshops with circulating libraries, and, enjoy the added attractions of horse racing on the beach, alongside boating and sea-bathing. Scarborough was one of the first places, if not the first, to use bathing machines.

(You can read Sarah’s article on Sea Bathing by clicking here for Part I and here for Part II)

During its Victoria heyday the Spa was considered the most popular music hall venue outside London. The first orchestra appeared in the 1830s, but a series of mishaps and disasters plagued the Spa each time redevelopment occurred. The initial saloon was damaged by heavy seas in 1808, but the worst storm; according to some, of the century, devastated the building, which, as a result, had to be completely re-build in 1836.

Before this disaster, such was the Spa’s popularity, that in 1827 the iron Cliff Bridge was erected across the valley, giving easier access from the cliff and the town, where elegant hotels and Georgian lodging houses were becoming popular.

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Above: The Cliff Bridge across the valley (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

The completion of the new “Gothic Saloon”, designed by Henry Wyatt, was opened in 1839 and included a concert hall to seat 500, a garden, promenade and an external area in which orchestras were to perform. However, by the time it opened, the impressive turreted building, was already too small. Consequently, Sir Joseph Paxton, the landscape gardener and architect responsible for the grounds of Chatsworth, Derbyshire and the Crystal Palace, London was called in to redesign the complex. The new, improved venue officially opened in 1858.

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Above: The Gothic Saloon (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

To be continued…

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! Look out for Part II, coming soon.


Sea Bathing and the First Bathing Machine at Scarborough: Part II

This is the second part of an article originally published in the Yorkshire Journal (Spring Issue, 2012) by Sarah Harrison. She has kindly given permission for her work to be republished here. You can read Part I by clicking here.

Article Summary:

Scarborough rapidly became a fashionable spa town and the first original English seaside resort after the discovery, in about 1626, (by a Mrs. Farrer) of natural mineral springs at South Bay. It also saw the arrival of the first bathing machines in 1735. “Taking the Waters” quickly became Scarborough’s accepted medicine and its fame promptly spread.

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Above: This photo was taken by the well known photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe in about 1905. He has captured a crowed scene on the sands at Scarborough’s South Bay. Scarborough Castle and harbour can be seen in the distance. At the edge of the sea are a number of bathing machines and beyond, swimmers can be seen in the sea. There are stalls on the sands and two horse riders on the Foreshore. (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

The bathing machine was a mobile changing room for swimmers, it allowed people to change out of their usual clothes into their bathing costume and then wade into the sea from beaches. They were wooden carts with four big wheels, steps and small windows. In fact, there were many different designs, ranging from Royalty to the basic bathing machines which were to be seen on the majority of beaches. Some had a small flag which could be raised by the bather as a signal to the driver that they were ready to return to shore.

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Above: Bathing machines line the beach at high tide in the North Bay at Scarborough. Above the line of bathing machines can be seen Scarborough’s North Pier stretching a thousand feet into the North Sea. It opened in 1868 and in January 1905, the pier was wrecked in a severe gale. Above the pier stands Scarborough Castle on the headland which divides Scarborough into two bays, North Bay and South Bay (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

Below: Bathing machines on the sands and edge of the sea at Scarborough’s South Bay. A fisher woman with two baskets full of sea food can be seen in the foreground and fishing boats in full sail out at sea. Photo courtesy of NYCC Unnetie Digital Archive (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

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The machines were pulled by horses to the edge of the water or even into it, if the waves and tide permitted. When the machine stopped the bathers inside emerged through a doorway from the back of the machine directly into the water hidden from the view of others. After they had had enough time in the water they could re-enter the bathing machine, dry off, change back to their street clothing and be wheeled back to the rental establishment on the beach, emerging fully dressed and avoiding the stares of the crowd.


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Above: North Bay at Scarborough, looking north towards Scalby Mills. The north promenade and beach bungalows, which can just been seen on the left, were erected just before World War 1. Here a summer crowd enjoy the new facilities and the days of bathing machines are coming to an end. Photo courtesy of NYCC Unnetie Digital Archive (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

Bathing machines were rented out by operators whose livelihood depended not only on the renting of bathing machines, but also deck chairs, bathing suits and other beachfront paraphernalia. Their target market was the newly rising middle class and better off lower class holidaymakers, who now had the time and the transportation to go to the seaside once a year. The hiring charge for a bathing machine in 1770 varied from 9d for two or more gentlemen bathing by themselves to 1/6d for a gentleman taking a machine with a guide.

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Above: This old photo faces north towards Castle Hill, across a crowded beach that is full of holidaymakers and traders. Only three bathing machines can be seen. The nearest one has a raised flag indicating that the last bather had, had enough time in the water and had been returned to shore. Photo courtesy of NYCC Unnetie Digital Archive (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

The bathing machines remained in active use on beaches until the 1890s, when they began to go out of fashion. This was due to the ever-expanding nature of the bathing costume, first for women and then for men. The machines were then scrapped or became beach huts used as stationary changing rooms for a number of years. Legal segregation of bathing areas ended in 1901, and the bathing machine declined rapidly. Most of them went out of business and disappeared by 1914, but some have survived as a reminder of those prudish days.

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Above: The South Bay at Scarborough. To the north is Scarborough Castle and headland in the background. A number of bathing machines are at the water’s edge and three bathers can be seen next to one. Photo courtesy of NYCC Unnetie Digital Archive (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

Permanent, bathing/beach huts, first appeared in about 1910, but the idea of creating a series of cells in a permanent row was pioneered in Scarborough’s North Bay in 1911. This was followed closely at South Cliff in 1911-12. Beach huts represented a fundamental transformation from the wheeled bathing machines previously used, where people changed in private and modestly lowered themselves into the sea almost unseen. Beach huts were built well above the high tide mark which reflects changing ideas about social decorum: getting changed for bathing, in a hut at the top of the beach, and walking to the sea in full view became a new, liberating activity.

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Above: Brightly-painted beach huts, North Bay, Scarborough (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

Sources

For a full list of acknowledgements, and to see the article in its original format, please visit the Yorkshire Journal (Spring, 2012). All copyright retained by the author.

Many thanks to Sarah for sharing this article with Stories From Scarborough!