The Grand Opening of Peasholm Park

Peasholm Park is one of Scarborough’s best loved and longest running attractions. From its conception in the early 1900s by Borough Engineer Harry W. Smith, the park has offered much to visitors, from features inspired by China and Japan, to lively naval re-enactments in the summer.

Peasholm Park

Above: Peasholm Park (source)

When the park officially opened, on June 19, 1912, an unnamed journalist from the Yorkshire Post wrote a beautiful piece in the paper (Thursday June 20, 1912) about the park, its construction and the opening, selections of which are included here, as impressions of Peasholm Park during its earliest days of operation.

Peasholm Park

Above: Peasholm Park during the early years (source)

Described as “an excellent bit of landscape gardening”, the article describes a site measuring 11.5 acres – 8 of which were purchased from the Crown (as part of the Northstead Estate) and a private firm, and the rest from the Corporation, which acquired the land “some years ago for allotments and other purposes.”

Apparently the site, known locally as Tucker’s Field, had also been used as a rubbish dump.

Laying out began in December 1911, and 60 men were employed to work on the park over the winter. By summer 1912, “residents have marvelled at the change brought about in so short time”, and the article notes that:

An outstanding feature of the park is a good-sized ornamental lake, with islands and waterfall, and a chain of smaller lakes extending at different levels up the glen, the total water area being 4.5 acres and the average depth 3ft.

(from the Yorkshire Post, Thursday June 20, 1912)

This was a much simpler park than that of today.

Peasholm Park

Above: Peasholm Park – a view of the lake (source)

Furthermore, the process of creating the park uncovered some fascinating historical remains:

Archaeology has something to say in this improvement. It is stated that the larger lake is over the site of the Manor of Northstead, the stewardship of which is sometimes assigned to members of Parliament wishing to retire. In the course of the excavations the foundations of ancient buildings were unearthed.

What looked like the base of a tower bore traces of Norman origin, as did also the remains of a fireplace, built with tiles laid in herring-bone fashion similar to that seen in the Keep of Scarborough Castle. Small portions of painted glass of the 15th century were found, a large number of stone tiles, a silver penny of the reign of Edward II, a bronze spur, and many broken fragments of medieval pottery.

The remains showed that the whole of the buildings were surrounded by a wall enclosing a considerable area of ground, extending up the sides and across the large mound, which now forms the main island in the lake, and of which traces can still be seen.

Unfortunately the whole of these foundations could not be left exposed to view, as they were much below the water level of the lake. But the plan of them has been made, and will be preserved. Some portions of the tower foundations project above the water line.

(from the Yorkshire Post, Thursday June 20, 1912)

The author then goes on to describe the park in more detail.

The large island in the lake is of natural formation and rises above the water level to a height of some 45 feet. It has been ornamentally planted, and a series of winding walks lead to the top, from which there is a charming view of the district. The smaller island was formed out of material excavated to form the lake, and is intended as a refuge for the waterfowl.

The lagoon between the large and small islands is planted with a varied assortment of water lilies and other aquatic plants.The lake has been stocked with some 2,000 fish, chiefly perch, roach and tench, and it is intended later on to issue tickets for fishing.

A very pretty Japanese wooden bridge connects the island with  the mainland. A small shelter or arbour of quant design has been built. A boat-house of Japanese design  with landing stage is raised over the lake on brick piers. The lake is fed from the brooklet which rises in Raincliffe Woods and runs through the Ravine, and enters the large lake over a double waterfall some 9 feet in length. This waterfall is flanked on either side with extensive rockeries, beautifully furnished with ornamental shrubs, the  large clumps of New Zealand flax being very conspicuous.

Boating without risk can be indulged in. There are three Canadian canoes, two pair-oared rowing skiffs, three single-oared skiffs, three dinghies and one large family boat. Only £2,000 has been spent in making this interesting transformation, including the part purchase of the land, boats, buildings, etc., and it is, therefore, one of the most effective and economical of improvements the town has seen.

(from the Yorkshire Post, Thursday June 20, 1912)

Peasholm Park

Above: The park later became a leafy paradise (source)

The opening, as with all new attractions in Scarborough during the late 1800s and early to mid 1900s, was of course a grand ceremonial affair:

The Mayor and Mayoress (Mr. and Mrs T.H. Good), accompanied the whole body of aldermen  and councillors in their scarlet and violet robes, and by the town officials, drove to the park from the Town Hall. At a rustic gateway the Mayoress untied a tricolour ribbon and declared the park open to the public. Alderman M. T. Whittaker, chairman of the Committeee which carried out the work, tendered to her the thanks of the Corporation, and in reply the Mayor observed that there was no health or pleasure resort in England where there were so many public parks and places of recreation and amusement as in Scarborough.

After these preliminaries, the Corporation forthwith took to the water. In other words, they had a trial trip on the boats round the lake, rowed by expert oarsmen. The stern of the boat in which the mayor and Mayoress, the Deputy Mayor, and the Town Clerk were seated,  sank deep in the water, and some onlookers feared lest civic dignity might be compromised by a capsize. But the entire voyage was made in safety.

(from the Yorkshire Post, Thursday June 20, 1912)

Peasholm Park

Above: Local dignitaries at the opening of Peasholm Park in 1912 (source)

In contrast with the veteran father of the Corporation appeared a little lady in a canoe, shading herself with an umbrella (Japanese, of course, to harmonise with bridge and boat-house), privileged to be there by a part she had played in the ceremony in presenting the mayoress with a bouquet. Stepping ashore, the company walked over the bridge and round the island, and then left to discharge the second ceremony of the afternoon.

(from the Yorkshire Post, Thursday June 20, 1912)

Peasholm Park

Above: A view of the lake and island – the pagoda was not constructed until 1929 (source)

The information in this post was obtained from an old edition of the Yorkshire Post (Thursday June 20, 1912) at the British Library and was verified by checking against various other sources used in the research for this project.

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Peasholm Park: A World Of Eastern Wonders?

Peasholm Park, in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, is notable for its Orient-inspired design features – the island pagoda, Chinese statues and suspended lanterns, just to name a few examples.

Peasholm Park

Above: Peasholm Lake and bridge (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

This picturesque park was designed in the early 1900s by Borough Engineer Harry W. Smith – creator of many of the seaside town’s landmarks (Floral Hall, the South Bay Pool and Northstead Manor Gardens for example), Peasholm Park was built on land that was formerly part of the Northstead Estate. More specifically, development focused on an area then called Tucker’s Field, transforming a muddy expanse into landscaped gardens.

Peasholm Park

Above: An early image of the new park, before the building of the pagoda (source)

Decades earlier, during the late 1800s, Victorian Britain had developed an obsession for the Far East, and designers eagerly appropriated styles imported from China, Japan and other then ‘exotic’ lands. Indeed, Scarborough’s aquarium was inspired by Hindu temples, and the Turkish Baths, also Eastern-inspired, would eventually become an Indian Village attraction in the early 1900s. Seaside towns sought to emulate far away places in the attractions they offered to visitors, although often perpetuated crude stereotypes in the process.

Peasholm Park

Above: Peasholm Park was not the only Eastern-inspired Scarborough attraction (source)

Even further back, Chinese pottery was much coveted by traders and consumers in the 1700s, so much so that English potters began to imitate their styles (Thomas Minton is typically credited with pioneering this approach). In order to sell this so-called Willow Pattern, Minton and his contemporaries imbued their designs with an exotic story – typically involving a wealthy mandarin and his daughter’s illicit love affair.

Peasholm Park

Above: Some of Peasholm’s subtle features (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Ironically enough, such stories were the inventions of enterprising English businessmen, such as Minton, and were not directly derived from authentic Chinese tales per se. Indeed, the Western world created a version of the Orient that romanticised its cultural traditions for consumers.

Peasholm Park

Above: Peasholm Park re-imagines the fictional landscape in which Minton’s story took place (source)

Harry W. Smith was inspired by the Willow Pattern story, and, reputedly also by the beauty of Japanese gardens and architecture. He sought to represent these various diverse threads of Eastern inspiration within the park, which opened on June 19th, 1912, following purchase of the land by the Scarborough Corporation during the preceding year.

Peasholm Park

Above: In 1927 the Naval Warfare display was launched at the park (source)

Smith wanted to create authentic-looking gardens, and therefore sought assistance from local alderman Colonel J.R. Twentyman – a Chinese connoisseur of sorts and recent purchaser of Kirby Misperton Hall (later Flamingoland).

Twentyman had hired Chinese and Italian workers to construct gardens and structures inspired by their respective countries within the grounds of his sprawling new home. He also commissioned statues and ornaments, a selection of which were purchased for Peasholm in 1931, and can still be seen today within the park.

The crowning jewel in Peasholm’s crown, however, was the impressive pagoda, which was designed by architect George W. Alderson and built in 1929. Illuminated at night, perched at the height of a cascading waterful, this imitation of a structure found in both China and Japan, excuded a mysterious aura. Sadly, in recent decades it has suffered attacks of vandalism, although has recently been restored anew.

Peasholm Park

Above: The magical illuminations and the pagoda (source)

Peasholm Park offers a glimpse into perceptions of Chinese (and Japanese) culture and design by Edwardian Britons. Whilst the park is worlds away from the lands it seeks to emulate, it nonetheless creates a striking visual experience for visitors.

Do you know anything more about Peasholm’s Eastern-inspired heritage? Or about the park in general? Please comment below or visit the Facebook Page for pictures, memories and more.

Sources

Friends of Peasholm Park

Scarborough Civic Society

This article by Dav White

Brief history of Kirby Misperton Hall (with reference to Colonel Twentyman)

More about the Willow Pattern here

Materials held at the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library