No Space-Ship For Us!

The 1950s saw the start of the infamous Space Race, which saw Russia and the U.S. compete to master spaceflight capability. The possibility of exploring space caught the imagination of many across the world, and this was the golden age of science fiction stories and films.

forbiddenplanet

Above: Science fiction stories were a big part of popular culture in the 1950s

Destination Moon, Them!, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Forbidden Planet introduced audiences to the possibility of alien worlds and beings from outer space. The Quatermass Experiment appeared on television from 1953, Journey into Space on BBC Radio (also in 1953) and there was clearly an appetite for these sorts of ideas and stories.

It was perhaps then, inevitable, that this fascination would inspire the British seaside holiday during its heyday.

Indeed, the seaside holiday had become a national institution in the twentieth century, enjoyed by people across Britain from all different walks of life. 1950s Scarborough was at the centre of this boom, and had been one of the country’s most popular and best known resorts for a considerable amount of time.

Foreshore

Above: A very busy Scarborough Foreshore during the early 1900s (source)

This was a good time to be the town’s Entertainment Manager, and Mr. Roy Pannell – the man with this prestigious job –  began 1953 with an exciting idea. He had seen a space ship ride in London, and wanted to bring a bigger and better version to Scarborough.  Interviewed by the Yorkshire Evening Post, on 28 Jan 1953, he described his bold vision:

“First,” he said, “one goes into a pressurised cabin and there is a lot of palaver with the shutting of airtight doors and the operating of other gadgets. When the lights go out you are looking at a large porthole, on which is projected a film. This will give the illusion that you are shooting up from the earth, passing stars and planets on the way to the moon.”

“The effect of the film is extraordinary. At the same time the floor on which one is standing is vibrating to give the sensation of movement.”

“In another compartment,” he said, “there would be six moving dioramas of life on the planets. There would be futuristic space cars moving along the roads and buildings and Martian men. By leaning over a rail in the room one would see the moving machinery of the ship. The space-ship pilot would explain all that was going on, and he would have contact by intercom telephone with his crew. Then the travellers would be taken into the cabin they first entered and the controls would be set for the return to earth – the film giving the effect of leaving the moon and going to earth.”

(Yorkshire Evening Post, 28 Jan 1953)

A site – the town’s West Pier – was quickly identified and permission secured from the Scarborough Corporation. The space-ship was to be 60ft long and 20ft high. However, the town’s fishing community were less convinced by these ambitious plans.

fishing

Above: Scarborough’s fishermen during the early twentieth century

Believing that the proposed attraction would ruin their place of work on the West Pier, they launched a staunch opposition. In February 1953, Mr. R. T. Blogg, secretary of the Scarborough Inshore Fisherman’s Society, sent a letter to Mr W. Alan Whytock, district inspector of Fisheries, Hull, protesting against the proposal for a £6,000 space-ship on the West Pier for holidaymakers.

fisher-girls

Above: For many, the pier was a place of work, not a place for leisure and entertainment

Mr Whytock forwarded Mr. Blogg’s letter to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Sir Thomas Dugdale.

Mr. Blogg’s letter stated:

“We do appeal to your Ministry to take up this matter with the Corporation and stop this infringement and allow the fishing industry to enjoy peaceful conditions. If this is not stopped, life will be unbearable down here and it will be most harmful to all those connected with the industry. One of the past permanent officials of the Ministry of Fisheries viewed with much concern the exploitation of the small fishery harbours by the municipalities….”

(The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 21 Feb 1953)

Ultimately, in one sense at least, the appeal was successful. The West Pier was ruled out as a potential site, but the space ship still made a timely arrival in Scarborough. It was instead placed at the Windmill site in time for the summer season of 1953.

Space Ship Ride

Above: The Space Ship ‘Anastasia’ on the seafront (source)

Nicknamed Anastasia, the spaceship was, in part, modelled on a legendary, but fictional, craft that featured in the Dan Dare stories. Dan Dare was a science fiction hero –  he starred in countless comic strip tales  as a dashing chief pilot of the Interplanet Space Fleet during the 1950s and 60s.

anastasia

Above: Dan Dare’s Anastasia

According to the articles in newspapers at the time, this was not the only space ride in Britain. As well as the one in London, which had inspired Mr. Pannell, there are mentions of similar rides in Leeds and Hove. They were also known as ‘Dan Dare’ rides, and might be considered as early precursors to the modern day simulator ride, in which audience seating moves to simulate participation in a projected film.

Do you remember this ride in Scarborough? Share your memories below.

Sources

Dan Dare website

British Newspaper Archive

Yorkshire Evening Post

The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer

 

 

 

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

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

 

A Little North Bay History

As previously mentioned here on the website, Peasholm Park, the North Bay Bathing Pool, and much of the surrounding land, were once all part of the large Northstead Estate.

North Bay Bathing Pool

Above: The former North Bay Bathing Pool (source)

The roads, landscaped gardens and footpaths of today were once fields accommodating livestock.

One – upon which the North Bay Bathing Pool was later built – was known as Rawling’s Field. You can read more about it here, including an account by Mr Rawling’s great grandson.

The other, where Peasholm Park now stands, was referred to as Tucker’s Field. Andrew, great grandson of Mr Tucker himself, was kind enough to share some more details about this area’s pre-Peasholm Park history:

A little about peasholm Park and Tuckers field. My Great grandfather John Tucker of Tennyson avenue used to rent the land known as Tuckers field . He kept livestock and chickens there . Also family stories tell that he used to charge people to ice skate on the lake that formed in the winter when he dammed the small stream. There is a link here to a report about a theft from his land in 1907 which predates SBC buying the land .

The story describes two men –  Thomas E Luntley and Joseph Lindsay – being charged with stealing six ‘fowls’ from Mr Tucker. Luntley denied theft but admitted helping to take the birds away, apparently being drunk at the time.

Lindsay too blamed intoxication for his actions.

The report also includes a testament by an Inspector Henderson, who describes finding one of the hens concealed under a mattress at Lindsay’s house on Dumple Street, another having been taken away to Quay Street. The remaining birds were apparently thrown into the sea.

According to this source, Dumple Street, where Lindsay lived, historically suffered from a somewhat dubious reputation.

Both of the accused had already accrued multiple convictions in the past, and for their crime were sentenced to several months of hard labour.

However…

…the opportunity to steal livestock would not remain for long – only a few years later the construction of Peasholm Park would transform Tucker’s Field, after the Scarborough Corporation purchased the land.

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Above: Peasholm Park (from the author’s collection)

Indeed, Scarborough’s landscape has experienced such incredible transformations across the decades – the buying, selling and renting of land; the building, demolishing or abandoning of attraction structures – imagine all the stories that still lie hidden…

Sources

Scarborough News

Also many thanks to Andrew for sharing this story.

Hispaniola Stowaway!

The arrival of the Hispaniola in Scarborough during the summer of 1949 was preceded by a storm of excitement and anticipation. Children in particular were thrilled at the prospect of sailing on the famous pirate ship; star of Treasure Island. This quarter scale schooner was designed by a Mr B Lawrenson, and constructed by Charles Pearson Ltd – a company based in Hull.

Above: The Hispaniola sailing on the Mere (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

None more so than a little boy called George Colin Spurr. Aged only five years old, he eagerly travelled from his home at 6 Hinderwell Place to Scarborough Mere, every morning, at 6am, to await the arrival of the pirate ship. This early morning ritual was repeated daily across the fortnight preceding the launch of the boat. Scarborough Evening News, who reported the story, did not mention who (if anyone!) accompanied George on this ritualistic vigil.

Above: Scarborough Mere – where George waited (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

Fortunately for him, the Hispaniola did finally arrive at the Mere, and made its first voyage on Saturday, June 18th, 1949. And George was there, waiting; his presence described by onlookers as follows:

…a forlorn little figure in a sailor’s hat, navy blue raincoat and long overalls.

(Scarborough Evening News, June 18th, 1949)

The small boy’s obsession with all things nautical was no coincidence. His elder brother had recently served in the navy, and had apparently bequeathed his cap – emblazoned with the ship name HMS Barham – to his younger sibling. George proudly wore this cap during his trips to the Mere, and apparently planned to follow in his brother’s footsteps. Perhaps his dutiful watch for Long John Silver’s boat was a demonstration of his commitment to a future career at sea?

However, there was a flaw in George’s plan to sneak aboard the brand new ship – invitations for the maiden voyages were by council (Scarborough Corporation) invite only.

Fortunately passengers and crew decided to take the young lad aboard on one of the first trips to Treasure Island – as an official stowaway! One can’t help but wonder if the Hispaniola lived up to his high expectations…

Sources

All information in this post was sourced from old editions of local newspapers held at the Scarborough Room in Scarborough Library.

 

Grandeur And Glamour At The Corner Cafe

In the early 1900s a small shack stood at the corner near Peasholm Gap. Here visitors to Scarborough’s North Bay could buy refreshments, although the selection was somewhat limited.

Above: The old shack is shown on the postcard above (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

Peasholm Park had just been built, and the North Bay Bathing Pool (and nearby Northstead Manor Gardens) were yet to exist.

Above: Another view of the site in the early 1920s, as the area began to develop – (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

As Scarborough entered the 1920s, plans were brewing for an exciting new North Bay development; one which would eclipse the primitive shack and its meagre provisions.

Above: The site shortly before building began in the 1920s (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

The Corner Cafe was originally scheduled to open in 1924, but construction took longer than expected, due, according to the Scarborough Mercury, ‘untoward circumstances’. Apparently there was some disagreement regarding extensions and/or amendments to the original building plans. That aside, the opening in 1925 (June 5th to be exact) was a grand and lofty affair.

Above: The Corner Cafe in all its grandeur (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

The Mayor, Mayoress, Councillors and local dignitaries attended a civic ceremony, during which the building was opened with a golden key, and the manager’s daughter, Miss Betsy Riley, presented the Mayoress with a bouquet of flowers. A lengthy article in the Scarborough Mercury described the many speeches made in great length, and the various ‘labour-saving’ new kitchen devices that were demonstrated. These included machinery for dish-washing, and, for cutting and buttering bread electronically.

It is safe to say that all present were impressed by the splendid character of the building.

(Scarborough Mercury, June 5th, 1925)

The Corner Cafe structure was built from reinforced concrete with a front face of artificial stone, complete with bronze windows, leaded lights, counters for ‘the confectionery trade’, and, a soda fountain. There was ornamental trellis work designed to host resplendent floral displays, and also:

[a] dome…constructed of fibrous plaster in white and gold…six hundred fairy lamps…a floor of terrazzo [with a] bold ornamental design.

(Scarborough Mercury, June 5th, 1925)

Indeed, many paragraphs were devoted in local newspapers of the time to describing the cafe, which cost approximately £15,000 to build. That would amount to nearly £800, 000 today.

However, this was no ordinary humble cafe – this complex had a ballroom, a stage for an orchestra (and all kinds of live entertainment) and even spaces for shops.

The cafe boasted furniture of black, green and bronze, with enamelled cane and plate glass table tops, with enough space for 100 diners and room for 120 guests in the forecourt outside. The nearby soda fountain could accommodate 90, as could the ballroom, with the former characterised by its contrasting blue and white cane furniture. The staff were to be clothed in smart Corporation uniform, designed by Councillor Mrs Whitfield (and worn by all waitresses who worked for the forerunner of Scarborough Council back in the early 1900s). Even the crockery was emblazoned with the Borough coat of arms in blue, and it was from this that the first visitors to the cafe consumed their afternoon tea and listened to the orchestra in the brand new ballroom.

You can view the Borough Coat of Arms here.

By the 1990s the Corner Cafe, whilst still operational, was a shadow of its former self, and finally in 2007, the entire complex was demolished, to be replaced with another, ‘new’ development. Ballrooms, cane chairs and soda fountain have now been replaced by sea view flats, a convenience store and a modern cafe.

What do you think of the new corner complex? Do you remember the old one? Please comment or get in touch with thoughts, opinions and memories.

Sources

All information within this post was obtained from old copies of the Scarborough Mercury and the Scarborough News at the Scarborough Room in Scarborough Library.

 

 

Naval Warfare And The Hispaniola: A Link?

As Scarborough prepared itself for a lucrative summer season in 1949, residents of the town witnessed a very strange sight indeed. An image in the Scarborough Library archive collection depicts the bottom half of a ship being transported through the streets of the seaside town – advertisements on the side mention Jim Hawkins, Long John Silver and the Hispaniola; all stars of the famous fictional novel – Treasure Island.

Due to copyright restrictions Stories From Scarborough is unable to show the image here.

This was of course the beginning of one of Scarborough’s most enduring attractions – the Hispaniola.

yayhisp

Above: The Hispaniola on Scarborough Mere (from the author’s collection)

Meticulously built to match the descriptions in Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, the quarter scale schooner was transported from Hull to Scarborough Mere, where it spent nearly fifty years taking children to dig for gold doubloons on Treasure Island. Now it sails on the South Bay.

But who, exactly, built this incredible vessel?

Hull-based company Charles Pearson Ltd was charged with constructing the boat during the 1940s. The company still exists today as Pearson & Curtis – an engineering outfit based in Hull. The city has a long history of ship building dating back several centuries, so it is perhaps no surprise that such an exquisite boat as the Hispaniola would be built here.

hull7

Above: Hull’s shipbuilding industry was thriving in the early 1900s (from the author’s collection)

Back in the 1940s, the company was listed as ‘boat builders and ship riggers’ and it appears that Pearson trained as a sail or mast maker. Exactly how he got the job of building the Hispaniola is unclear, but this was not the only boat that Charles Pearson’s company gave to Scarborough – it also provided a number of the miniature ships used in the Naval Warfare displays at Peasholm Park. These vessels were much smaller than the Hispaniola, and evoked a much more recent period in history.

navalwarfare

Above: Miniature boats battle it out on Peasholm Park Lake (from the author’s collection)

Peasholm Park opened only a few years before the outbreak of WWI, but the naval displays did not actually begin until 1927. A small fleet of miniature boats; each with an operator inside, sailed across the park lake enacting battle scenes from the (then) recent conflict. Whilst earlier models emulated WWI battleships (such as Dreadnoughts) later boats enacted famous scenes from WWII, including the Battle of the River Plate. A submarine and cruisers were also added.

You can view a video of the display from 1960 by clicking here.

It is unclear whether or not Mr Pearson provided Peasholm’s warships from the outset, but it is certain that at least some (if not all) of the boats in the history of the Naval Battles were constructed by his company. The original fleet was all man-powered, although from 1929 onwards electricity gradually began to take over – to the point that most are now controlled remotely (with a few exceptions). The Hispaniola, on the other hand, was, until 1993, sailed by pirates.

Above: One of the miniature boats out on an early season test drive this year (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

All of the aforementioned vessels are characterised by a meticulous attention to detail, and an enduring presence within Scarborough’s entertainment history. Even today, passengers still ride the Hispaniola, and audiences flock to see the mock battle displays in Peasholm Park. One can’t help but wonder about the man or men who built these fantastic models. How involved was Charles Pearson himself? Who worked for him, and ostensibly helped build the boats in question? What brought him to the attention of the Scarborough Corporation? The corporation’s entertainments manager, George Horrocks, was responsible for bringing these attractions to Scarborough, so perhaps he had links with the Pearson company?

Either way, Charles Pearson Ltd was no ordinary shipbuilding company – its employees and owner still fostered a boyish delight in constructing miniature models – this love and craftsmanship continues to secure the lasting popularity of Scarborough’s miniature boats, including the Hispaniola.

Want to contribute a memory of the Hispaniola? Or the Naval Battle at Peasholm Park? Please comment below or get in touch.

Sources

Peasholm Naval Battle

Peasholm Park Website

Scarborough Heritage

Old newspaper articles held at the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library

 

The Hispaniola: Did You Know…?

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.

Scarborough Aquarium: Did You Know…?

Scarborough Aquarium opened in 1877 beneath the Cliff Bridge in Scarborough. It was re-named Gala Land in 1925 and was eventually demolished in 1968 (after closing in 1966) to make way for an underground car park. You can read more about it on the following links:

Gala Land

Captain Webb At Scarborough Aquarium

The Armless Wonder And The Empress Of The Sea

This post brings together a number of short stories and facts about the aquarium – odds and ends which don’t quite make a complete article on their own.

So, without further ado, did you know that…

1) The original idea was to build medicinal baths…

Above: The site before the aquarium (source)

Scarborough’s popularity as a seaside resort originally derived from the perceived medicinal qualities of its air and water, therefore it is unsurprising that the committee behind the aquarium had originally hoped to cash in on this reputation. However, these original plans proved too expensive, and the aquarium was built instead. Ironically the attraction ended up losing large amounts of money, and even the efforts of successful entrepreneur William Morgan only secured temporary success for the palatial venue.

*EDIT* The medicinal baths plans actually came much later. After purchasing the aquarium in 1925, the Scarborough Corporation originally hoped to convert the attraction into aforementioned baths. The changes were too expensive, therefore the venue became Gala Land instead.

2) The building was used as a drill hall during WWI…

Following the closure of the aquarium (the company was liquidated in 1914), troops commandeered the space for training exercises. Apparently some of the opulent architecture (designed by Eugenius Birch back in the 1800s) were damaged during this period, due to the heavy duty training that took place there. Nonetheless, the Scarborough Corporation decided to buy and restore the building after the war, renaming it Gala Land.

scarbcorp

Above: Members of the Scarborough Corporation in an undated photograph (from Some Scarborough Faces – Past and Present, 1901)

3) The aquarium opened with a grand concert…

On Whit Monday in 1877, the venue opened with music from Leeds Harmonic, Glee and Madrigal Union at the cost of one shilling per ticket. The previous Saturday a private opening had been held for Scarborough residents, and featured music from the Band of Yorkshire Militia.

Above: An early Victorian shilling – the equivalent of a modern day 5p piece, which certainly wouldn’t cover the costs of a concert ticket today! (source)

4) There were lions and tigers…

Scarborough Aquarium hosted an array of exotic animals following William Morgan’s takeover, including lions, tigers, monkeys and birds. Stories From Scarborough has as yet been unable to ascertain how long and under what conditions these animals were kept at the venue. The lions and tigers were a later addition, joining the newly expanded Zoo section in 1913, only a year before the aquarium closed at the start of the war.

aquarium

Above: Illustration of exotic creatures and the grand aquarium interior from an unnamed article held at Scarborough Library (without the publication name it has not been possible to identify the exact source)

5) One of the elephants got angry…

A performing elephant at the aquarium attempted to attack an audience member who resembled a former trainer. Apparently said trainer had not enjoyed a good relationship with said elephant; the latter apparently seeking revenge on an innocent lookalike. Below is the original text from the 1889 Manchester Guardian.

The beast in question, while going through a performance, saw among those present Mr. Philburn, a detective in the local police. He unfortunately bears a strong facial resemblance to a former keeper of the elephant, with whom the creature had quarrelled, and he was for some time viewed by the offended pachyderm with that “disgust concealed” which, according to Cowper, “is ofttimes proof of wisdom”. But even an elephant may feel that it is surfeited with wisdom. Hence the performing beast at Scarborough gradually sidled up to Mr. Philburn and “went” for him with fearful trumpeting. The victim of the animal’s mistaken fury was badly hurt, and he is scarcely likely to endorse the popular impression that elephants are creatures of shrewd perspicacity. Vengeance, however, is not a sentiment that usually harmonises even in the human subject with these excellent but prosaic qualities.

(source)

6) There was also a theatre…

Victorian and Edwardian visitors were treated to performances from the likes of Miss Flo Everette and her Clever Canine Pets, Mr Walter Wade (Lady Impersonator), Zasma the acrobat and Professor Deveno (conjurer and juggler). Miss Ada Webb, Captain Webb and Unthan (The Armless Wonder) have already been mentioned, but other more mysterious acts included the Clock Eyed Lady, Madam Leva (The Electric Lady) and Professor Finney (perhaps a magician of some sort?).

Above: A visualisation of the Clock-Eyed Lady drawn by the author (Copyright: Sarah Coggrave)

7) The venue was known ‘The Umbrella’…

This title emerged during the early 1900s, and became a popular nickname for the aquarium, which not only resided underground, but was also a source of alternative entertainment during the inevitable rainy days that blight British summertime.

Do you know any facts about the old Scarborough Aquarium? Are any of the above false or misreported? Stories From Scarborough wants to hear your views – please comment below or email.