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.
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.
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.
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.
Old newspaper articles held at the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library