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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Before The North Bay Bathing Pool: The Northstead Estate

When the North Bay Bathing Pool opened in the summer of 1938, Scarborough’s North Bay was rapidly becoming a haven for holidaymakers.

Above: The North Bay Pool was also known as Scarborough Children’s Lake (source)

Across the road was the relatively new Peasholm Park, initially developed in 1912. Around the corner was a miniature railway, water chute and open air theatre, all part of the new Northstead Manor Gardens, or Pleasure Park, as it was then otherwise known.

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Above: The early days of Northstead Manor Gardens (from the author’s collection)

However, only a few decades earlier, this patch of land had looked very different indeed, nor was it even ‘officially’ part of Scarborough. Part of it was purchased by the Scarborough Corporation in 1911 for the development of Peasholm Park, and the remainder of the estate was bought by the same organisation in 1921. Prior to these transactions, Scarborough legally ‘ended’ at Peasholm Beck.

Above: Bridge over Peasholm Beck, now part of Peasholm Park (source)

There were no adventure playgrounds or water slides here – the land was used for more practical matters before the twentieth century arrived. Piggeries, allotments, farming – thick boggy mud and hard work. All of this seems an antithesis for what was to follow.

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Above: 1913 Northstead, in blue, before it became part of Scarborough, in pink (source)

The area in which the North Bay Bathing Pool later stood was known as Rawling’s Field. Located next to Tucker’s Field (which later became Peasholm Park), the site belonged to a Mr Rawling. A reader kindly contacted Stories From Scarborough to clarify this further:

This was a piece of land owned by my great grandfather’s brother – George Blackett Rawling (1853-1916) – who owned and managed the bathing machines on the North Bay in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  He sold the land to the then Scarborough Corporation for a few shillings (I understand).

Many thanks to Phil for getting in touch with this information, and also for sending an old newspaper article outlining the origins of the pool.

Rawling’s Field and Tucker’s Field once formed part of the sprawling Northstead Estate.

Above: Tucker’s Field, shortly before being developed into Peasholm Park began (source)

The origins of the estate are somewhat murky – some sources suggest that the area was originally named Hatterboard; the Northstead moniker emerging much later. Local friars gained permission to build a priory in the area in 1245, and the land was bestowed upon a series of noblemen before being purchased by King Richard III in the fifteenth century.King Richard reputedly favoured Scarborough and was the last known monarch to stay in the town’s castle.

Above: The earliest known portrait of Richard III (source)

At the centre of the Northstead estate stood a manor house, although few accounts describe it in any great detail:

At the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign ‘the Northstead’ had a ‘parliour,’ an old chamber reached by wooden stairs, and ‘a lowe house under it’ unfit for habitation; Sir Richard Cholmley’s shepherd dwelt in it until it fell down. Adjoining were an old decayed barn and the walls of other houses, which shortly afterwards fell, and an old chapel. Sir Richard Cholmley, lessee of Edward VI, used the timber of these decayed buildings to build ‘an hall house, adjoining it to the said parliour.’

(source)

A survey in 1650 did not record a manor house, with earlier reports suggesting that it may have fallen into disrepair. However, in spite of the lack of historical records, the construction of Peasholm Park in 1911 did reveal the remains of medieval buildings of a domestic nature, although little conclusive information could be deducted about their purpose or significance. These ruins were found in the centre of today’s Peasholm Lake.

Above: The lake at Peasholm Park (source)

Although the manor house disappeared long ago, the accompanying position – Stewardship of the Manor (of Northstead) remains an official one, bestowed upon MPs to relieve them of their duties.

Above: A plaque in Peasholm Park acknowledges the stewardship (source)

Northstead has indeed witnessed many transformations; from its early days as a medieval estate to its later manifestations as a magnet for seaside holidaymakers. Peasholm Park in particular is a lasting legacy of the latter, although its early neighbours – the North Bay Bathing Pool and the attractions located in and around the Northstead Manor Gardens, have endured mixed fortunes.

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Above: The North Bay Bathing Pool at night (source)

The opening of the North Bay Bathing Pool in 1938, for instance,  was reputedly a grand affair – with a band and underwater lighting. Likewise its transformation into Waterscene in 1984, featured a visit from holiday camp legend Fred Pontin. The succession of glitzy rebrandings was followed by closure in 2007. As the site fell into disrepair, and the bright blue slides faded, a return to the boggy fields of old was no longer so unlikely. However, the birth of the Military Adventure Park continued the evolution of the area, and new investment (including the redevelopment of the old outdoor theatre, and the updating carried out by the North Bay Railway company) is preserving what was once little more than a muddy field for generations of holidaymakers to come.

It has been difficult to verify some of the information in this post – if you know anything more about Northstead’s history, or have any thoughts or corrections, please comment below.

Sources

English Heritage

British History Online

Pastscape

Scarborough Book of Days

The National Archives