Thomas Warwick’s Revolving Tower(s)

Between 1898 and 1907, a tall, rotating, observation tower stood on Scarborough’s North Cliff, not far from the town’s iconic castle. It was known as Warwick’s Tower.

Pier, Castle and Revolving Tower from Albert Drive

Above: A view of the tower from Albert Drive, including the pier and the castle (source)

Revolving towers were a quirky fad of the late 1800s and early 1900s. A number of Britain’s most popular seaside towns had their own, with an observation deck and views of the nearby landscape. Morecambe, Great Yarmouth, Scarborough and others, eager to capitalise on the British seaside holiday boom, sought new and exciting attractions with which to tempt eager holidaymakers.

But where did the idea of a revolving tower come from?

The idea was originally conceived in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the U.S., where the first structure of this nature was created. American engineers and inventors sought out bigger and better ways to transport visitors into the sky, from ferris wheels at fairs and beaches to skyscrapers in cities.

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Above: An early example of the rotating tower

It was within this climate of ambition and adrenaline, that a Methodist preacher called Jesse Lake invented the revolving observation tower, after developing a fascination with machinery during his youth. Once built, the structure at Atlantic City was steel framed and 125 feet tall, with a pavilion below for amusements, games, exhibitions and waxworks.

However, Lake never patented his design.

In the late 1800s enterprising Englishman Thomas Warwick travelled to the U.S and came back with an American wife, and a burning ambition to reproduce Lake’s ambitious revolving tower. A London engineer by trade, Warwick cannily patented the revolving observation tower in 1894, ensuring that his company would be the sole provider of these strange structures across the country. The design was based on a moving platform, powered by a mixture of steam and weights, and raised via a steel cable.

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Above: Great Yarmouth’s tower – which proved to be the longest-running and most successful

Great Yarmouth pioneered the British version in 1897, closely followed by Morecambe and Scarborough 1898. The towers rose 150 feet over the landscape and accommodated 200 visitors at a time.

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Above: The view from Great Yarmouth’s tower

The towers encountered mixed fortunes – following the initial novelty, the Douglas Tower was destroyed by fire in 1900, only a year after opening. The Morecambe version was taken down when Warwick’s company folded in 1902, whereas Scarborough’s version struggled on for several more years.

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Above: There was also a revolving tower at Cleethorpes

Great Yarmouth, the first revolving tower in the U.K., also proved to be the most resilient, with a local business formed specially to save it. It lasted until 1941, in spite of being plagued with faults during the interwar years. During WWI, regulations meant that the tower unable to operate after dark, leading to a loss of profits.

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Above: The tower at Cleethorpes was converted into a ride

Before the tower at Cleethorpes succumbed to demolition, it was converted into a ride. Passenger cars, shaped like boats, where attached to the moving platform with chains, and operated as a fairground ride of sorts. But what about Scarborough’s tower?

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Above: A view of the tower from Clarence Gardens, shortly before its demolition (source)

Warwick’s creation attracted controversy in Scarborough from the beginning – although initially popular it was soon deemed an eyesore, and fell into disrepair after Warwick’s company was dissolved in 1902. Finally one man – Alfred Shuttleworth – actively financed the demolition process, which began in 1906 and was finally completed by 1907, shortly after the nearby pier (which also experienced mixed fortunes) was destroyed by a storm in 1905.

Indeed, the seaside attraction business was, and still is, a ruthless one…

Sources

Easdown, M. (2012) Amusement Park Rides, Shire Publications, Oxford, U.K.

Randl, C. (2008) Revolving Architecture: A History of Buildings That Rotate, Swivel, and Pivot, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, U.S.

Scarborough News

Woodhouse, R. (2013) The Scarborough Book of Days, The History Press, Stroud, U.K.

Sensational Swimmers and Daring Divers

From the Turkish Baths to the South Bay Pool, Scarborough has long provided visitors with places to swim, bathe and even watch aquatic acrobatics.

South Bay Bathing Pool

Above: The South Bay Pool (source)

The Scarborough Aquarium had its very own subterranean pool, and the North Bay Pool was once compared to a mediterranean paradise, before being transformed into an oasis of slides and fountains.

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Above: Waterscene – later Water Splash World and Atlantis, formerly the North Bay Bathing Pool (source)

Nor must the pool at Scarborough Zoo be forgotten, although it is now acknowledged to be less than adequate in size for the dolphins that performed there.

Dolphins at Scarborough Zoo

Above: A dolphin emerges from the pool at Scarborough Marineland and Zoo (source)

Swimming and diving have never been purely recreational – indeed, the South Bay Pool was redeveloped in 1935 to accommodate growing audiences for aquatic shows, and the North Bay Pool opened only a few years later with a grand display of diving and acrobatics.

South Bay Pool

Above: Note the diving board and seating for audiences at the South Bay Pool (source)

Featured in this article are the stories of three exceptional female swimmers, all in some way connected with Scarborough, famed for their mastery of the water and noted for their athleticism.

Miss Gertie Perkin (active late 1800s, early 1900s)

Gertie, short for Gertrude, was a swimming instructor, pier diver and competitive athlete, who performed, taught and competed at the beginning of the twentieth century. She is described in the Yorkshire Evening Post as follows:

…a well-known expert and instructress in swimming and physical culture. Miss Perkins holds the Royal Humane Society’s certificate and medal for “life-saving” efficiency and will also be recollected as one of the chief competitors in the All-England Beauty Contest.

(from The Yorkshire Evening Post, Friday November 23, 1904)

Before the North Bay Pier tragically succombed to a storm in 1905, Gertie was pictured diving from the structure, into the turbulent North Sea.

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Indeed, pier diving was a form of entertainment during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and saw a range of brave (or foolhardy, depending on your opinion!) men and women perform dives from ornamental piers across the country.

North Bay Pier

Above: The North Bay Pier prior to destruction (source)

Gertie competed in swimming contests and provided displays of ornamental aquatic displays for venues across Yorkshire and the North West. She also made glowing endorsements for a cream called Zam-Buk:

I have found Zam-Buk very efficacious for a chafed skin. When the ZamBuk arrived I was in despair about my face. I have an exceedingly fine skin, and the recent wins played havoc with my face. The skin all dried and I looked a pitiable object. I had tried about half a dozen creams, but had derived no benefit. I applied Zam-Buk to the affected parts, and much to my surprise, i found my skin quite smooth the following morning. So I think I have discovered a boon in Zam-Buk, as I could not find anything to produce the same good effect until I used Zam-Bu. When I have had an engagement for pier-diving at seaside places the effect of the salt water on my skin has smites been maddening. I now known that Zam-Buk will be a remedy for this. After the benefits I have derived from Zam-Buk I shall be pleased to recommend it to my physical culture and swimming pupils, as well as to my friends generally.

(Gertie Perkin, quoted in The Yorkshire Evening Post, Friday November 23, 1904)

It has been difficult to locate sources about Gertie or her life, but it’d be fascinating to know more about her pier dive at Scarborough.

Ada Webb (active late 1800s, early 1900s)

Miss Ada Webb has already been mentioned here at Stories From Scarborough, for having performed at the Scarborough Aquarium in the late 1800s. Like her sister Louie, Ada was a renowned natator (another name for a swimmer), champion diver and able to perform all kinds of feats underwater, including eating, drinking, and, supposedly, smoking.

Miss Webb attracted many grand titles, including ‘Empress of the Sea ’ (after Britannia), ‘Champion Lady High Diver of the World’ (following her impressive diving from heights of up to 56 feet) and ‘Queen of the Crystal Tank’ (after her customised performance space).

A report described how she ‘rescued’ a number of ladies who were apparently in danger of drowning at Bromley Swimming Baths. Apparently such rescue feats were commonly used as publicity by professional swimmers, divers and aquatic acrobats at the time, making it difficult separating fact from fiction.

misswebb

Ada performed across the country – she opened Latchmere Road Baths in 1899 and regularly appeared at London venues.

You can see an advert for one of her performances by clicking here.

However, professional swimming and aquatic performances were a young person’s domain, and, as her own prowesses diminished,  Ada began to comandeer her own group of performing lady swimmers, and became a successful manager. Ornamental swimming of this sort peaked in popularity between the late 1800s and 1910s, although aquatic feats of endurance and acrobatics continued to draw audiences well into the twentieth century.

Eileen Fenton (1928 – present)

Eileen Fenton, a Religious Studies teacher from Dewsbury, is perhaps the most remarkable of all three ladies mentioned here, given her incredible achievement of swimming the English Channel in 1950, at the age of just 22.

On the Stories From Scarborough Facebook Page, John remembers her training for the event:

Remember when Fenton was the superintendent there and his daughter Eileen trained morning and evening for a cross channel swim.

Interestingly enought, the first swimmer to make the 22 mile crossing was Captain Matthew Webb, who also famously swam for 74 hours in Scarborough Aquarium’s pool in 1880. After Webb’s successful Channel swim in 1875, only nineteen swimmers had successfully made the crossing between then and 1950, when Eileen entered a new competition, organised by the Daily Mail, to complete the feat.

At first the competition organisers were doubtful of her suitability to participate. Reportedly a slim lady of only 5ft tall, she was deemed ‘too small’ although eventually proved her ability by swimming across Scarborough Harbour in temperatures close to freezing. She later swam for up to ten hours at a time in the town’s North Sea, in order to build up her endurance and tolerence for the cold.

Of the Channel swim, Eileen made the following comments:

It was pitch black and very cold. We could see nothing but the light on the boat we needed to follow. When I got to nine hours I could see Dover harbour, but my arm stopped working and I had to do a front crawl with one hand. I was too weak to get over the tide and I was pushed back by the current. It took me over six hours.

(Quoted in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 19 August, 2010)

Only nine out of twenty four competitors finished the race, and Eileen was one of them. Not only that, but as first lady, she received a huge prize of £1000, then enought to purchase a small house!

You can watch a video interview with Eileen here, and see footage of the rapturous reception she recieved when returning home here.

She remarked that after the freezing cold waters of Scarborough’s North Sea, the Channel waters were pleasantly mild! Eileen later went on to train a number of Channel swimmers and recieved a number of awards for her winning 1950 performance.

Do you know any more about these inspiring ladies? Or do you have any stories about swimming or swimmers in Scarborough? Any comments and/or corrections welcome!

Sources

Gertie Perkins

Yorkshire Evening Post – various articles

Lancashire Daily Post – various articles

Ada Webb

British Sporting Legacies

Latchmere Road Baths reference

Louie Webb

Eileen Fenton

Huddersfield Daily Examiner

My Yorkshire

Video of Eileen Fenton

British Pathe – video

Open Water Swimming Article

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!