A Splendid Promenade Pier

On July 10th, 1869, the Penny Illustrated Paper describes the opening of:

…a splendid promenade pier on the North Sands…which commands the whole of the rugged and bold scenery of the castle headland, hitherto unseen, except from the water…

Apparently Scarborough’s then new North Bay Promenade Pier, designed by Eugenius Birch, attracted scores of excursionists by rail, who were treated to two grand military prom concerts in the afternoon and evening.

North Bay Pier

Above: The North Bay Promenade Pier (source)

In the British Newspaper Archive, it’s possible to find a number of flattering accounts of the pier – its elegant design, splendid views and the excitement surrounding its early years of operation.

North Bay Pier

Above: The pier can be seen in the distance, to the left of Clarence Gardens (source)

Nearly forty years later, however, the pier became popular for a very differenct kind of reason, as described in the London Daily News on January 9th, 1905.

The beginning of the year had been a time of turmoil for much of Britain, the paper describes a church flooded in Great Yarmouth, sea walls overwhelmed at Cleethorpes and an unusually high water level for the River Thames in London. A huge storm had caused extensive flooding and misery for many across the country. Indeed, the destruction of Scarborough’s pier was not an isolated incident.

The London Daily News describes eight hundred feet of the pier as washed away, having been recently purchased by the Mayor of Scarborough for £3500.

Iron railings on the foreshore were snapped like matchwood and thousands of tons of water were thrown over Marine Drive, pouring down the roadway into the houses in proximity…

Indeed, parts Marine Drive were also severely damaged. The road, designed to connect the two sides of the town via its picturesque coastline, had, in the main part apparently been completed in 1904. However, this and other damages inflicted by stormy weather, delayed the official opening until 1908, to account for repairs being made.

North Bay Pier

Above: The storm caused widespread destruction beyond the pier (source)

The destruction of the pier had an unintended advantage for Scarborough – crowds flocked to the town to survey the remains of the pier and the damaged section of Marine Drive. Tramcars even carried a sign in their windows to advertise their routes towards the disaster.

North Bay Pier

Above: Crowds survey the damage (source)

The story was a less pleasant one for local workers – builders on the Marine Drive project spent their working hours knee deep in water, making the necessary repairs, and presumably, someone had to clear up the wreckage of the damaged pier, all under the curious gaze of onlookers.


Above: Stormy seas at Scarborough (from the author’s collection)

Homeowners too were affected.

Those living close to the site at the time reportedly suffered severe loss. Costs of repairs to homes, Marine Drive and other affected areas were apparently unprecedented within the town, having faced one of the most destructive storms to date.

The pier too, had cost around £250000 to build, although it had struggled commercially for decades. Needless to say, it was not rebuilt.


All of the above information was sourced via newspaper articles from the British Newspaper Archive, located at the British Library in London.

The Tragic Tale of the North Bay Pier

Piers were once built solely as functional structures, enabling access to boats for passengers and cargo. The idea of a so-called ‘pleasure pier’ is a relatively recent one, emerging in the 19th century alongside the rising popularity of the British seaside holiday. Not only did the pleasure pier enable tourists to enjoy proximity to the sea, but these interesting structures often featured amusements and theatrical entertainment, as well as benches from which the fresh air and seaside ambience could be enjoyed.

For Scarborough, building a pier on the South Side (construction began in 1863) was largely a practical endeavour, linked to harbour activities.

Ideas for a pier on the North Side, however, represented recreational possibilities. Before the days of Marine Drive, Peasholm Park and the North Bay Bathing Pool, this part of Scarborough was, compared to the South Side, far less developed. Nonetheless, the idea of a pier close to the North Bay was presumably a way of capitalising on Scarborough’s expanding tourist empire and a complementary addition to the sea view offered by nearby Clarence Gardens.

Clarence Gardens and North Bay Pier

Above: The pier as viewed from Clarence Gardens (source)

Construction began in 1866. The structure was designed by Britain’s foremost seaside architect, Eugenius Birch, who also designed the town’s new aquarium, this opened over a decade later, in 1877.

Birch is now renowned for designing, amongst other things, Brighton Aquarium and piers at Blackpool, Hastings, Margate and more.

Compared to more elaborate affairs in Brighton and Blackpool, for instance, Scarborough’s North Bay Pier was a small, simple structure. Reports suggest that visitors were unwilling to pay to use it in significant numbers, nor were they particularly eager to venture out over the choppy waters of the North Sea. The venture was not a commercial success.

North Bay Pier

Above: Another view of the pier (source)

In January 1905, a tremendous gale destroyed it. Large crowds gathered to view the desolate aftermath, which left the end of the pier severed from the shore – a lonely building at the mercy of the waves.

North Bay Pier

Above: Crowds examine the wrecked pier (source)

The structure was never rebuilt.

North Bay Pier

Above: The remains of the structure in 1905 (source)

Visitors to the Stories From Scarborough Facebook Page have noted that it’s still possible to see the foundations of the pier during low tide.

Have you ever spotted them?


Scarborough News

Materials viewed in the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library