Scarborough Spa and the First British Seaside Resort: Part II

This is an article originally published in the Yorkshire Journal (Spring Issue, 2010) by Sarah Harrison. She has kindly given permission for her work to be republished – for Part I of the article please click here.

When the York and North Midland Railway established links with Scarborough in 1845, it became much easier for visitors to reach the town, which, in turn, led to large-scale investment in tourism. However, hotels and entertainment facilities had been increasing steadily since the 1700s, following the discovery of Scarborough’s natural springs in the 1600s.

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Left: In the late 1700s, wealthy visitors whiled away the afternoon at the theatre on Tanner Street, now St Thomas Street, where many famous actors performed. In 1825 a seat in the boxes cost three shillings, in the pit two shillings and in the gallery one shilling. The theatre was demolished in 1929 (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

In 1867 the Grand Hotel was completed – then one of the largest hotels in the world and one of the first in Europe to be purpose-built. Another first for Scarborough was the cliff tram, built in 1875, to link the South Cliff Esplanade to the Scarborough Spa. There would eventually be five cliff lifts in operation – three on the South side and two near the North Sands. Only two operate today – one by the Scarborough Spa (referred to as the South Cliff lift), and the other near at the side of the Grand Hotel (not to be confused with the one pictured below).

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Above: The Grand Hotel and the Cliff Bridge. The Cliff Tram in the centre of the photo is now closed (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Only eighteen years after the official opening of the Scarborough Spa on 8 September 1876 the building was destroyed by fire and had to be rebuilt. By June 1879 the new Grand Hall was opened to the public, with the formal opening ceremony taking place on August 2nd, 1880. So began a great era of music and entertainment – indeed, a range of leading musicians, conductors and performers all performed at Scarborough Spa.

Additions and alterations have been made over the years and a major restoration programme was carried out in the early 1980s to reinstate some of the original features and decorative styles.

Today the Scarborough Spa complex is a Grade II listed building which includes the Spa Theatre, the Grand Hall for concerts, the Ocean Room, the Promenade Lounge, Sun Court (for open air concerts), and various other rooms. It is also home to the Scarborough Spa Orchestra, the last remaining seaside orchestra in Britain. The orchestra gives 10 concerts every week during the summer months, playing from an extensive repertoire of classical and light music.

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Above: Sun Court for open air concerts (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Although taking the waters declined in popularity during the 19th century, the Spa’s reputation as a fashionable location for entertainment and relaxation grew in popularity. Also, the chemical composition of the water has altered considerably over the years and so the practice of “Taking the Water” came to an end in the late 1960s.

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Above: Steps leading down to the well (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Today the only visible evidence of the Spa water – that made Scarborough the first seaside resort in Britain – is a well set in the wall and the steps leading down to the beach on the north side of the Spa Complex. The strong mineral content of the water has stained the wall’s stones a reddish-brown colour. Likewise, it was this same staining that led to the discovery of the waters close to this site back in 1626.

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Above: The spa well set in the wall (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Today, the spa water is no longer recommended for drinking – there is a sign above the well which reads “Not Drinking Water”. The waters may have changed somewhat, but without Mrs. Farrer’s discovery in the seventeenth century, Scarborough would not have developed into the first English (and arguably, in its time, most famous) seaside resort.. Maybe one day the Spa will open again when the water is safe to drink and the well given a new look.

Sources

For a full list of acknowledgements, and to see the article in its original format, please visit the Yorkshire Journal (Spring, 2010). All copyright retained by the author.

Many thanks to Sarah for sharing this article with Stories From Scarborough!

Scarborough Spa and the First British Seaside Resort: Part I

This is an article originally published in the Yorkshire Journal (Spring Issue, 2010) by Sarah Harrison. She has kindly given permission for her work to be republished here.

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Above: The Scarborough Spa Complex (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

It happened by chance, in about 1626, when a Mrs. Farrer discovered natural springs bubbling out beneath the cliff to the south of Scarborough. She saw that the waters stained the rocks a reddish-brown colour and that it tasted slightly bitter. The spring water was later found to cure minor ailments.

Mrs. Farrer was the wife of one of Scarborough’s leading citizens, John Farrer who was several times Bailiff of Scarborough.

When she told her neighbours and friends about the beneficial effects, they too drank the waters, and this became a widely accepted medicine for local townspeople.

The mineral waters were analysed by medical professionals and found to contain a high level of magnesium sulphate – its healing properties were just as effective as Andrews’ Liver Salts are today.

Dr Robert Wittie of Hull was the main medical supporter promoting the mineral waters and in 1660 he published his book “Scarborough Spa”, in which he proclaimed the waters as a cure for all ills. He recommended that the waters were best drunk in the summer season, mid-May to mid-September. He also began promoting the health benefits of sea bathing, and by the middle of 1660 the resulting publicity made the town’s wells famous.

Scarborough developed not only as a fashionable spa town but as the original English seaside resort. “Taking the Water” quickly became a popular medicine, and attracted a flood of visitors to the town

The first Spa House was built on or near this site in about 1700. This basic wooden structure designed for the sale and dispensing of the waters, and to provide basic amenities to visitors. The water was also bottled and sold further afield. Dickie Dickinson was appointed the first Governor of the Spa and was responsible for keeping order and collecting money from visitors. 

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Above: Dickie Dickinson, first Governor of the Spa (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

All went well until a massive landslide buried the Spa House, conveniences and the springs in 1737. Fortunately the water source was quickly located again, and in 1739 a sizeable building or saloon was built. This offered fine views over the sea and a long flight of stairs to reach the wells.

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Above: The Spa, depicted in a plate from the Poetical Sketches of Scarborough, 1813 (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Scarborough was now well established as a seaside resort and Spa town providing every fashionable amenity. There was a Long Room in St Nicholas Street that provided nightly dancing, music, gaming tables and billiards. In the afternoon, plays were acted under the management of Mr. Kerregan in 1733, and from 1776, evening performances were given in the theatre.

There was also a whole range of accommodation to suit every pocket – board and lodgings, rooms at inns and hostelries, a Georgian house for rent, and later, top quality hotels. Tourists could visit coffee shops and bookshops with circulating libraries, and, enjoy the added attractions of horse racing on the beach, alongside boating and sea-bathing. Scarborough was one of the first places, if not the first, to use bathing machines.

(You can read Sarah’s article on Sea Bathing by clicking here for Part I and here for Part II)

During its Victoria heyday the Spa was considered the most popular music hall venue outside London. The first orchestra appeared in the 1830s, but a series of mishaps and disasters plagued the Spa each time redevelopment occurred. The initial saloon was damaged by heavy seas in 1808, but the worst storm; according to some, of the century, devastated the building, which, as a result, had to be completely re-build in 1836.

Before this disaster, such was the Spa’s popularity, that in 1827 the iron Cliff Bridge was erected across the valley, giving easier access from the cliff and the town, where elegant hotels and Georgian lodging houses were becoming popular.

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Above: The Cliff Bridge across the valley (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

The completion of the new “Gothic Saloon”, designed by Henry Wyatt, was opened in 1839 and included a concert hall to seat 500, a garden, promenade and an external area in which orchestras were to perform. However, by the time it opened, the impressive turreted building, was already too small. Consequently, Sir Joseph Paxton, the landscape gardener and architect responsible for the grounds of Chatsworth, Derbyshire and the Crystal Palace, London was called in to redesign the complex. The new, improved venue officially opened in 1858.

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Above: The Gothic Saloon (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

To be continued…

Sources

For a full list of acknowledgements, and to see the article in its original format, please visit the Yorkshire Journal (Spring, 2010). All copyright retained by the author.

Many thanks to Sarah for sharing this article with Stories From Scarborough! Look out for Part II, coming soon.