Category Archives: Yorkshire’s Seaside Heritage

Bridlington’s hidden Art Deco gem

Regal Cinema, Bridlington

Regal Cinema, Bridlington

The Cinema Theatre Association is understandably unhappy that Historic England has dismissed the proposal to list the Regal Cinema, Bridlington, for its fine and almost intact Art Deco interior:  Bingo has kept the place going since films ended in 1971.

Opened on July 28th 1938, the building was designed by Charles Edmund Wilford (1895-1988).  Though the exteriors were different, the interior of the Bridlington Regal was identical to the demolished Regal Cinema, Walton-on-Thames, built at the same date by the same architect for the same owner, Lou Morris.

The façade is dominated by a long, horizontal window which lighted the first-floor café, above four shop units on the ground floor.

The café and the auditorium, which originally seated 1,500 (or 1,489, or 1,355, depending on the source), are distinguished by the ornate Art Deco plasterwork of Eugene Mollo and Michael Egan.

The splay walls on either side of the proscenium figure a filigree pattern of foliage, originally illuminated by concealed lighting, and the geometric shapes at the end of the splays and on the ceiling are decorated with stylised foliage.  The original decorative scheme in silver and gilt was more subtle than the present livelier palette of the bingo club.

The stage is 43 feet wide and deep, with a suite of four dressing rooms, and there was a 3-manual, 6-rank Compton organ which was removed c1968.

The CTA’s Bulletin (January/February 2015) bristles with indignation over the “unclear and unreliable… subjective standard used to adjudge this building” and the “factual errors” in the Historic England rejection of the listing proposal.

Bridlington Borough Council has made a magnificent job of the Spa complex down the road from the Regal.  Let’s hope that imagination, diplomacy and judicious financial management will keep the Regal intact if and when bingo becomes unprofitable.

There is footage of Florence de Jong playing the Regal Compton organ at

Steaming out of Whitby

North Yorkshire Moors Railway, outside Whitby station:  BR locomotive 76079

North Yorkshire Moors Railway, outside Whitby station: BR locomotive 76079

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway is one of the premier heritage lines in Britain, started up in 1973, seven years after the British Railways service closed down.

It runs from Grosmont, the junction with the Esk Valley line, south to Pickering. It has spectacular moorland scenery, beautifully preserved stations, authentic rolling stock that is kept in good order and a fleet of powerful tender locomotives that can tackle steep gradients.

Its greatest asset of all, however, is its army of volunteers. Stations and trains are well staffed, so that the public is well looked after. The railway offers a warm welcome, decent catering and unobtrusive shopping opportunities to holidaymakers and rail enthusiasts alike.

Among the many preserved railways up and down the land, the NYMR is at the top of the game, alongside such lines as the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway and the Severn Valley Railway.

Travelling between Whitby and Pickering and back in either direction is a full day out, and there’s time to make at least one break of journey. Grosmont station gives access to the locomotive works through the original tunnel of the horse-drawn Whitby & Pickering Railway; Goathland, made famous by the TV programme Heartbeat, is irresistibly picturesque.

The re-entry of steam trains into Whitby is a huge success, and line-capacity has been improved by bringing a second platform back into use. Collaboration between the local authorities, Network Rail and the NYMR has created a win-win situation, boosting the local economy and bringing pleasure to thousands.

Whitby Station

Railway Station, Whitby, North Yorkshire

Railway Station, Whitby, North Yorkshire

Whitby’s railway station is an imposing building that, like the line that serves it, has survived a succession of threats.

It was built in 1845 by the house architect of the York & North Midland Railway, George Townsend Andrews (1804–1855), to replace an earlier terminus for the primitive, horse-drawn Whitby & Pickering Railway, engineered by George Stephenson in 1836.

From the 1880s to the late 1950s, Whitby station served four different railway lines, the original main line to Pickering and on to York, the Esk Valley line to Middlesbrough and the two coastal lines south to Scarborough and northwards to Loftus.

Dr Beeching would have shut all four of them, but the difficulties of providing replacement buses in the Esk valley meant that the circuitous and picturesque line via Battersby remained open, even though an eccentricity of railway geography has meant that every train down the line has reversed at Battersby since 1954.

Whitby’s rail connection to the rest of the country has been tenuous for decades, and it’s still not good: there are only four trains a day to Middlesbrough, the first starting its 1¼-hour journey at 0850.

However, the enterprising North Yorkshire Moors Railway has negotiated rights over Network Rail tracks from its junction at Grosmont into Whitby, so that it’s again possible to travel by steam between Whitby and Pickering in the summer months.

And you can get a proper breakfast at the Whistlestop Café in G T Andrews’ original station building.

The bikers congregate there so it must be good.

Fit for a bishop

St Hilda's Parish Church, West Cliff, Whitby

St Hilda’s Parish Church, West Cliff, Whitby

Churches, like other buildings, don’t get built by accident. They owe their existence to someone’s drive and strength of intention.

On the opposite cliff to the splendidly archaic parish church of St Mary, Whitby, stands the magnificent late-Victorian Gothic church of St Hilda.

Built to serve the Victorian streets of the West Cliff, St Hilda’s is an impressive Gothic Revival composition of 1884-6 by the Newcastle architect, R J Johnson.

It replaced an iron church at the instigation of an ambitious rector, Rev Canon George Austen, who had arrived in Whitby in 1875 from Middlesburgh, where he had initiated a church-building programme [], and saw no reason why Whitby and its surrounding parishes should not become a bishopric.

Consequently, St Hilda’s is fit for a bishop, embellished with fine carving and glass by C E Kempe.

The bishop’s throne was installed c1908, and the first suffragan Bishop of Whitby was eventually appointed in 1923, by which time George Austen had become a Chancellor of York Minster.

When he died, aged 94, in 1933 he was, at his own request, brought back to Whitby and buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, which had otherwise been closed to burials for sixty years.

The tower of St Hilda’s, in the style of the late-Victorian church, was completed by G E Charlewood in 1938

The fine Roman Catholic parish church by Matthew Ellison Hadfield (1867) in the town centre is also dedicated to St Hilda – a source of perennial confusion to visitors.


Whitby West Cliff

Whitby West Cliff:  Royal Crescent

Whitby West Cliff: Royal Crescent

For a place that has always been far out of the way, Whitby has a remarkable tenacity as a holiday resort.

Even before the early arrival of the railway, the Whitby Public Baths Company tried to promote sea-bathing at the foot of the West Pier, where baths were “replenished with the purest sea and fresh water; and are fitted up with the greatest regard both for the comfort of the valetudinarian and the gratification of the pleasurist”.

A further attempt to utilise another spring led to the building of the Victoria Spa in Bagdale in 1844. Neither of these projects was a lasting success.

A locally-sponsored Whitby Building Company issued a prospectus proposing fourteen lodging-houses on the West Cliff Fields in 1843.

The following year George Hudson, the “Railway King”, who had taken over the Whitby & Pickering Railway, purchased the West Cliff Fields, apparently to establish an interest in the town that would enable him to become its MP. (In fact, he was elected as Conservative MP for Sunderland, where he was expected to promote the Monkwearmouth Dock and the Durham and Sunderland Railway, in 1845, and the Whitby seat went to his associate, the engineer Robert Stephenson, who was returned unopposed in 1847.)

Hudson proceeded, under the auspices of the York Building Company, to construct boarding houses and hotels as a speculation.

By the time East Terrace was finished so was Hudson, discredited by his manipulation of railway finances.

Whitby achieved modest growth as a resort: its population grew from 10,989 to 12,051 between the 1851 and 1861 censuses. Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell stayed here in 1859, and accumulated background material for her novel Sylvia’s Lovers (1863). Other nineteenth-century authors who visited Whitby include Alfred Tennyson in 1852, Lewis Carrol in 1854, Charles Dickens in 1861 and his friend Wilkie Collins, who wrote the novel No Name (1862) while staying in the town. The Punch cartoonists John Leech and George du Maurier were visitors respectively in the 1860s and 1880s and incorporated Whitby scenes into their published work.

The West Cliff Estate passed to the self-made industrialist Sir George Elliot, Bt (1814-1893), who projected the Royal Crescent (John Dobson 1876-9) and the West Cliff Saloon and Promenade (1880, now the Spa Theatre).

One look at the architecture of the Royal Crescent and the gothic Church Square behind it (St Hilda’s parish church itself dates from 1884-6) tells the tale of over ambition and half-completion. There were simply not sufficient Mrs Gaskells to fill the place.

St Hilda’s abbey

Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire

Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire

The instantly recognisable ruin of Whitby Abbey on the cliff-top above the harbour is freighted with fourteen centuries of history.

Founded in AD 657 by a Northumbrian princess who became St Hilda, it was the location for the Synod of Whitby (AD 664), which established that the English church would follow Roman rather than Celtic custom.

Nevertheless, St Hilda’s Saxon abbey was designed in the Celtic manner, for parallel communities of monks and nuns, living in single cells but worshipping together.  Of the monks in her time five became bishops; two of them, like her, became saints – St John of Beverley and St Wilfrid of York.  A lay member of her community was Caedmon, traditionally regarded as the earliest English poet.

The first abbey was destroyed by the Danish invaders in AD 867 and refounded in Norman times by one of the knights who fought at Hastings, Reinfrid, who settled here as a monk and developed a Benedictine community in the 1070s.

The existing ruins represent a massive rebuilding, starting in the 1220s, continuing after a fundraising effort in 1334, followed by a distinctive break when a change from lancet windows to Decorated tracery indicates an interruption to the rebuilding programme of perhaps a hundred years between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.  The final installation of the now-vanished Perpendicular west window was only completed in the fifteenth century.

Shortly after the Dissolution, in March 1540 the abbey precinct passed to Sir Richard Cholmley of Kingthorpe, near Pickering, “the great blacke knight of the North”, whose son, Francis, adapted the abbot’s lodging to make a residence. His descendant, Sir Hugh Cholmley (1632-89) aggrandised his residence Abbey House with an imposing classical Banqueting Hall wing (1672-82), the shell of which houses a modern visitor centre.

The Abbey ruins served as a waymark for mariners, but what now remains is only a vestige. Much of the church, including the tower, still stood in 1711, but the south transept collapsed in 1736, the south wall of the nave in 1762, the nave arcade in 1793, the west window the year after, the central tower on June 25th 1830 and part of the presbytery in 1839.

What was left of the west front was bombarded by the German battle cruisers Von der Tann and Derfflinger on December 16th 1914, and later reinstated, with a section of the nave arcade reassembled incongruously by the north boundary wall, after the Ministry of Works took over the site in 1920.

There are easier ways of visiting the Abbey and the nearby church of St Mary than by walking up the 199 steps from the town. There’s a discreetly hidden car-park, and a tourist bus running a half-hour service during the summer:

Opening times for the Abbey are at

Far from the madding Yorkshire crowds

The Crescent, Filey, North Yorkshire

The Crescent, Filey, North Yorkshire

Filey has unexpected charms. It’s a good place to reach by rail. The station is a particularly well-preserved example of the work of George Townsend Andrews (1804-1855), with an overall iron truss roof and a standard North Eastern Railway footbridge slotted into the train-shed walls.

The short walk to the sea is unremarkable, until you reach the cliff edge. Ahead is the North Sea, which in the nineteenth century was called the German Ocean. In each direction spectacular cliffs stretch to Filey Brigg in the north and southwards towards Muston, Hunmanby and Reighton.

Facing the coast, but separated from the cliff-edge by ornamental gardens, is the Crescent, an elegant ensemble of Regency terraces, constructed for an enterprising Birmingham solicitor, John Wilkes Unett (1770-1856), who commissioned plans for a resort to be called New Filey from the Birmingham architect and surveyor Charles Edge in 1835.

There is a subtle demarcation between the Crescent area and the Old Town. The two are interdependent, but Unett’s speculation was aimed at “those who possess a relish for the pure exhibitions of nature, and take with them a little society”.

Visitors came to Filey, as a quieter alternative to Scarborough, from the beginning of the nineteenth century, and initially they came by road. In the 1820s two stage-coaches operated, each on alternate days, six days a week. Local sailors and their wives recognised that catering for tourists was at least a supplement to the unpredictable fortunes of the fishing trade.

The Hull-Scarborough railway opened in 1846. It could have encouraged an invasion of excursionists, but they seem to have headed for Bridlington and Scarborough. Instead, Filey attracted a constant stream of visitors of high social standing and net worth. Charlotte Brontë visited in 1849 and 1852; Sir Titus Salt came in 1871, and Frederick Delius was a regular visitor from 1876, when he was fourteen, until 1901.

Filey was also the discreet resort of British and foreign royalty. Leopold II, King of the Belgians in 1873 made the first royal visit: he was Queen Victoria’s cousin, and he was followed by her son, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh (1880), her grandson Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence & Avondale (1890) and her daughter, Princess Louise, later Duchess of Argyll (1899).

German relatives of the British royal family also visited – the Prince & Princess Louis of Battenberg (1900) and Ernest Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hesse, and his family (1910). Indeed, well into the 1930s Princess Mary, the Princess Royal, who was married to the Earl of Harewood, used to bring her young sons for holidays to Filey.

Ironically, Filey’s major claim to fame in the holiday industry was the Butlin camp, started in 1939 and completed as RAF Hunmanby Moor. After the war it flourished, to the extent that it had its own branch line and railway station. The camp’s maximum capacity was 11,000 holidaymakers, and it ran successfully into the 1970s:

It’s a fair bet that most of the thousands of visitors to Butlins never went near Filey itself.

The Butlin’s branch line closed in 1977 and the camp lasted until 1983. It has completely disappeared under redevelopment.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool’s Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire’s Seaside Heritage, please click here.

Going to Scarborough Fair

Scarborough Fair Collection, Lebberston, North Yorkshire

Scarborough Fair Collection, Lebberston, North Yorkshire

There is a pattern of successful entrepreneurs with a weakness for steam engines collecting historic artefacts as an adjunct to their main business.

George Cushing (1904-2003) at Thursford and Alan Bloom (1906-2005) at Bressingham are fellows in spirit with Graham Atkinson, whose Flower of May Caravan Site at Lebberston, near Scarborough, is the home of the Scarborough Fair Collection, an enjoyable assembly of fairground rides, steam engines, cars, motorbikes and commercial vehicles, embellished with a fine café and a dance hall with two mighty Wurtlitzer cinema organs:

Unlike Thursford, which is dark and theatrical, the Scarborough Fair Collection is top lit in daylight. Its rides – including a set of gallopers (c1893), a Noah’s Ark, a set of dodgems and a ghost train – are spread around the building, with helpful notices indicating what time they run. The vehicles and other artefacts are thoroughly labelled, so that it’s possible to understand their significance – and in some cases, considerable rarity – even if you’re not an aficionado.

Among its treasures it boasts four showmen’s engines (one of them The Iron Maiden, star of the 1962 film of the same name), a Foden steam wagon, a magnificent 1937 Scammell showman’s tractor, The Moonraker, and a fully restored showman’s caravan.

There are several mechanical organs,–

  • a 72-key Verbeeck concert organ
  • the 89-key Marenghi organ of Irvins of Ashford, Middlesex
  • the 97-key Gavioli/Voigt Die Münchner Oktoberfest-Orgel
  • a 100-key ‘Condor’ organ (originally 97 keys) by the Hooghuys family

– as well as a small example of a calliope, originally a fearsome contraption that could be heard for miles made for riverboats from locomotive whistles.

Tea dances take place on Wednesday afternoons, using the two Wurlitzers. They are an interesting pair, respectively from the Granada cinemas at Mansfield, Nottinghamshire (1936) and Greenford, west London (1937).

Both are the same size – 3 manuals, 8 ranks – but with contrasting specifications. The voicing of the Mansfield instrument is close to the usual specification of a contemporary church organ (Style ‘D’ Trumpet, Diapason, Tibia Clausa, Clarinet, Violin, Violin Celeste, Vox Humana and Flute) while the Greenford organ is altogether more theatrical (English Horn, Tuba, Diapason, Tibia Clausa, Saxophone, Gamba, Gamba Celeste and Flute).

The Scarborough Fair Collection has much to fascinate enthusiasts for steam, motor vehicles, mechanical music, organs and all the fun of the fair, while at the same time entertaining those who enjoy wallowing in nostalgia over a cup of tea and a cake.

Saltburn-by-the-Sea: the cliff lift


Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire:  the cliff-lift

Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire: the cliff-lift

The contours of Saltburn provided a major inconvenience from the start, simply because the streets are over a hundred feet higher than the beach. A writer in The Middlesbrough Weekly News and Cleveland Advertiser (November 1st 1867) remarked,–

One of the first objections to Saltburn as a seaside resort, especially by elderly people, or even by any whose tendency to embonpoint makes them averse to bodily exertion, is the fact that it is SUCH A HORRIBLY TIRING PLACE.  To go down to the beach involves a certain amount of unpleasant jarring of the system, and to come up again such a waste of muscular power…

John Anderson, the railway contractor who owned the Alexandra Hotel and designed Saltburn Pier, resolved this difficulty with a vertical hoist linking the Marine Terrace, just outside the Alexandra, with the pier.

This structure was built of timber, and powered by water-gravity: it opened in July 1870, and carried up to twenty passengers at a time in its cage for a halfpenny each way.

It was closed precipitately after an inspection in 1883, and replaced by the inclined cliff-lift (also water-gravity powered) which continues to operate on the same site.

The cliff lift was developed by George Croydon Marks (1858-1938, latterly Lord Marks), chief engineer of Tangye Ltd, the company that had devised the first cliff lifts in Scarborough from 1869 onwards.  It lifts passengers 120 feet from the promenade to the streets.

The two cars, connected by cable, carry water-tanks beneath their carriages: the uppermost tank is filled with water and the lower tank emptied, so that the weight-differential lifts the lighter car as the upper one descends.  Operation is controlled by the banksman in the upper cabin.

The Saltburn cliff lift is the oldest water-balanced funicular still in operation in Britain, and was upgraded for the first time in 1998 when a supplementary hydraulic braking system was added. Superficial modernisations have been reversed:  the 1979 passenger cars were restored in 2011 and the upper banksman’s cabin was refurbished in 2014.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool’s Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire’s Seaside Heritage, please click here.

Saltburn-by-the-Sea: the pier



Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire:  the pier

Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire: the pier

One of the first purchasers of Improvement Company land in Saltburn was John Anderson, a railway contractor who had worked for the Stockton &Darlington Railway and who also had ironworking interests locally.

He built the Alexandra Hotel, intended to be the centre-piece of Britannia Terrace, and invested funds and enormous energy in the resort.

He was the driving force behind Saltburn Pier, such that construction was well under way before the enabling Act was passed, and the structure was open to the public in May 1869, only eighteen months after the initial public meeting to propose the idea.

The original length was 1,500 feet, but after a storm on October 15th 1875 in which a section of Saltburn Pier collided with Redcar Pier, Saltburn Pier was shortened to 1,250 feet.

The Pier Company was wound up in 1879 and its assets transferred to the Improvement Company and then in 1883 to the Owners of the Middlesbrough Estate.   The pier head was widened, with new refreshment rooms and kiosks, a bandstand and gas lighting, in 1884, and subsequently with electric lighting in 1887.

A collision in 1924, when the china-clay carrier SS Ovenbeg punched a 210-foot gap in the pier, was repaired by 1929, and a theatre was added the following year.

The local council took over the pier in 1938, and at the start of the war it was breached as a precaution against invasion. The gap was not repaired until 1952, and gales in the following winter required repairs that took five years to complete.

Storms in 1971, 1973 and 1974 successively shortened its length to 1,100 feet, and after a demolition threat and a popular campaign to save the pier it was truncated to 681 feet and reopened in 1978.

Refurbished by a £1.2 million lottery grant in 2000 and listed Grade II*, Saltburn pier is now celebrated as the only surviving seaside pier on the Yorkshire coast.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool’s Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire’s Seaside Heritage, please click here.