Category Archives: Yorkshire’s Seaside Heritage

Saltburn-by-the-Sea: the Zetland Hotel

Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire:  Zetland Hotel, railway platform and rear entrance

Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire: Zetland Hotel, railway platform and rear entrance

The first public building in Saltburn was the Zetland Hotel, built by the Stockton & Darlington Railway to the designs of William Peachey, who also built the Methodist Church on Milton Street (1865) and later, as architect to the North Eastern Railway, built the gothic station at Middlesbrough.

The foundation-stone of the hotel was laid by Thomas Dundas, 2nd Earl of Zetland (1795-1873), from whom the land for the whole town was bought, on October 2nd 1861, and the hotel opened on July 27th 1863.

In its situation it’s strongly reminiscent of the Grand Hotel at Scarborough, but its Italianate styling is much lighter than Cuthbert Brodrick’s magnificent bombast.

The circular turret above the central bay of the Zetland was initially equipped as a telescope room.

So strong was the connection – through the Pease family – between the railway and the resort that the station platform was extended so that the buffer stops stood within feet of the back door of the hotel.

A covered train-shed protected passengers as they left the train and entered the hotel without discomfort whatever the weather.

The stable block, incorporating coach-houses and accommodation for livery servants, was designed with an imposing blind arcade facing Milton Street.

The hotel eventually closed in 1989 and was later converted into an apartment block. The Milton Street stables building is now adapted as housing also.

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 vision

Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire:  railway station

Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire: railway station

Saltburn-by-the-Sea is a classic example of a Victorian holiday resort built at the end of a railway line.

Its site was a bare cliff-top until Henry Pease, the Quaker son of the founder of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, came upon it in 1859 and – in his wife’s words – saw, “in a sort of prophetic vision, on the edge of the cliff before him, a town arise and the quiet unfrequented glen turned into a lovely garden”.

Henry Pease, with his brother, nephew and numerous other S&DR personalities and figures in the local iron industry, formed the Saltburn Improvement Company in 1860, in anticipation of the opening of the railway.

The foundation stone of the first building in the new town, a row of six railwaymen’s houses named Alpha Place, was laid on January 23rd 1861.

Passenger trains began to run on August 17th that year, at which time not even Alpha Place, apparently, was finished.

The Improvement Company held a competition to obtain a street-layout, and commissioned from the winner, George Dickenson of Darlington, a plan which is still the framework of the town centre.

Parallel to the railway which bisects Saltburn, to north and south, run Milton Street and Dundas Street, with the “jewel” streets (Amber, Pearl, Diamond, Emerald, Ruby and Garnet) grouped between Milton Street and the Marine Terrace, and the “river” streets (Eden, Leven, Tweed, Lune, Avon and Greta) running roughly at right-angles to Albion Terrace which overlooks the valley of Skelton Beck.

Alpha Place was demolished because it conflicted with Dickenson’s alignments.

The Saltburn Improvement Company kept strict control over building standards in the town, insisting on uniform rooflines, though allowing some freedom in architectural detail, and specifying for all frontages the use of a white firebrick which was, perhaps predictably, obtained from Peases West Brickworks in Co Durham.

The prices of plots were fixed on a scale which placed obvious value on sea and valley views, and on commercially valuable sites in the centre. Plots on the Jewel Streets cost around half as much as those on the sheltered sites looking across the valley (5s 6d as opposed to 10s 6d).

Economic depression in 1873-5 halved the price of Cleveland iron-ore, and effectively halted the planned development of Saltburn.

The Assembly Rooms, designed for the plot at the south end of Britannia, was never started. Britannia Terrace itself was never finished.

The Improvement Company was wound up in the early 1880s after passing its responsibilities to a local Board of Health and the Owners of the Middlesborough Estate.

No longer did buildings in Saltburn have to be faced in Peases West brick, and the distribution of this pale, unlovely material illustrates as clearly as a snapshot how far development had gone by about 1875.

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.

Sham Castles


The Towers, Scarborough, North Yorkshire

The Towers, Scarborough, North Yorkshire

Castle-by-the-Sea, Scarborough, North Yorkshire

Castle-by-the-Sea, Scarborough, North Yorkshire

Scarborough has three castles – the genuine article which dates back to Roman times, and two Victorian shams which have their own unique appeal.

The Scarborough brewer Thomas Jarvis built The Towers, designed by William Baldwin Stewart in 1866, immediately below the gatehouse of the medieval castle on the promontory that divides Scarborough’s two bays.

He later added the Castle-by-the-Sea, which overlooks the North Bay, at the other end of the little street that became Mulgrave Place, and in 1876 leased it to the Leeds artist, Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893).

Atkinson Grimshaw was the son of a Leeds policeman, an ex-railway-clerk who without formal training executed canvases of dusk and moonlight scenes, mainly of coast and harbour settings, with considerable commercial success.

One of his first and finest Scarborough works is ‘Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, the Burning of the Spa Saloon’ (1876), which was probably commissioned by Jarvis and was painted in great haste for the sake of topicality but not publicly exhibited.  It is now in the Scarborough Art Gallery [], along with ‘Scarborough Lights’ (c1877), ‘Burning off a Fishing Boat at Scarborough’ ) and ‘Lights in the Harbour, Scarborough’ (1879).

Atkinson Grimshaw reputedly influenced Bram Stoker into setting Dracula in Whitby.

He’s also regarded as a possible influence on Frank Meadow Sutcliffe, the Whitby photographer.

He returned to Leeds in 1879 after getting into financial difficulties, and went on to paint numerous scenes in Hull, Liverpool, London and Glasgow Docks.

The Castle-by-the-Sea is a notably welcoming bed-and-breakfast hotel, one of the pleasantest places to stay in Scarborough:

The Towers is a private residence and not open to the public.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

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.


The resort that never was

Ravenscar, North Yorkshire

Ravenscar, North Yorkshire

Ravenscar is the highest point on the Yorkshire coast between Scarborough and Whitby.  Until the end of the nineteenth century it was simply called Peak.

Peak House, latterly Raven Hall, was built in 1773 by the owner of the local alum works, Captain William Childs.  He bequeathed it to his daughter Ann, widow of the Dr Francis Willis (1718-1807) who treated King George III in his apparent insanity.  Their son, Rev Dr Richard Willis, was a notorious gambler and a reputed smuggler.  There is an enjoyable tale of the estate being lost on a bet over two lice crossing a saucer:  in fact, it was mortgaged by Mr William Henry Hammond, who foreclosed and took over the property in 1845.

W H Hammond went to inordinate lengths to sponsor a railway link between Scarborough and Whitby, though he died in 1884, three months before the line opened.

The railway was absurd:  gradients of 1 in 39 and 1 in 41 meant that locomotives often stalled and had to take a run at the summit.  Hammond insisted that the track ran through his estate in a practically unnecessary tunnel.  Passenger trains from Scarborough to Whitby had to reverse to enter both termini.

In 1890 Hammond’s daughters sold the estate to the Peak Estate Company for £10,000, and by 1895 the house was extended and converted into a hotel “replete with every modern convenience”, and the surrounding land was laid out as a holiday resort of 1,500 building plots with roads and mains drainage and a public water-supply.

The North Eastern Railway was persuaded to rename the station “Ravenscar” in 1897 and to provide a passing loop and second platform.  Regular land-sales were held from 1896 onwards, for which free lunches and special trains from the West Riding towns were provided.

In fact, barely a dozen houses were ever built.  One sad boarding house, clearly intended as part of a terrace, stands in the fields that would have been the Marine Esplanade.  On one occasion the station waiting-room blew away in a storm.

The Ravenscar Estate Company apparently went into liquidation in 1913, but sales were continued until after the Great War.  Building a seaside resort seven hundred feet above sea level was perhaps not a good idea.

Still, from time to time, hopeful descendants of the original purchasers appear at Ravenscar clutching deeds they have found among family papers:  their reactions on seeing their inheritances are, by all accounts, uniform and entirely understandable.

The railway, which closed in 1965, now forms part of the Cleveland Way trail:  Ravenscar is also the terminus of the celebrated Lyke Wake Walk:  see

However you get there, don’t miss tea at the Raven Hall Hotel [] with a log fire and the view across to Robin Hood’s Bay.

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.


Scarborough’s Rotunda

The Rotunda, Scarborough, North Yorkshire:  interior

The Rotunda, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: interior

On a plot of land below where the Crescent was later built the Rotunda Museum, designed for the Scarborough Philosophical Society by Richard Hey Sharp in collaboration with the geologist William Smith “the father of English geology”, was opened in 1829.  It was one of the first purpose-built museums in the country, and its shape specifically assisted the display of geological specimens in chronological order.  Sharp’s design provided for lateral wings which were built in the 1860s and extended in 1881.

Other planned but unbuilt embellishments to the Sharps’ scheme included a columned and pedimented Bazaar and Saloon alongside the Rotunda and a monumental column in the middle of the Crescent Gardens.

In 2008 the Rotunda was ambitiously restored and modernised, and now provides a better-than-ever introduction to the geology and local history of the area.  In a relatively small space there is a surprising amount to read and examine.  It’s an excellent place to pass the time when the weather’s unpleasant.

Across the road, you can leave your car at the scene of a particularly crass piece of 1960s municipal vandalism.

Eugenius Birch, the pier-designer, constructed the People’s Palace and Aquarium, which extended underneath Ramshill Road, providing three acres of underground entertainment facilities at a cost of £100,000 in 1875-7.  Conceived by the director of the Brighton Aquarium, it was taken over by Scarborough Corporation in 1921:  it became a wonderful and elaborate amusement arcade, latterly known as Gala Land, and was eventually demolished in 1968.

The site became an underground car-park – and a missed opportunity.  Scarborough is not well-blessed with under-cover entertainment facilities.  Hindsight is easy, but so is myopia.  The Sixties preoccupation with accommodating the private car led to the destruction of an indoor entertainment facility in a prime location, in favour of a car park that could have been cheaply located elsewhere.

Details of opening arrangements and activities at the Rotunda Museum are at


Scarborough’s Crescent

The Crescent, Scarborough, North Yorkshire

The Crescent, Scarborough, North Yorkshire

Before the railway came in 1845, Scarborough was entirely an elegant, exclusive resort for visitors who could afford to stay for a substantial season and would require appropriate housing.  The Crescent was begun in 1833, designed by Richard Hey Sharp and Samuel Sharp of York.

This ambitious residential scheme proceeded slowly:  the smaller Belvoir Terrace was complete by 1837, but only four more houses had been built by 1850, and construction was not fully completed until 1857, by which time the arrival of the railway had permanently changed Scarborough’s character.

The Sharps originally envisaged seven villas overlooking the South Cliff:  eventually four were built – Wood End (1835, extended c1902, latterly the Museum of Natural History), Crescent House 1835-6, enlarged 1845-6, later Broxholme, now the Art Gallery), Warwick Villa (1837, later Londesborough Lodge after purchase by the first Lord Londesborough) and East Villa (1830s, later Belvoir House and eventually the White House).  These residences brought style to the locality:  Sir Osbert Sitwell, whose family occupied Wood End from 1862 until 1925, tells of his grandfather, the 1st Earl of Londesborough, taking his visitors from Londesborough Lodge across the bridge to the Spa on foot along nearly a mile of red carpet.

When I’m in Scarborough I like to call at the Art Gallery to revisit the atmospheric moonlight paintings that Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893) painted while living at the Castle-by-the-Sea in the late 1870s.  The Gallery has a strong tradition of interesting visiting exhibitions, and excellent coffee, which you serve yourself and then settle up with the welcoming and informative reception staff.  Even if there weren’t many other reasons to visit Scarborough, the Art Gallery would be worth a detour.

For details of the opening-times at Scarborough Art Gallery, see


Grand hotel

Grand Hotel, Scarborough

Grand Hotel, Scarborough

The Grand Hotel, Scarborough dominates the resort’s South Bay.  Its eggcup domes provide an unmistakable skyline, and the wedge-shaped plan, built into the cliff-side, enables it to overlook both the South Bay and the Valley.

Designed by Cuthbert Brodrick, the architect of Leeds Town Hall and the Leeds Corn Exchange, it belongs to the first generation of British hotels on the American pattern of public rooms combined with suites and bedrooms.

Brodrick provided an elaborate top-lit central hall and staircase, and the coffee-room and drawing room each measured 110ft × 80ft with bow windows facing South Cliff and the Spa.

Nikolaus Pevsner characterised its style as “Mixed Renaissance…[with a] touch of Quattrocento…a High Victorian gesture of assertion and confidence, of denial of frivolity and insistence on substance”.  It cost £66,000 to build and opened in 1867.

Legend has it that Brodrick contrived the design to include four towers to represent the seasons, twelve floors for the months, 52 chimneys for the weeks and 365 bedrooms for the days of the year.  If so, it’s a measure of the opulence of the place that the modern configuration, with en-suite facilities, provides 382 bedrooms.

Nowadays the Grand is “grand” in the Yorkshire sense.  After years as a Butlin’s hotel it now belongs to the Britannia chain which owns, among others, the Liverpool Adelphi.  As such it offers budget accommodation in palatial surroundings, with sometimes interesting dissonances.  The last time I walked in the PA system was playing Gene Pitney’s 1964 hit ‘Twenty-four hours from Tulsa’.

In recent years the Grand Hotel has had some unfortunate publicity.  The building now wears a vast hairnet because, apparently, the mating cries of the seagulls disturbed the guests.  In other places, the reverse might have been the case.

The Wikipedia entry is interesting, but its neutrality is disputed:  For the moment, the entry carries a health warning.  As well it might.

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.