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: http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/ClevelandWay/index.asp?PageId=1. Ravenscar is also the terminus of the celebrated Lyke Wake Walk: see http://www.lykewake.org.
However you get there, don’t miss tea at the Raven Hall Hotel [http://www.ravenhall.co.uk] 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.