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History of the Scarborough Spa
The Scarborough Spa Complex
The discovery of mineral waters led to the development of tourism in the town.

It was in the early seventeenth century that natural mineral waters were discovered in Scarborough.

A Mrs Farrow or Farrer is said to have been the person who discovered that the waters could have medicinal properties.

Within decades, Scarborough was well established as somewhere nice to 'take the waters'.

By the early 1700s a spa house had been built to sell the waters to eager visitors to the town, who were determined to improve their health.

As a spa town, Scarborough enjoyed considerable growth in the 18th century, leading to the town's claim of being England's first true seaside resort. Apart from taking the waters visitors could enjoy boating, horse racing on the beach and bathing in the sea.

Great importance was placed on the spa and the facilities for visitors. A wooden wharf protected the spa house from the sea but it was washed away in heavy seas in 1735. A further disaster occurred in 1737 when a major cliff fall destroyed the wells and the spa house.

Cliff Bridge, Scarborough
Improving access to the Spa complex was a Victorian priority.

To replace these facilities a sizeable building or saloon was erected in 1739, with views over the sea and the wells. However, this building was accessed by a long flight of stairs which proved unsuitable for the older and more infirm visitors.

The building's proximity to the sea led to further damage over the years. In 1808 the saloon was damaged by heavy seas and a far worse storm destroyed the building again in 1836.

19th Century developments

In the 1820s a new company leased the Spa from the local council. The Cliff Bridge Company had realised that to make the most money from people coming to sample the waters access had to be improved.

To solve the problems they proceeded to erect an iron footbridge that would enable people to cross to the Spa from St Nicholas Cliff. The bridge, which officially opened in 1827, towered above the valley below and provided stunning views out to sea.

The company also turned their attentions to the Spa buildings as well. A 'gothic' saloon, designed by Henry Wyatt, was opened in 1839.

It included a concert hall that could seat 500 people, gardens and a promenade. There was also an outside area where orchestras could entertain the visitors.

By the time the new buildings were opened though, they were considered too small for the hordes of visitors that Victorian Scarborough was attracting. Sir Joseph Paxton was called in to redesign the buildings.

Sir Joseph had worked on the grounds of Chatsworth in Derbyshire and the famous Crystal Palace. His building, which opened in 1858, consisted of a central assembly hall with adjoining galleries, that could seat 2000 people.

Outside, the sea wall was extended to include a double promenade with a carriage road, a colonnade with shops and an open air bandstand.

Spa Complex, Scarborough
The Spa buildings reveal the ambition of Victorian Scarborough.

The home of entertainment

The new buildings were a symbol of Scarborough's self-confidence in its continuing popularity. In 1875 the first cliff tram was built to provide additional access and the great music hall stars of the late 19th century flocked to Scarborough to perform at the Spa.

In fact, the entertainment on offer to the public at Scarborough far surpassed the original purpose of the buildings, as an elegant area to 'take the Scarborough waters'.

The waters had changed over the centuries and by the 1960s public consumption of the waters ceased altogether. Unfortunately, the remains of the wells are no longer open to the public due to health and safety regulations.

Despite alterations over the years, the Spa complex today, which consists of the Spa Theatre, the Grand Hall for concerts, the Ocean Room, Promenade Lounge, Sun Court, bar areas, cafes and other rooms, still owes a great deal to the architecture of the 1880s.

The huge complex is a legacy of Scarborough's importance as a resort but it also reminds us that, without the discovery made by Mrs Farrer in the early 17th century, the town would probably not have developed into one of England's first seaside resorts.

Council reserves to save Spa work
02 Jul 10 |  North Yorkshire
Council approves Spa rescue plan
05 Jul 10 |  North Yorkshire
Town's 6.5m Spa revamp under way
28 May 10 |  North Yorkshire



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