diamond geezer

 Saturday, October 16, 2021

More postcards from Scarborough

The railway arrived in Scarborough in 1845 and enabled daytrippers and holidaymakers to reach the spa town from far afield. By 1883 two additional platforms were needed to accommodate much longer trains, now numbered 1 and 2, and on one of these they built a 139m-long bench. No other railway station anywhere else in the world can beat it. If the bench looks in good nick that's because it's recently been given a £14,500 restoration which involved replacing all the nuts and bolts, the seat and the backrest (if nothing else the repainted cast iron supports are original). The bench is long enough to seat over 200 passengers, and would have done in its heyday as revellers waited to travel home, but these days is generally used by absolutely nobody at all. That's because modern trains don't usually use platform 1, and even if they did they'd pull in much further up the platform whereas the bench languishes at the far end. I made a special effort to go out of my way to take a look, and take a seat, and even unscrewed my thermos to enjoy a cup of record-breakingly long tea. The photo above is my arty bench shot but if you'd prefer to enjoy a wider perspective, try here.

The first building you see outside the station is the Stephen Joseph Theatre, a converted Odeon cinema with art deco flourishes. It's unusual for being a theatre in the round - Scarborough had England's first - and famous because its Creative Director used to be Alan Ayckbourn. Most of the prolific playwright's dramas were premiered in Scarborough, including Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests and Bedroom Farce, and his oeuvre remains particularly popular with professional and amdram performers. Sir Alan is unusual in being born in London but making his name in the provinces and still chooses to base himself in Scarborough. I walked along Longwestgate in search of his home address and thought it can't be down here, it's much too common, but at the far end the Old Town kicked in and the properties got nicer and Alan's hideaway is a smart and worthy townhouse. I suspect it's been extended a couple of times because Georgians wouldn't have needed a double garage. I hope it has a hallway with several slammable doors leading off of it.

Scarborough's main street runs from the station to the harbour, with chainstore shopping at the upper end and takeaways and independents further down. Tucked off where the big names stop is the town's chapel-like Victorian Market Hall. Its exterior suggests something old and tired, but the interior has recently had a £2.7m upgrade and looks modern, clean and spacious. A lot of this is because there are hardly any stalls at ground level, the majority of which is taken up by two well groomed greengrocers and a lot of cafe tables, while a lot of dinky boutiques have been elevated around a horseshoe mezzanine. A Yorkshire-baked cinnamon swirl came with a pricetag of only £1.20 so I approved, but nowhere smelt of fish so it didn't feel proper. What's more when I got home and did some research I discovered that the Market Hall is most famous for its basement vaults, whose entrance I never even spotted, and I consider that a criminal signage disaster.

Not all of Scarborough's famous residents have proved welcome. Jimmy Savile had a spacious flat in Wessex Court on the Esplanade just south of the Cliff Bridge - very much a prime location - where he lived for many years with his ageing mother. After his death the council installed a gold memorial plaque on the building and named a nearby footpath Savile's View, but both lasted barely a fortnight before increasing concern about his predatory behaviour saw them quickly removed. For many years you could still see the holes where the plaque was screwed in but I'm pleased to say even those have now been plastered over and you'd never know it'd ever been there. Savile's second floor view was about as good as it gets for Scarborough, his flat perfectly poised at the southern end of the bay, which alas is where being a much-admired eccentric serial abuser gets you.

Half a mile south of the town is an astronomical one-off, the Scarborough Star Disk. It was laid down on the site of an outdoor Bathing Pool in 2006 and consists 42 fibre optic terminals representing the brightest circumpolar stars. Up close it's a disappointment - a few metal strips which form the shapes of Ursa Minor, the Plough and Cassiopeia sprawled across a concrete void. It must look a lot better at dusk or after dark, especially when seen from the gardens above, indeed a special Star Disk viewpoint has been created alongside the putting green. Let's hope it lasts, because the ravine where I clambered back up to the clifftop is the location of Scarborough's notorious hotel-destroying landslide in 1993. A few illuminated constellations would be no match for a million tonnes of glacial till.

Switching to the North Bay from the South, this arresting sculpture can be found opposite the lone cafe on the promenade at Royal Albert Drive. Made from weathering steel it depicts an elderly Yorkshireman in a flat cap portrayed at twice life-size while sitting on a similarly over-proportioned bench. He's actually a former soldier who participated in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp, hence the sculpture's title is Freddie Gilroy and the Belsen Stragglers. Freddie wasn't local and was chosen to represent ordinary people who participated in extraordinary events, and what's more the sculpture was initially only meant to be here for four weeks. But a local pensioner stumped up £50,000 to buy it so it could stay where it was, and now it's like this giant veteran has been looking out across the waves forever.

Peasholm Park is Scarborough's finest recreational space, an oriental themed pleasure park with smart gardens and a boating lake at its heart. It was created in 1911 by Harry Smith, Scarborough's Borough Engineer, and later augmented by a chain of cascades up Peasholm Glen. The lake's central island with its lanterns and Japanese pagoda can only be accessed via a single footbridge, which is sadly locked out of season, ditto the jetty with the dragon pedalos. But Peasholm's true summer spectacle is the astonishing half hour Historic Naval Battle which takes place on the lake up to three times a week and has done since 1927. A fleet of replica boats, each 20 foot long and with a human crew, takes to the water and fires pyrotechnic potshots in an attempt to recreate the ferocious Battle of The River Plate. I suspect the floating bandstand only gets in the way, but the substantial bank of benches and terraced seating in front of the cafe is the ideal spot to watch it all.

» 20 Scarborough photos on Flickr

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