THE SCARBOROUGH MARITIME HERITAGE CENTRE
Scarborough has a major fort, an important port
and was the first seaside resort. Since the 12th
century, the great rock carried a Norman castle,
visited by the mediaeval Kings from Henry II to
Richard III, who made the port his base for war
against Scotland. The castle was still capable of
withstanding long sieges in the 17th century Civil War
between King and Parliament. It was garrisoned in the
long wars against Napoleon.
Inland from the castle, the Kings chartered a borough of free men, the only royal borough on the Yorkshire coast until the founding of Hull. Palace fishmongers bought their fish at preferential prices for centuries. The old borough over flowed west of its wall into a second new borough and onto the sands into an Undercliff port with a staith, a quay and piers. The fishermen were at the Dogger Bank before 1189. They sailed up the Yorkshire rivers, supplying York and Wakefield. Many monasteries bought Scarborough Saltfish and Herring. There has been a significant fishing community ever since. Without the fishing, there would have been no borough.
Scarborough was the fourth largest town in Yorkshire from the 13th to the 16th century, after York, Beverley and Hull. Merchants exported wool, barley, malt and fish. From the 17th to the 19th century, in the great days of sail, this was a major ship building port . The harbour was sustained by a levy on the Newcastle and Sunderland coal trade to London and Europe. .Here was a “nursery of seamen “, Some were pirates, some were smugglers, and more were traders, going the world over, many as sea captains in the 19th century.
A coastal spring of medicinal water was discovered in the early 17th century. Scarborough spa became the nation’s first seaside resort, attracting the country aristocracy. Tea and silk were cheap in Georgian Scarborough, because of the smuggling. Sea bathing was pioneered here and a hundred other novelties which entered the heart of the British people, as holidays spread more widely. There were trips to sea, sand castles, donkey rides, sand races, bathing machines, pierrots, “rock with letters right through”. and “boarding houses”. Dozens of other coastal places followed the Scarborough example.
Legend gives Scarborough an even longer story. Viking raiders are said to have founded a pirate’s base on the shore in 966. The Norse King Harald Hardrada fought local men below the cliff in 1066. An old ballad says that Robin Hood was here to try his hand at fishing, without success. When the herring moved to the offshore waters, from Baltic breeding grounds, the Dutchmen followed them, for many centuries. The American John Paul jones waited for the collier fleet off the coast.
Everybody came to the seaside resort. from the Marquis of Granby to William Smith the founder of modern Geology The pioneer of aviation Sir George Cayley was born here. The railways .took the fish further afield and brought trippers and holiday makers from ever more distant places..
Scarborough has a rich maritime heritage. The town and the Yorkshire coast deserve a Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre to conserve the records, to display something of that rich history ,and to provide a focus for activities that will preserve and celebrate that heritage for our generation and others yet to come..
SMHC was established in 2004 when a Steering Group met to investigate the possibility of setting up a maritime heritage centre. The work they did identified a number of issues. There was clear support from residents and visitors for such a centre. There was support from members of the fishing community and those with an interest in the history of Scarborough. There was a great need for a reputable organisation to receive and hold archives and artefacts that many people wished to loan, donate and give in legacies. A number of other groups/organisations wished to work with SMHC as their interests coincided with the group