AMONG THE names of distinguished visitors listed in the weekly Scarborough Herald of August 1 1839 was Dr Augustus Bozzi Granville. The doctor was a recognised authority on spas, foreign and domestic. In 1837, his Spas of Germany had been well received and four years later, in three volumes, Northern, Midland and Southern, his definitive Spas of England and Principal Sea-Bathing Places was published.
In Granville’s expert opinion, Scarborough was “the most pleasing”, better than Margate, Brighton or Hastings, and infinitely superior to Harrogate. The doctor had travelled from York on the early-morning mail-coach, arriving at the Bell on Bland’s Cliff in time for one of Master Webb’s fabled breakfasts.
And what a breakfast it was: “good bread, excellent tea, tea-cakes, muffins, new-laid eggs, cold beef, raised pies, shrimps, potted and marinaded fish”! That was at nine o’clock: three more meals were to follow at noon, four and eight o’clock. And all of this and a room with sea view for 6s 6d (32p) a day! No wonder Granville was pleased with his lodgings.
Yet there was more and even better to come. Though a seasoned, critical traveller, Granville was “enchanted” with Scarborough’s location which he compared to the Bay of Naples. He thought the north-east coast of Yorkshire was as “romantic” and as “picturesque” as any he had seen on the “Adriatic and Grecian Seas”.
However, the good doctor had not come to Scarborough to enjoy the food or to admire the scenery: yet he was not disappointed with the town’s other attractions as a medicinal and pleasure resort. As far as sea-bathing was concerned, Scarborough, its pioneer, now had between 30 and 40 changing vehicles on its flat, firm, clean sands.
Though there is no evidence that he took the plunge himself, he was convinced that it imparted vigour to the infirm and restored a “morbid frame”.
Granville also inspected some of Scarborough’s indoor sea-water baths and found them luxurious. Dr William Travis offered marble interiors and the purest salt-water, warm and cold, administered by shower, pump, drenching or vapour. Dr Harland’s baths were “coquettish” and more like a boudoir. Had Granville ventured down to Vickerman’s on the foreshore or Weddell’s, the public baths on the harbour front in Sandside, he would have found them much cheaper but more basic.
Of the Spa itself, the doctor was less enamoured. Wyatt’s new turreted “castle”, or Gothic Saloon, opened less than a month earlier and not yet furnished and decorated, did not appeal to him. He objected to the way that the springs were pumped to the surface and clearly preferred the “sweet waters” brought down from Falsgrave in the borough’s conduits. He did not question the efficacy of the spa, but he pointed out that there was no professional agreement about their mineral content.
As for Scarborough’s “intellectual amusements”, Granville found the Rotunda museum “delightful” and was impressed by the town’s many libraries, for borrowers as well as browsers. But for him the best intellectual “treat” was his view of Mr McBean’s private collection of 60 to 70 thousand fossils and shells at 7 Vernon Place. He found it amazing that during the course of 20 years walking for five or six miles every day McBean had found, discovered and named so many species on Scarborough’s sands.
In contrast, a public performance at the theatre in Tanner Street, even in season, had attracted an audience of only 19 when he was there. It seems that he alone thought that the widow of a late, gallant life-guard officer was “bewitching”.
Snob that he was, Granville believed that Scarborough was declining socially. A century earlier, the aristocracy had been “as thick as berries on hedges” and Scarborough was then what Brighton had become, thanks to “Royal countenance”.
Now its aristocracy was of “farmers from the East and West Ridings of ignoble birth”.
Formerly Donner’s Long Room, now Mrs Reed’s Hotel (and later still the Royal) had a ballroom, but the dancing there was “mediocre” because the company was unsociable and uncivil. Perhaps the doctor had come too early in the season. Had he stayed on longer until late August he would have witnessed two days of horse-racing on the “purest” sands and “the best riding ground in the world” along with those of a superior class from the vantage of the new Cliff Bridge.
Like some latter-day idealistic conservationist, the good doctor hoped that the old fishing village below the Bell would remain “unspoilt”. The “primeval huts and cottages of the fisherman and the mariner” must not be touched by the “sacrilegious hand of improvement”. Had Granville himself been a fisherman or a sailor living in Scarborough’s old town he might have been less happy with its damp, rat-infested, insanitary, overcrowded, smoke-filled hovels.
What Granville did not know at the time was that in only half a dozen years the arrival in Scarborough of steam-driven railway engines and the installation of steam-powered water pumps at Cayton Bay would give the declining town a much-needed and real renaissance.
Not that he approved of the new railways that were beginning to spread their tentacles across the whole country. He was convinced that travelling at 20 or even 30 miles an hour hampered the natural breathing of passengers and that the railway staff were notoriously inconsiderate for their comfort and safety. Dr Granville was afraid that the invasion of “the great mass of visitors of ignoble birth” would ruin the resort forever. Or, to use the disparaging words of that other snob who then lived in Wood End, George Knowles, Scarborough could well do without railway excursionists who were no better than “vagrants and those who have no money to spend”.