Nostalgia: No room at the inn

The former Bell, at the top of Blands Cliff, now converted to flats, flourished from regular stagecoach custom largely thanks to improved turnpiked roads
The former Bell, at the top of Blands Cliff, now converted to flats, flourished from regular stagecoach custom largely thanks to improved turnpiked roads
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Scarborians were very slow to offer adequate and appropriate accommodation to their visiting “spawers”. In 1697, Celia Fiennes had been fortunate to find “good accommodation on reasonable terms”, perhaps because she was willing to be a guest of Quakers and took her own bedding with her on her travels.

Not until the New Buildings went up in the 1760s were there purpose-designed lodging houses for visitors. Scarborough’s old inns - the New Globe, the Old Globe, the New Inn, the Crown and Sceptre and the Blacksmith’s Arms – catered specifically and best for itinerant commercial travellers, not for ladies and gentlemen with their children and servants who might want to stay for several months between June and October. According to War Office figures, even as late as 1756, Scarborough had still only 151 guest beds and stabling for 358 horses.

So the gentry and aristocracy, shunning common inns, arrived at Scarborough in their own family coaches and rented rooms in private houses. For instance, Sir William Calverley of Esholt Hall near Bradford set out from his home on June 10, stayed in York overnight, and the next night took lodgings with “Mr Rayn”. He rented three chambers and a dining room for which he paid a pound a week. For their “meat getting”, he paid about 12 shillings and sixpence a week to feed himself, his wife, their two children, two maids and two male servants. The servants cost him “two shillings a piece”.

Sir William’s rooms must have been rather grand: a little later, three rooms rented by John Courtney in 1759 and 1762 for his family cost him only ninepence each and every week. Like the Calverleys they had to send our for their meals to one of the inns or “ordinaries” which cooked and delivered them at set prices.

William Hutton and his daughter Catherine were of a still lower social order. They took five days to travel to Scarborough from the Midlands by public stagecoach and brought only a maid, a manservant and a saddle horse. Instead of hiring furnished rooms and sending out for food, they settled for bedrooms in Mr Crathorne’s lodging house in Merchants’ Row. He paid 25 shillings a week for himself and Catherine “exclusive of tea and liquors”, ten shillings more each for beds, and 17 shillings and sixpence each for maid, servant and stabled and fed horse.

William and Catherine Hutton seem to have been content to eat, drink and mix with the company of 23 others whom they found “civil”. Indeed, Catherine came back to Scarborough year after year for many weeks at a time. Unlike their social superiors, they made full use of Scarborough’s many amenities: besides drinking the spa water and bathing in the sea, they rode across the sands on horseback, visited the harbour, and wandered through all parts of the town, poor as well as rich. At the age of 80, William boasted that he could still walk 30 miles a day!

However, perhaps it was significant that Catherine complained in 1804 and 1806 of overcrowding in her lodgings and the gluttony and heavy drinking of the “cloth-makers and merchants from the West Riding”. Was Scarborough going down-market?

Thanks largely to the improved turnpiked roads and the increased speed, comfort and reliability of the stagecoach services to and from Scarborough, by 1800 the resort’s inns had grown in number, size and facilities. In particular, three inns, the Bull, just outside Newborough Bar, the Talbot, in Queen Street, and the (Old, Blue) Bell, at the top of Bland’s Cliff, were flourishing from regular stagecoach custom. Even today, 200 years later, you can still see the open areas behind the Bull and the Talbot which are now carparks but were formerly spacious grounds for coaches and horse stables.

The Bull, once the Pied Bull and later Houson’s, the name of its long-term proprietor, was so-called because of its site on the corner of the York Road (now Westborough) and Bull Lane (now Aberdeen Walk). Later transformed into the Balmoral hotel, it was bulldozed in 1973. At the Bull, Houson had an understanding with the proprietor of the Golden Lion in Leeds whereby their guests would travel between the two in the Old True Blue coach, which carried four privileged passengers inside and three on the roof.

During the season, no fewer than eleven coaches ran daily services to Scarborough, but the most expensive and safest was the royal mail which ended its journey at the Bell, the nearest inn to the Post Office on Palace Hill. In Green’s Poetical Sketches, written in 1812, there is a drawing of the company at the Bell, all seated round the long table in the parlour. On the table there are coffee pot, big tea urn, cups and saucers, and mountains of bread, butter, ham, potted shrimps and dried fish. Theirs was an English breakfast.

By the time of the Regency, the George in Newborough had become the fourth leading inn in the town. Its accommodation included a private, back room for commercial travellers and spawers, a large front room, and two dining rooms. The George had its own brewery and also offered “rich old wines and genuine spirits”. Not least of its amenities were stables for horses and well-aired, bug- free beds.

Finally, there was an increasing number of lodging houses of various quality. The New Buildings of the 1760s were still the best. Here rooms cost 10 shillings a week each, sheets, tablecloths and towels included, a fully-stocked kitchen at a pound a week, and a cook half a guinea extra. Alternatively, you could order in hot meals from the nearest inn.

The first guide to list Scarborough’s lodging houses was published in 1797. It named a dozen properties on St Nicholas Cliff “with full sea prospect”, eight on Harding’s Walk, 34 in Newborough, 13 in Longroom Street, two in Tanner Street and seven in Queen Street. However, a self-styled second edition of 1806 added many more in the lower town “below the Cross”, in Merchants’ Row and King Street, most of which had shops or private dwellings on the ground floor. This guide also distinguished between “lodging” houses, which offered only rooms to let, and “boarding” houses which also provided meals for their guests. As yet, there were no hotels in Scarborough on the French model.