Nostalgia: Serving the needs of ‘spawers’

Illustration from Greens Poetical Sketches showing two ladies asking proprietor, Mr Leatherum, for shoes that were waterproof.
Illustration from Greens Poetical Sketches showing two ladies asking proprietor, Mr Leatherum, for shoes that were waterproof.

The presence every summer from May until October of hundreds of rich, extravagant, carefree and often infirm gentlemen and ladies created a demand for goods and services which Scarborough did not normally meet. Indeed, so great were the special needs of “spawers” that every season shopkeepers and craftsmen from as far away as London came to Scarborough for the elitist trade and employment. Cooks and chefs arrived from the capital to prepare meals in the Long Rooms and the superior inns; physicians and apothecaries came up from Hull; shopkeepers, selling a variety of high-class clothing from ladies’ dresses to gentlemen’s dancing shoes, came over from York for the season.

Poorer people had to make their own garments or wear second-hand clothing. Ready to wear clothes were almost impossible to buy, but the well-to-do wore only fashionable, expensive, made-to-measure articles from hats to boots. So some Scarborough shops catered exclusively for affluent visitors and opened only during the season. This was particularly the case with ladies’ wear.

Mrs Kelsall and her husband had a shop on St Nicholas Cliff on the ground floor, lived above it, and let out two attics as lodgings. She specialised in hessian and whalebone stays or corsets for ladies who needed to discipline their figures to fit into fashionable slim gowns, raise their bosoms or flatten their stomachs. Her stays were both long and short and she also offered to make-up garments from customer-chosen materials.

Mrs Peacock had two shops, one in York the other in Scarborough. She was both milliner and dressmaker whose speciality was bonnets and hat plumage. In 1819 her shop was at No.2 The Cliff when she advertised in the York Herald for “a respectable young person” to take up an apprenticeship with her. Similarly, Mrs Eades’ Ladies’ Millinery Warehouse on Long Room Street catered for female customers only during the season.

Fashions and styles in ladies’ wear changed with remarkable speed. For instance, in 1811, ladies wore jockey-style peaked bonnets over hair that was tied tightly in a knot at the back. By 1820, they were piling their hair on the top of the head so that bonnets had to be larger and higher. Bonnets and hats of all kinds were often decorated with feathers and ribbons.

There were shoe-shops for gentlemen and ladies. Tall, sturdy walking boots for men were known as Hessians; riding boots had turned-down cuffs; and for the ballroom gentlemen were expected to wear lightweight, dancing pumps. A ladies’ shop for footwear is one of Green’s illustrations in his Poetical Sketches. Here two ladies are asking the proprietor, “My Leatherum”, for shoes that were waterproof with soles thick enough for walking on pebbles. He persuades them that if they are too tight they would stretch with wear, and if they were too loose they would shrink when wet! Both ladies and gentlemen needed shoe cleaners and polishes. At Marshall and Watkinson’s store they could buy Warren’s Original Japan Liquid Blacking, which not only made shoes shine “like high-polished glass”, but did not stain clothing. Obviously, gentlemen and ladies employed street boys to clean and shine their dusty or muddy boots and slippers.

Since so many “spawers” suffered from a wide variety of illnesses and ailments, some real or imaginary, there was a great and reliable demand for medicinal remedies. Mr Harland seems to have sold the biggest range. Dr Fothergill’s Cordial Drops, for instance, claimed to cure “lowness of spirits, headaches, loss of appetite, indigestion, spasms, hypochondriacism, lanquor, anxiety of mind, fainting fits”, providing immediate relief to the sufferer. In addition, he had Itch Ointment; Dennis’s Celebrated Family Pills, which promoted good health and longevity; and a certain protective balm against “Fogs and Damp Air”, which suggests something sinister about Scarborough’s notorious sea frets.

Not that Mr Harland had a monopoly of the trade. Mr Champley offered ointment that dealt effectively with bruises, cramps, rheumatism, and even paralysis; and Mr Ainsworth, who also sold books, advertised Wilson’s Tincture, a guaranteed preventative of gout and lumbago and a remedy for any problems with kidneys, bowels, liver or stomach.

One enterprising salesman on The Terrace (the path from St Nicholas Cliff down to the Spa before the footbridge was built in 1827) by the fictional name of “Cracknill”, offered “Shells, Pebbles and Curiosities” to the passing company. This was an age of growing interest in and understanding of fossils and the Yorkshire coast was especially rich in “strange stones” lying on the sea shore and embedded in cliffs. Thomas Hinderwell had a private collection of such “curiosities” which after his death went to the Rotunda Museum and, at 7 Vernon Place, Mr McBean had an enormous assortment of them.

After hair-powder was taxed in 1795, many gentlemen chose to show their natural hair instead of wearing a wig. Some in the Whig party protested against this Tory tax by having their hair cut short, whereas Tories who paid their guinea tax for wigs were disparagingly called “guinea pigs”.

Most gentlemen were clean-shaven. The richest had a personal barber who dressed hair and cut beards; others resorted to commercial street barbers who sometimes also practised as surgeons. Mr Brooke’s Hair Salon on The Cliff probably cut hair, shaved beards and supplied wigs. His business was advertised in the York Courant of 1815.

Finally, Scarborough’s outdoor market stalls were concentrated along both sides of Newborough and had spread to adjoining streets. By 1803, access to the Saturday market in Low Conduit via St Sepulchre Street and West Sandgate had become so restricted that it was afterwards held in Newborough instead. About 70% of all stalls were in Newborough, but the apple market was in what became King Street, fresh meat was sold at the Market Cross, and cloth at the south end of Queen Street. Partly in deference to the noses and sensitivities of elite visitants, pigs had been moved to St Thomas Street, cattle had been relegated to the top end of Queen Street and fish were confined to the harbour and sands.

Not content only with the weekly markets in Newborough, successful stall holders had bought properties in neighbouring streets such as Cross, St Thomas, King and Queen and set up shops in the front of their ground floors. For example, one butcher, who had rented a Newborough stall for decades, by 1802 had moved his trade to a large ground-floor shop in Cross Street.

Not that “The Company” were likely to mix freely with fishmongers or butchers, let alone live beasts or pigs: their shopping was of a much more selective and exclusive kind.