Regency rulers kept tight rein

Green's illustration from "Poetical Sketches of Scarborough", 1813
Green's illustration from "Poetical Sketches of Scarborough", 1813

Written by Dr Jack Binns

In some fundamental ways, the Scarborough of 1812 was the same as the Scarborough of 1612: its Liberty boundaries from Peasholm Beck in the north to Byward Water (the Mere) in the south and from the shore of the German Ocean (North Sea) westwards to the top of Row Brow had not changed.

Also, the borough was still governed by the 44 members of the Common Hall and their chosen officials. Their names were different – Thompson, Fysh, Batty, Peacock and Foord had given way to Tindall, Woodall, Hinderwell, Travis and Wharton – but these families still sat in the same hierarchical places and exercised the same dictatorial powers. As they had done for nearly 600 years, they met every year on St Jerome’s day, September 30, to elect their two bailiffs, two coroners, four chamberlains and 36 burgesses sitting in their three Twelves.

The two bailiffs, senior and junior, were still supreme in the borough. As magistrates they presided over Scarborough’s petty and quarter sessions and its monthly court of pleas. They were responsible for implementing Acts of Parliament concerning taxes, the harbour, turnpike roads and public health improvements and they still appointed and supervised the town’s breadweighers, meat inspectors, gaoler and master of the grammar school. Though they received no salary, their perquisites included dues on fruit and fish brought in by “strangers”, a sack of coals from each incoming collier and a 20-guinea entertainment allowance. At the end of their year in office they usually became coroners.

The two coroners held inquests, received the pier levies on outgoing Newcastle and Sunderland coal and looked after the inner harbour. The main duties of the chamberlains were financial: they took in rents, tolls, fines and fees and paid out wages, salaries, repair bills for Corporation properties such as the Spa and the town’s water supply. They were also responsible for safekeeping of the borough’s charters, plate and seals which were locked up in the Common iron chest. Like the bailiffs and the coroners, the chamberlains were not salaried: their office was regarded as a necessary step up the Common Hall ladder.

The Town Clerk was the borough’s highest officer. He recorded all the meetings of the Common Hall, coroners’ inquests, borough courts and brewsters’ sessions for which he got fees and an annual salary of £60. He was one of the First Twelve.

Many of the lesser offices of the town and parish were of medieval origin. The four breadweighers examined and fined offending bakers and gave condemned bread to the poor; the warrener was paid £20 a year to look after the Corporation’s gates and fences and prevent poaching of ground game; the pinder still received an annual salary of £3 and a new cloak every third year and charged owners threepence a pig; the bellman was now called the common crier and he too had £3 a year and a new cloak every three years; and the grammar school master, still in St Mary’s south transept, was given £5 a year and the right to choose two of the four free scholars.

Yet major economic and social changes during the previous century were reflected in the borough’s government. The importance now attached to the position of harbour master, who was responsible for berths, the new lighthouse, the old and island (not the East) piers and the collection of dues and tolls, was an indication of Scarborough’s spectacular growth as a commercial port and shipbuilding centre; whereas the once-great annual fish fair had died out a decade earlier and now fishermen were allowed to use only the foreshore sands.

On the other hand, the Common Hall’s tight control of the town’s domestic trade was loosening. What had once been called St Thomas Gate and today is known as St Thomas Street, in 1812 was then Tanner Street, but there was only one unsalaried leather searcher and sealer. Though there were about 100 licensed houses in the town, the office of alefyner had become obsolete: there was no longer an official check on the quality and measures of its beer.

Similarly, inspectors of the flesh market, now reduced in number from eight to two, were also expected, without payment, to examine coal measures!

The dislocation of trade and extreme shortages of basic foods caused by the French wars which lasted almost continuously from 1793 until 1815 seem to have forced a relaxation of marketing rules and they were never re-imposed. In 1799, for example, the bailiffs had to dole out 200 quarters of corn to the poor and suspend market tolls altogether.

But the most significant change to Scarborough was its development as a seaside health and pleasure resort for well-to-do seasonal visitors. The effects of the presence of hundreds of gentlemen and ladies was most evident in Newborough and its extension beyond the Bar and out on to St Nicholas Cliff.

Purpose-built lodging houses had gone up to form Huntriss Row and the New Buildings on the Cliff. Queen Street was now said to have become as fine as any in the metropolis. Significantly, the Common Hall as well as the Assembly Room were both now in Long Room Street, having moved there from Sandside. All of these addresses now benefited from stone paving and even street lighting.

Some shops, such as Mrs Eade’s Ladies Millinery Warehouse in Long Room Street and Mr Brooke’s Hair Salon on the Cliff, catered exclusively for “spawers” during the season.

Nevertheless, as a successful watering-place, Scarborough had not been able to rival Bath or Brighton, or even Buxton or Harrogate. Harrogate had almost as many visitors as permanent residents, whereas still essentially a seafaring community, in 1811 Scarborough had a census population of 6,710 and only 389 recorded visitors.

It would be some time yet before the town earned most of its livelihood from seaside holiday-makers: in landward terms, it was still out on a remote limb.