Sam and Nat Buck

The restored steps which lead down to the Dropping Spring, 113026a
The restored steps which lead down to the Dropping Spring, 113026a

THE duchess of Marlborough made her painful coach journey to Scarborough hopefully to cure her gout and scurvy; Edmund Withers came here from Leeds to enjoy himself; and the Buck brothers, Samuel and Nathanael, came to draw it and publish their work for profit. All wanted Scarborough to serve their purposes.

The Bucks belonged to a succession of artists who drew “prospects” of South Bay during the first half of the 18th century to advertise Scarborough as a resort for the well-heeled.

The lion's head and bowl where the Dropping Spring trickles out of the carriage-way wall, 113026c

The lion's head and bowl where the Dropping Spring trickles out of the carriage-way wall, 113026c

Francis Place of York was the first of these engravers whose work of 1715 was being reprinted as late as 1731 when it was already out of date. For instance, his drawing of Scarborough, with Castle, Port and Spaw didn’t show John Bland’s coach road to the sands which was finished in 1722.

John Setterington’s “perspective draught” of 1735 was noteworthy because it was the first to show bathers swimming naked in the sea, some from rowing boats but others from a wheeled hut on the edge of the water. This was the world’s earliest bathing machine.

Both drawings showed Dicky Dickinson’s houses for spawers, but in different form. Place drew three single-storey buildings behind the staith, “the Ladeys House”, on the left, “Another house for the Gent(s)” on the right and between them, “Dickies House”, whereas Setterington’s sketch had only two two-story buildings in the same position at the foot of the cliff. Another significant change that seems to have happened after two decades is that Place’s spawers had arrived either on foot or on horseback, but some of Setterington’s had come in horse-drawn coaches, open carriages or sedan chairs. The resort had gone up-market.

Though it seems that little had changed by 1745 when the Bucks drew their South Prospect, in fact during the past decade there had been tragedy and disaster followed by triumphant recovery.

The spa buildings were always endangered by falling cliff rocks from above and sea storms from below, but on 29 December 1737 the cliff collapsed bringing down a quarter of a million tons of earth. Both buildings and well were buried. Dicky Dickinson lost everything and within six weeks he was dead. At the time and even subsequently this episode was described as the Scarborough “earthquake”, but it was very similar to the landslip of June 1993, which slowly and surely swept away the Holbeck Hall hotel.

Now fully aware of the indispensable value to the town of the spa and its rich clientele, the Corporation took swift, decisive action. Within days of Dicky’s demise, men were digging out the dirt and loading it into horse-drawn carts. Before the end of May 1738 and in time for the new season, the London Daily Post announced that two new rooms for ladies and gentlemen with windows, chimneys and “wainscotted throughout” were ready.

Whether these two buildings were later joined together is not known, but the Bucks drew only one single-storey house which they labelled “the gentlemen and ladies walking rooms”. “Walking” was then a euphemism like today’s American “bathroom”.

They also drew one major improvement. The spa wells (for now there were two) were no longer on the exposed open beach where the high tide had once covered them; now they were inside and protected by a two-tiered stone staith.

Another much-delayed improvement was also first recorded by the Bucks. A long flight of steps running down St Nicholas Cliff to the valley of Millbeck was by then said to be “the new way up to the Long Room Street”. Coaches, carts and horses still had to hazard Bland’s Cliff, but pedestrians, if fit enough, now had a shorter and quicker route to the spa wells.

Setterington had drawn only one bathing hut at the edge of the water; the Bucks drew five in the sea and several more on the sands. These they described as “a curious contrivance of wooden houses moveable on wheels”.

After the huge landslip of 1737 the cliff behind and above the spa was no longer so perpendicular and menacing and the Bucks drew what appears to be a waterfall gushing out of it just to the north of the spa. For centuries the land above and behind the site of the spa was known as Driple or Dribble Cotes and water running down the cliff as the Dropping Spring. Though today the original spa wells have long since been buried under concrete, the Dropping Spring stills trickles out of the carriage-way wall.

As recently as 1980, Scarborough borough council spent a significant amount of money restoring the stonework of this wall and steps, adding a lion’s head spout and a bowl and a warning notice to would-be drinkers that this brown dribble was not to be drunk. Nevertheless, there is still a local superstition that the dropping spring, though unfit for consumption, is good as “eye-water”.

The accuracy of the Bucks “prospect” cannot be confidently checked. One hopes that it is better informed than the caption attached to it which contains an abundance of historical errors.

Castle hill plain was never 40 acres in area. The castle itself was not “demolished in the time of the Rebellion” (Civil Wars) and in 1745 was still regarded as a functional fortress. St Mary’s was never “a monastery of White Fryers” or a monastery of any order of monks. Scarborough’s White Friars or Carmelites had a poor house on a site near to what is now Boyes’ store. Mrs Thomasin (not Elizabeth) Farrer was not “an Ancient Maiden Lady” when she discovered the spa spring or at any other time.

When she first tasted the waters she was a middle-aged married lady.

The only fatuous fallacy the caption doesn’t include is the claim that King Billy introduced parliamentary democracy.