Town’s economic concerns

Holiday-makers had been deterred by government press reports of Zeppelin bombing raids on the East coast.
Holiday-makers had been deterred by government press reports of Zeppelin bombing raids on the East coast.

At the beginning of September 1915, Scarborough’s local press contained much correspondence and comment concerning the town’s economic condition. One contributor to The Mercury listed several reasons why there were so many tenant evictions for non-payment of rent, especially among landladies who normally took summer visitors.

Since the declaration of war more than a year earlier, Scarborough had suffered a series of calamities. The Bombardment had robbed the town of its reputation for peaceful, happy prosperity. Many of its well-to-do residents had taken flight and not returned. Some schools had closed or been removed inland. Customary holiday-makers had been deterred by government press reports of Zeppelin bombing raids on the East Coast which did not identify their targets. The popular assumption in the working-class towns of industrial Yorkshire was that Scarborough was still vulnerable to further German attacks from the air and the sea. The refusal of the railway companies, with government support, to issue cheap weekend and excursion tickets had deprived the resort of its annual August bank-holiday invasion and landladies of their vital income. Finally, the rise in the cost of food had reduced the profits of retailer, cafe and restaurant owners.

A week later, under the heading of The State of the Town, a correspondent writing from Barnsley contrasted the plight of Scarborough with the prosperity he had recently witnessed in Sheffield and other industrial communities in south and west Yorkshire. Whereas the seaside resort was darkened by severe lighting restrictions, inland the night-time shops and streets were “ablaze”. In Sheffield there was a shortage only of houses to accommodate the influx of munition workers. Prices had gone up, but so had employment and wages. Blackpool, he wrote, was reaping a bumper harvest at Scarborough’s expense. By rail, it was much cheaper to travel from Sheffield to the west than east coast. To add insult to slander, some visitors, who had come to Scarborough to view its destruction, were disappointed to discover such a small amount of it!

The Barnsley correspondent was not alone in deploring the failure of Scarborough to profit from the war. When it was proposed that 3,000 Christmas parcels should be made up and sent to every known Scarborian on active service, in The Mercury, Jottings argued strongly that “charity was needed at home”. If every serviceman received a parcel, with postage and packaging, it would cost the town at least £700, a sum it could ill afford. Where as soldiers and sailors were known to be well fed and well clothed, there was “acute distress in our midst”, especially of “helpless women” without husbands, fathers or brothers to support them. After as long as six months, some dependents had still not had even a penny due to them as allowances from active servicemen.

After a certain, bold Mrs Salter had attacked Jottings for his “mean-spirited comment”, in reply she was reminded that there was already a well-supported appeal to Mayor Graham on behalf of the many dependents of Scarborough’s soldiers and sailors who once had been breadwinners. Also, the Townsmen’s Association had just sent a petition to Queen Mary on behalf of “distressed women lodging-house keepers”. Finally and impatiently, Jottings dismissed his female critic’s effrontery with a crushing sentence: “We decline to bandy words with a peevish-minded correspondent”.

Indeed, shedding his characteristic optimism, Jottings could find only “one bright spot” in the town’s economy - Scarborough’s fishing industry. Despite constant and acute danger from enemy mines and submarines, fleets or trawlers and drifters, even from as far away as Scotland and Lowestoft, had braved coastal waters with phenomenal success. By the end of August the annual shoals of herring had begun to pass down the North Sea coast and there had been no lack of boats and crews to catch them.

On Monday August 30, a dozen drifters had brought in an average of 15 cran per boat selling up to £4 a cran; on Tuesday, 40 boats, 20 of them “Scotch” (sic), unloaded their “silver darlings” at the harbour; on Wednesday, 60 boats including the Lowestoft drifter “our Friend” and the Filey vessel “Lord Kitchener”, were followed in by two more “Scotch”, the “Maggie Reekie” and “Vespers”. Of Scarborough’s own fishing boats, the “Livonia”, the “United Energy”, “Premier” and “Pleasance” had all taken good catches at excellent prices. One trawler was said to have earned £1,000 during the past fortnight. At least, here was some relief for the poorest in the town.

Meanwhile, the row about Scarborough’s own contribution to recruitment rumbled on. From Hull, Colonel Lambert White’s insulting allegation that only nine gunners from Scarborough had enlisted in the North Riding Battery between Christmas and May 1915 were described as “slander” in one local press source. In the town it was well known that since August 4, 1914, between two and three hundred local men had volunteered for the battery and that “well over 100” were from Scarborough. Clearly, since Colonel White “did not know the true facts of the case” he should keep his calumnies to himself. Surprisingly, on this occasion, Jottings did not contribute his “tuppence worth”. Probably, he believed that the East Riding brass hats had been sufficiently silenced.