Gardener with vision

Max Payne Interior Floral Hall 6.jpg
Max Payne Interior Floral Hall 6.jpg

On February 15 1972 the Scarborough Evening News announced the death the previous day at the age of 85 of John Haldane Clark.

Nearly every Scarborian now knows that Harry Smith (1867-1944), the borough’s chief engineer and surveyor from 1897 until his retirement in 1933, was the architect of twentieth century Scar-borough. Just about all of the town’s splendid modern features from the Marine Drive to Northstead Manor gardens, from the South Bay pool to the Floral Hall and Peasholm Park, from the Mere to the refashioned Town Hall, were his professional achievements. Scarborough was already Brit-ain’s earliest seaside resort and Smith made it Britain’s best.

Yet without the enthusiastic support and expertise of John Haldane Clark, Smith’s success would have been smaller. Smith had the strategical vision, but Clark the tactical know-how: one was the engineer of genius, the other the supreme horticulturist. Their partnership made Scarborough’s parks, gardens and new streets unrivalled.

Clark was a Scotsman: he came from Dunbar to Scarborough in 1921 to be assistant to Thomas Rae, then the Parks Superintendent. Rae was already 74 and soon retired and from then on Clark took his place and assumed greater and greater responsibility for fulfilling Smith’s bold schemes for the next 30 years.

The First World War had interrupted and delayed Smith’s plans and in 1921 there was very little money available for investment in municipal works. Nevertheless, despite national and local economies, Clark was soon engaged in laying out new gardens and terracing Scarborough’s notoriously unstable slopes and cliffs.

By 1923 the finishing touches had been made to the Mere which was widened, deepened and extended southwards, doubling its area to 20 acres. Smith wanted to build a carriage drive encircling the whole lake, but had to settle for a footpath.

Clark surrounded it with trees, shrubs and flower beds, screening it from the railway line and yet providing the principal route into the town with a fine display of water parkland – Scarborough’s southern Peas-holm Park.

Cliff subsidence below Holbeck clocktower required Clark’s attention. Here Scarborough acquired its first putting green which proved so profitable to its leaseholder that the Corporation adopted it when the lease expired. However, nothing could be done to rescue Clarence gardens from post-war collapse: here it was a matter of stabilising Queen’s Parade undercliff.

Meanwhile, Clark was working on the Glen, converting a ravine wilderness that had been Wilson’s wood into a beautiful, landscaped pathway with lily pond, stone bridges, miniature waterfalls and pools, selecting a rich variety of rare plants and trees to enhance it.

Clark was keen to bring every kind of foreign flora to make Scarborough’s parks and gardens not only attractive but unique. In 1930 he visited Edward Henry Woodall at his home and garden on the French Riviera. EHW was the youngest and only surviving son of “King John”, who had built St Nicholas House as the family home and like his eldest brother, JWW, who had sold it to the Corporation in 1898, he was a passionate and knowledgeable horticulturist. Clark returned to Scarborough with many Mediterranean plants, such as cacti, which he put in the Glen and elsewhere and kept in his nursery.

If Smith planted trees everywhere, Clark laid out flower beds everywhere. The borough engineer designed the Floral Hall, but Clark was complaining by the 1930s that “they are making a theatre of it: it is getting less floral”. Needless to say, all the hanging baskets there came from the borough nurseries behind Manor Road bowling green which Clark tended with loving care. Not least of his responsibilities was to decorate the Town Hall with flowers, particularly carnations, and to make sure the mayoral button-holes were freshly replenished with them.

For the coronation of 1937 some 50,000 daffodils were planted along roadside verges and every year a new floral sundial was designed and laid out on the slope below Valley Bridge. After the Corporation had acquired the private gardens belonging to Londesborough Lodge, Wood End and finally Crescent House (later the Art Gallery), Clark set about restoring and landscaping them to add to the Valley gardens.

George Lord Beeforth had proved to the sceptics that it was possible to grow a rose garden even on the exposed undercliff of South Bay and together Smith and Clark were determined to make the whole of Scarborough a floral, tree-covered paradise by the sea.

As the town spread outwards during the 1920s and 1930s, its new residential streets, such as Peasholm Drive, Chatsworth Gardens, Woodland Ravine and Stepney Drive, were all given grass verges lined with trees. And wherever steep slopes were terraced out, such as those below Peasholm Park cafe or above the Corner Cafe, they were thoughtfully landscaped and planted with shrubs.

One of the superinten-dent’s important successes was his team’s maintenance of the borough’s bowling greens, flat and crown. As a 
committee minute of Scarborough’s oldest club, The Borough, noted in 1947, even throughout the war years, “the turf had remained in excellent condition”.

By all means remember Harry Smith, but do not forget John Haldane Clark, particularly when there is a real Town Hall threat to close his Manor Road nurseries and privatise his gardens and parks.