by Jeannie Swales
‘Iconic’ is one of those words that has become irritatingly overused in recent years – but in this instance, it’s deserved. If ever a building was iconic of Scarborough, it’s the Spa.
This pretty early Victorian souvenir jug shows a view of the building captioned ‘Spa Saloon and the Italian Terrace Scarborough’.
The natural mineral waters of the Spa were discovered in the early 1600s by a Mrs Farrer, or Farrow, and by the early 1700s, visitors were flocking to the town to take the waters for their allegedly medicinal properties.
The town was gaining its reputation as Britain’s first resort – and the Spa, or ‘Spaw’ as it was then known, was central to it. The early wooden buildings were presided over by the legendary Richard ‘Dicky’ Dickinson (c1669 to 1739), who exploited his role as Spaw governor to create some considerably personal wealth.
By the mid 1700s, a large saloon with dramatic sea views was attracting visitors. It suffered heavy damage in storms in 1808 and 1836, and by 1839 had been replaced by a Gothic-style saloon, designed by Henry Wyatt, with a 500-seat concert hall, gardens and a promenade.
Access to the building had been made easier by the opening in 1827 of the elegant Spa Bridge, linking the Spa to St Nicholas Cliff – the opening of the bridge drew crowds to see a horse-drawn mail coach gallop at full speed across it.
But times were changing fast: in 1845, the railway link between York and Scarborough opened, and the number of visitors to the town soared. Wyatt’s saloon was already too small.
The great gardener and architect Sir Joseph Paxton, who had redesigned the gardens of Chatsworth and the jaw-dropping glasshouses of the Crystal Palace was invited to redesign the Spa: his version opened in 1858.
On September 8, 1876, fire raged through the Spa, an event commemorated by the artists John Atkinson Grimshaw and George Farrington Hornibrook in paintings both now in the Scarborough Collections.
Yet another rebuilding programme started, and by June 1879 the new Spa was opened to the public.
Since then, various other improvements and rebuilding schemes have taken place, making the Spa what it is today – after the castle, probably Scarborough’s most recognisable building.
The jug is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork owned by the borough. For further information, please contact collections manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org or (01723) 384510.