Heatwave and happy days

Floral Hall
Floral Hall

by Dr Jack Binns

As Europe watched and waited apprehensively for the outcome of the assassination of the Austrian heir, archduke Franz Ferdinand, on June 28, 1914, Scarborough was enjoying the height of its summer season. Events in Sarajevo, Bosnia, might have been on another, distant planet.

While the whole of Europe teetered on the sharp edge between peace and all-out war, Scarborough was sweltering in a heatwave. On June 30 a temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded in the town and sea bathers in South Bay revelled in a water temperature of 57 degrees. In fact, for some it was just too hot. The local press 
reported the deaths of pigs, sheep and cattle and “heat apoplexy” had taken a toll on harvest workers.

On July 2 the Scarborough Evening News offered its readers some sensible advice on “How To Fight The Heat”. They should wear straw hats or sun helmets, preferably with broad brims; clothes of linen, cotton and alpaca were recommended; and they ought to eat more fresh fruit and less starchy food and drink more fluids. Only by staying out of the sun would they avoid freckles, sunburn or blotchy skin. In 1914 only outdoor manual labourers had vulgar suntans.

It was too good to last. By Friday July 3, The Mercury reported widespread violent thunderstorms and torrential rain. There were floods everywhere, particularly in Bradford, Malton and Hayburn Wyke and “other Yorkshire cities and towns”. At Headingley, a storm had ended play and robbed Yorkshire of a victory over Essex.

At Scarborough the deluge of rain overflowed the sewers and drains and ran like a torrent down Eastborough to the Foreshore. The following morning Corporation workmen filled in a deep wide channel running out across South Bay sands.

The house belonging to one of Scarborough’s cricketers, SF Yeoman, 34 Westbourne Park, was struck by lightning. No one was injured, but several were badly shaken.

Still, whatever the weather, hot sun or downpour, Scarborough had entertainment and recreation to suit all conditions, tastes and pockets. On its front page the Evening News of Wednesday July 1 advertised a superabundance of popular shows, theatrical and cinematic. The Fol-de-Rols were performing every evening at the newly-covered Floral Hall in Alexandra Gardens; George Royle’s Merry Imps were appearing three times a day on South Bay sands, or in Clarence Gardens on the North side if the tide was in.

Scarborough had been quick to take advantage of the new, silent black and white film. Will Catlin’s Palladium Picture House on the Foreshore, the most advanced of its kind in Europe, offered to the public two “great exclusives”, one called “War”, 3,000 feet long, the other “For Ever”, 3,200 feet long. If you could not afford the luxury of the Palladium, there were also the Theatre Royal (gallery 2d, pit 3d, circle 6d, reserved circle 1s), Quinton Gibson’s Picturedrome, the Olympia Picture Palace, or the Grand Picture House also on the Foreshore.

Should you prefer live theatre, the Grand Opera House was running that “great Lancashire play”, “Hindle Wakes” and Catlin’s Arcadia’s Palace of Amusement, owing to enormous success, a “clever potted pantomime” called “Blue Beard”.

But for day trippers, who came on one of the many railway excursions into Londesborough Road station, The People’s Palace and Aquarium, a three-acre subterranean paradise, offered the most at the lowest price.

Here there was all-day entertainment for sixpence (threepence after 8.30pm) which included a concert party in the Indian theatre, variety shows with cyclists, acrobats, animal acts and performing seals. For the more active visitor, there was non-stop dancing in the ballroom, a swimming pool and billiard tables; for the curious, a zoo and a monkey house; and for the thirsty, three bars, one of them temperance.

To avoid hoi-polloi and pay more, further south was the Spa, which had recently acquired an extended promenade, a new handsome bandstand, and a “luxuriously furnished” cafe, as well as Mr Alick Maclean’s orchestra playing classical music.

If all you wanted was sea air, bracing exercise and beautiful natural and man-made surroundings, for a penny you could walk the 1,100 yards along Europe’s finest marine promenade or stroll through the town’s many public gardens and parks. Here there were so many flower beds that Scarborough was deservedly called “the Rose Garden of the North”.

Yet in 1914 Scarborough was still much more than a summer recreational seaside resort. Of its 37,000 residents, many were rich and retired. The villas of South Cliff employed more than 2,000 mainly female cleaners, cooks, housemaids, dressmakers and domestic servants from other parts of the town and its outskirts.

Scarborough’s own fishing industry was now in decline. The steam trawlers all belonged to Hull and Grimsby. But the old town still supported a distinctive community, living “below the pump” in a jumble of back yards, courts, tiny cottages, dark alleys and on narrow cobbled streets.

These people, the true Scarborians, were a world away from the “toffs” of South Cliff and the smart shops like Marshall and Snelgrove, Rowntrees and Tonks in the upper town. The harbour was still a busy gathering place for cobles and yawls and the recently widened West Pier was the scene of a bustling fish market. The shoals of herring were now making their southward migration and soon they would be landed at Scarborough, there to be cut, cured, salted and boxed by “the Scotch lassies” and exported to Germany and Russia.

So all was going well at Scarborough in July 1914. The town was looking forward to Aviation Week when Mr Hucks promised to loop-the-loop in his flying machine twice daily over South Bay. There was Seamer Fair to come on July 15 when cattle and horses would be traded briskly and the constabulary would have a busy time arresting drunken brawlers.

And at the top of the Mercury’s front page on July 3 W Boyes & Co warned its customers of the last day of the sale of “Great Corsets & Manufacturers’ Samples”. Whether the corsets were great in size, great in quality or great in price was not revealed.