On Friday, November 5, 1915, The Mercury reported the recent annual general meeting of the Cliff Bridge Company, owners of the Scarborough Spa. Predictably, all the talk and speeches were about the harmful effect of the war on the Company’s profits and future profitability.
The outbreak of the war at August Bank Holiday 1914 had caught the Spa, as well as the holiday town, in high season. But when the Company’s management committee met two days later it was agreed not to alter the summer programme. On August 13, as planned, the customary gala was held at the Spa. The only concession to wartime was to have only fireworks and not rockets. After all, the war would be over by Christmas!
The Bombardment in December shattered the Company’s complacency. Though the Spa buildings on the sea front were hit by 17 German shells, the material damage was only superficial and slight. The most serious, long-term casualty was not the building but the next season’s holiday trade which in 1915 suffered a catastrophic decline.
Chairman of the Company and president of the annual meeting in November 1915 was Alderman Meredith Whittaker. In his opening address he put on a brave face and tried to reassure the shareholders that their investment was in safe hands. He admitted that it had been “an anxious year” and that expectations of an early peace had been “dashed”; but reminded them that the Company had insurance with Lloyd’s of London against “bombardment and aerial risks” which would be renewed.
Of course there was no question of a dividend, though they had made ends meet during the past year by accepting drastic economies. To his audience he emphasised the enormous value of the Company’s holdings. They now owned a third of a mile of South Bay foreshore from the Aquarium to the tramway and the footbridge over the valley for the next 120 years. Scarborough Council’s purchase and development of the South side in recent years, mainly the Italian gardens and the open-air pool, had greatly enhanced the value of the Spa’s property. Whereas once the Spa had been at the far edge of the town, now it was at its centre. In 1913, the last year of peace, the Spa bridge toll of half a penny had covered all the interest on the Company’s debt of £20,000.
Next to speak was Mr William Sayner, the Company’s financial director. His message was less optimistic and more factual. Ticket income during the past year had fallen by £6,490. Receipts from the bridge toll were down £266, which meant that 128,062 fewer people had made the crossing. No galas had been held because of lighting restrictions on the sea front. Compared with 1914, takings at the new alfresco cafe were well down in 1915. Nevertheless, economies had been made on gas, electricity, stationery, plants, paintings and wages. On the last subject, Alick Maclean, the Spa’s director of music since 1912, had offered to take a substantial reduction in his annual salary of £600 for the duration of the war. It was a typically generous gesture from a gentleman already regarded as indispensable.
A week earlier, Scarborough’s Town Council held its own last general meeting of the year. There was little news to report or discuss; but members present were alarmed by a recent national press statement that Scarborough was “almost on the brink of bankruptcy”, that its residents could no longer pay their rates, and that the council could not afford even the interest on its public loans. As the town clerk remarked, such false and pernicious rumours might have a devastating impact on the town’s standing in the money market, and they must be denied and corrected at once.
During an examination of the council’s budgets, Cllr Malton pointed out that though some departments were spending less than in peacetime, one, that for Public Parks and Entertainments, had been costing more.
This “intervention” was regretted by Cllr Moore. “He [Malton] had gone into the reason why the Corporation was spending more, but he had not drawn the same intelligent conclusion he usually did.” (Laughter)
The recent additions of Peasholm Park, the Alexandra Gardens, South Cliff Gardens and improvements to the Mere were quite sufficient to explain the extra expenditure of Parks and Entertainments. Moreover, the Council’s investments in Peasholm Park and Alexandra Gardens had been well directed: they were already self-supporting”. (Hear, hear). There was no response from Cllr Malton.
However, there was one decision that every member of the Town Council could agree to: Mr Christopher Colborne Graham should be asked to stay on as mayor for a third year and his daughter, Miss Graham, remain mayoress. In support of the motion that was carried unanimously, Alderman Meredith Whittaker had an opportunity to display his unrivalled knowledge of the borough’s history.
Mr Graham’s third consecutive year in mayoral office was not unprecedented. William Morgan, once owner of the Aquarium, had been elected three times for the years 1902 to 1905. Henry Darley had served in the mayor’s chair for four years between 1890 and 1901. John Woodall Woodall, who had once owned and lived in the house that had become the Town Hall, had been mayor four times between 1868 and 1887. And Dr William Harland had been elected three times between 1836 and 1849. But the record was still held by Robert Tindall of the Quaker ship-building family, who had been mayor no fewer than five times between 1840 and 1850.
However, Whittaker’s historical memory went back well before the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 when Scarborough had been a notorious “rotten borough”. On one occasion, he recalled, after members of the Common Hall had fallen out with each other, they had been “locked up in a room in the Old Town Hall [on Sandside] for four days and three nights, furnished with shake-downs [straw mattresses] and had food through a small opening in the door (Laughter) until they came to a resolution”.
In conclusion, Alderman Whittaker said that he hoped that Mayor Graham would still be in office “when peace came”. Clearly, his assumption was that the war would not last for more than another year and none there could have predicted that it still had three more years to run.