Exhibit of the Week: Primitive artwork reveals more about Crown Tavern pub’s history

The Crown Tavern (Bleach House) painting in the Scarborough Collections.
The Crown Tavern (Bleach House) painting in the Scarborough Collections.

Regular readers of this column may recall that a few months ago we featured a pub sign from the Crown Tavern.

We speculated at the time that the lavishly carved and painted sign was from the Crown Tavern which still stands at the junction of Falsgrave and Scalby Roads.

Crown Tavern pub sign featured in this column a few months ago.

Crown Tavern pub sign featured in this column a few months ago.

However, we’ve since been contacted by local historian and Crown Tavern regular Dave Clarke, who has been conducting some research into the history of the pub.

Dave tells us that original incarnation of the Crown Tavern wasn’t the one in the current location, but stood at the top of Valley Road in the early 1800s. The pub was a regular watering hole for drovers moving livestock from Whitby to Bridlington but at some point, the route was changed and trade fell away.

The landlord, one Samuel Taylor, showed great business acumen and moved his pub from Valley Road to its current location, where it was so successful that it’s still going strong to this day. Samuel died in the 1850s: his wife wanted to take on the running of the pub after his death, but the brewery wouldn’t allow it – might that have been because she was a woman? So Mrs Taylor left, moving to a new home on St John’s Road where she set up a dairy. But, perhaps in a last act of defiance against the brewery, she took the pub sign with her, and it’s believed to have gathered dust in her attic until her death. It was donated to the Rotunda museum, presumably by her family, in the 1890s.

Dave’s information prompted us to dig deeper into our archives, which revealed notes on the donation and various mentions of the earlier incarnation of the pub, including another memento of the Crown Tavern as it was originally – the oil-on-panel painting which is our exhibit today. This vivid and charming primitive work (by an unknown artist so simply attributed to the British (English) school of art), shows a couple and a flock of chickens in the road outside the pub, while two more people can be glimpsed in the distance through the gate in the white picket fence. A flock of gulls wheels overhead – and hanging from a bracket on the wall, to the right of the upper bay window, is what might just be our pub sign.

The painting is entitled The Crown Tavern (Bleach House) Scarborough: it seems that in the 1700s, before it became a pub, the building was part of the town’s sailmaking industry and was where the sailcloth was bleached prior to being taken to the sail lofts on the seafront to be made into sails for local ships and fishing boats. It was a thriving industry – a fully-rigged ship might carry 25 or more different sails at any one time.

The building stood at the junction of Valley Road – then known as Ramsdale Valley – with what is now Westbourne Grove, but was then known as Bleaching House Lane.

The Bleach House was a minor player in a local political scandal in 1833, when the local corporation came under fire. A committee representing the corporation faced questions about alleged nepotism – it seems the town was being run by just a handful of families who looked after their own.

The Bleach House was mentioned by the cross-examining committee as an example of a publicans’ licence being granted simply because the premises were owned by a member of the corporation.

The Crown Tavern (Bleach House) Scarborough is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork acquired by the borough over the years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact collections manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.dunne@smtrust.uk.com or 01723 384510.