Exhibit of Week: Tin commemorates great feat of civil engineering

Marine Drive chocolate tin in the Scarborough Collections.
Marine Drive chocolate tin in the Scarborough Collections.

It’s such a part of everyday life in Scarborough that it’s easy to forget what a massive feat of civil engineering the Marine Drive is – imagine what it took, over 100 years ago, to tackle the building of a road around a rocky outcrop, completely exposed to the ravages of the North Sea.

Our exhibit today – a tin which once contained chocolate – commemorates the opening of the Marine Drive in 1908. The date on the tin is July 27, although the actual opening ended up taking place on August 5. This was because the Earl of Londesborough – who, with his wife, the Countess of Londesborough, was due to open the Drive on the earlier date – stepped down when it was announced on July 21 that the Duke and Duchess of Connaught would visit the town in early August.

Recognising that that Duke and Duchess outranked him – the Duke was Prince Arthur, the seventh child of Queen Victoria – the Earl suggested that they should perform the opening ceremony instead. This duly happened, but not before Rowntree & Co of York, cocoa and chocolate makers of York, had produced thousands of tins of celebratory chocolate.

However, it seems they weren’t completely wasted – the Yorkshire Evening Post of the July 27 reported that: “Three thousand children took part in carnival on the Scarborough Marine Drive to-day, this being the date originally arranged for the opening. The band of the Irish Guard was present.”

If you’ll forgive the pun, the road to the completion of the Marine Drive had been a long and rocky one.

In August 1896, it was reported in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph that a sub-committee of Scarborough Town Council, ‘which has in charge the matter of the proposed marine drive and sea wall round the Scarborough Castle Hill’, had passed a resolution recommending the acceptance of a tender by Messrs Cook and Company of Battersea to carry out the work for £69,720 (the equivalent of nearly £8.3 million today).

Things went slowly, though – in April 1904, the Leeds Mercury tells us that the resident engineer had reported no progress on the Drive itself in the last month, although ‘much work was done on the approach road’. It continues: “He confidently asserts that the wall will be finished this year. If that should be the case, the Marine Drive, constructed at enormous cost and after occupying many years, will be opened before the season of 1905.”

Just four months later, from the Shields Daily Gazette: “ After many delays, and in spite of many obstacles, the last foundation block on the Scarborough Marine Drive was fixed shortly after noon yesterday, and there is now no further possibility of delay on account of the tides. The first foundation block of the Drive was fixed on June 25, 1897, and the last block has been fixed seven years and sixty-six days later.”

But the winter of 1904/05 was a severe one, with high gales and abnormal tides, and in January 1905, we find this in the Nottingham Evening Post: “Scarborough much concerned over the damage caused by the gale and tidal wave to the new marine drive, which is being constructed at the cost of over £100,000 [note that price increase – nearly 50% more than the original estimate in less than 10 years!], at the foot the Castle Hill. Many people blame the catch gullet at the base of the hill, into which the sea poured after breaking over the 40ft. high wall, and flowed down like a river.”

By the time the Drive was finally opened in 1908 – three years after it was hoped that it would be opened by the Prince of Wales – the cost had escalated to over £120,000, almost £13m in today’s money, and not too far short of double the original quote.

But the Duke of Connaught clearly thought it worth the cost; he congratulated Scarborough ‘on its magnificent new Marine Drive, which promised to be as fine as any, not only in the kingdom, but in the world’.

The commemorative tin 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.