Historic tour of town

Scarborough's public library on Vernon Road
Scarborough's public library on Vernon Road

In order to complete the town heritage trail featured in last week’s Scarborough News, I suggest you relate to the map’s details. Already featured are Scarborough’s Railway Station, the Victoria Hotel, the Stephen Joseph Theatre, the Crescent, Wood End, the art gallery and Londesborough Lodge.

To continue the remainder of the trail, I suggest you start at the foot of Vernon Road and cross into Falconer’s Road. Just a short stretch of road brings you to the first street on your left which is Huntriss Row. Near the far end of Huntriss Row on your right, you’ll see the present day restaurant known as Pizza Hut.

Pizza Hut (8) was Scarborough’s Assembly Rooms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When the Long Room on St Nicholas Street was absorbed into the new Royal Hotel in 1840, Scarborough lost its social centre. However, young John Fairgrey Sharpin, aged only 24 was determined to fill the social vacuum. Within another 10 years he became the youngest mayor in England. He bought and demolished two buildings at the Westborough end of Huntriss Row and erected a new building, which became Scarborough’s received Assembly Rooms. Opened in June 1857, the new venue provided a wider range of entertainment, and catered for concerts, billiards, the arts and a restaurant.

Charles Dickens, already a national literary figure, gave two readings from his works there in the following year.

Sharpin later opened a wine and spirit merchant’s business on the premises with the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) among his fashionable clientele. The Silver Grid restaurant, of high repute, flourished for over half a century. Allied Breweries purchased the building in 1966. The Huntriss Row building then became a public house with a small bar – the Charles Dickens room. Allied Breweries sold the property in 1983; the interior was gutted, and the ground floor became a modern, popular restaurant known as Pizza Hut.

Now cross to the other side of Huntriss Row, retracing your steps until you reach number 19 and a pillar box, beside an unnamed alleyway which is a convenient short cut to the next feature. It brings you out immediately above the public library on Vernon Road. Turn left to reach the library’s main entrance.

The public library (9) was designed by architects Gibson and Johnson in 1840 as the Oddfellows Hall. The building was taken over by the Mechanics Institute in 1851. Their aim was the ‘mental and moral improvement’ of Institute members. This included a good supply of ‘improving’ books. Members paid eight shillings (ie 40p in decimal coinage) annually for the privilege of borrowing such books.

The Public Libraries Acts of 1850 and 1855 opened the way for Scarborough to provide a free, public service. Such libraries had to be financed by ratepayers, however. There was a reluctance by local ratepayers to subsidise a library free to all-comers. In 1924 the Mechanics Institute ran into financial difficulties. Scarborough Corporation decided to purchase the premises, and also borrowed more money to convert the building to a public library. A large plaque, which records the official opening on June 19, 1930, was placed just inside the library entrance, along with the extension added in 1936.

Turn right on leaving the library, and walk to the upper end of Vernon Road. Turn right again and cross Westborough to turn left into Aberdeen Walk. A short distance ahead on your right is the head Post Office (10). It forms an interesting contrast with the present Scarborough News offices next door. The head Post Office is in a heavier and more formal style described as Edwardian Baroque.

It retains its original appearance, and was opened on June 5, 1910. Between 1800 and 1910, the site of the Post Office had moved seven times before finding a permanent base in Aberdeen Walk.

A few yards beyond you’ll find the Scarborough News and Mercury offices on the same side.

Scarborough News (formerly Scarborough Evening News) and Mercury offices (11). During the 19th century newspapers came and went with rapidity and profusion. The total population in Scarborough then was only about 30,000. During one peak period, a score of local newspapers competed for readership. Newspapers in those days were extremely political.

Present day Scarborough supports just one newspaper publishing group since the last decades of the 19th century.

Scarborough and District Newspapers printed and published the Scarborough Evening News (founded in 1882) and the weekly Mercury (founded in 1885) from a building that was refitted and re-styled both inside and out in 1900. The style is known as Art Nouveau. The frontage is faced in two tones of marble up to the first floor. Grey marble features at the base, surmounted by a warm brown marble. Observe the unusual iron and copper entrance gates at street level.

In the reception area I recall having seen a carved wooden plaque in high relief by George Walker Milburn of York. I understand it was originally hand painted. It was cleaned and restored by a well-known local artist, Norman Temple in 1975. The plaque depicted William Caxton at work on the printing of ‘The Game and Playe of Chesse’ at his Westminster printing shop in 1476. During renovations in 1975 some Art Nouveau features were removed, including stained glass windows at ground floor level.

May 25, 2012, saw the final publication of Scarborough’s daily evening newspaper, to be replaced by the Scarborough News. This paper is now produced once a week only. It may be purchased from Thursday onwards and is priced at £1 per copy.

I trust you’ve enjoyed the town trail. If you missed part 1 it featured in the Scarborough News on November 1.