On the tunny fish trail

The Tunny Club, Scarborough.
The Tunny Club, Scarborough.

by Maureen Robinson

Big fish, little boat, just a rod, a line, a man. The days when the Tunny were here in the sea not just in a ringpull can.
By Ray Lonsdale (sculptor).

Take time to discover Scarborough’s latest sculpture by Ray Lonsdale, when you enjoy this short trail around the harbour, visiting quaint streets and alleys in the old town.

Let’s start at the junction of Queen Street and King Street with Newborough. Walk down to Eastborough and from the Golden Last, turn off right along Leading Post Street towards the Duke of York Guest House. Bear left and number 3 is aptly named ‘Smugglers’. Here, along Merchants Row, smugglers hid their contraband goods, eg brandy in underground passages. See ‘The Smuggler’s Apprentice’, on the terrace below, and read Ray Lonsdale’s lines. Then descend the adjacent steps named Gilly’s Steps to Foreshore Road. Turn left by shops, amusements and casino etc as far as Eastborough. Cross the foot of Eastborough and continue only as far as the Newcastle Packet because across East Sandgate at number 1 (just off Sandside), features the Tunny Club alongside the Princess Cafe.

The Tunny Club Fish Bar and Takeaway building dates back to the middle of the 18th century, and started life as a simple fisherman’s cottage. As for its neighbour, the Princess Cafe, it was once a police station, and the cellar was found to contain some of the cells!

Things changed around 1930 when local fisherman Billy Watkinson spotted a possible tunny off the east coast. He’d seen tunny in the Mediterranean while serving in World War I. His theory was soon backed up by naturalist and taxidermist WT Clarke.

Fishermen had observed these huge fish around during the herring season. They followed herring shoals and alongside trawlers. They also frequented herring drifters hauling their nets. Usually they were caught in the evening and at dawn, but at any time of day in dull, grey weather.

The first landing of a tunny by rod and line was in 1930. For a few years it seemed as though Scarborough could become the centre of a new fishing industry! For most of us, the closest we get to a blue fin tuna is when its added to a salad or a jacket potato!

However, tunny became relatively common off Scarborough and attracted the rich and famous adventurers.

During the tunny season, film stars and socialites descended on Scarborough by land, sea and air. The Tunny Club was opened on August 1 1933 and 1 East Sandgate became the Tunny Club head quarters. The South Bay must have been a glorious sight with mega yachts like floating palaces moored in the bay, while the hunters went out fishing using Scarborough fishing boats. The Tunny Club became a communal gathering point afterwards.

Step inside for a fishy dish, and view the interior revealing maps and photographs and memorabilia related to tunny fishing.

Continue along Sandside. Tunny catches were weighed and hung from a gantry near the bridge on Vincent Pier. Some were later displayed in a hut almost opposite King Richard III’s house.

Walk by the harbour, and then follow the black anchors on white walling to the far side of Luna Park. There you’ll find the Teapot Cafe with tables and chairs outdoors for alfresco dining. Well recommended, this popular cafe provides tea and snacks to suit all tastes.

Then ascend the steps alongside Shell Shack to view Ray Lonsdale’s latest sculpture for Scarborough – The Tunny! It symbolises the resort’s heyday of big game fishing which started on August 27 in 1930 when Mr Mitchell-Henry landed the first tunny caught here on rod and line which weighed 560lbs. The record was in 1931 when he landed a tunny that weighed 851lbs!

Tunny numbers declined due to the over-fishing of herring. The last tunny caught using rod and line in the North Sea was on August 16, 1954.

The sculpture you see represents a relatively small tunny. Designed and sculpted by Ray Lonsdale in marine grade (316) stainless steel, the fish itself measures about 7ft from nose to tail. It’s suspended from a ‘wave’ some 12ft 6ins, and is mounted on a concrete plinth, the height of which matches the wall that the existing railing posts are set into. Viewed in sunlight, or moonlight, its silvery surface glistens, and the wave casts shadows of foam and movement as the light changes. Leaving the tunny, descend steps to Sandside.

Cross the road to the right of Sunrise Cafe and ascend the slope (not steps), with stone walling to your right. Enter Burr Bank. At the far end turn left onto a paved terrace with seating and floral tubs in season. Sit and admire the fine view, then read the delightful information board presented by the Civic Society, and admire the painting (number 4) which depicts Scarborough South Bay at Night (not dated).

It was painted by Carl Herman 1887-1955, a landscape and portrait artist. The viewpoint was much higher than this vantage point, but seek the landmarks shown around 1949.

Continue straight ahead into East Sandgate and then forward up a slight slope to bear right up Princess Lane. Meet Princess Street and turn left. Continue into Princess Square with its Food Market off licence. Directly ahead is St Sepulchre Street. Walk beside the flats to Trinity House, and ascend towards the market. Turn left down Globe Street, and you return to Merchants Row across Eastborough. By turning right up Eastborough, seek number 36 to complete your walk by visiting Scarborough’s Maritime Heritage Centre.

Distance: 2 miles approx.

Refreshment: An abundance on this short trail.