Written by Jeannie Swales
It started out as a tenuous seasonal connection – we wanted to find an exhibit linked to Twelfth Night, and the best we could find was this seal depicting Shakespeare.
But, as so often happens, this rather lovely but unpromising object, about which we know very little, led tangentially to a fascinating piece of Scarborough’s history.
The seal is part of the Lord Collection donated to the Scarborough Collections by a local lady, Miss GW Lord, the niece of a prominent local Victorian, George Lord Beeforth.
Described at his funeral in 1924 as the ‘Grand Old Man of Scarborough’, George lived a full and busy 101 years. The son of a tallow chandler, grocer and tea dealer, he ran his own business at 4 St Nicholas Street, which he described as a ‘New Book, Print & Music Establishment, Public Library & Newsroom’.
He also ran an art gallery next door at number 3, where he exhibited the work of nationally-known artists including, most notably, William Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World in 1860.
In the 1860s, he sold his Scarborough businesses and with the proceeds established himself as a fine art publisher in London, commissioning many well-known artists including French engraver Gustave Doré.
Beeforth was an eclectic businessman – he also bought and sold property, and in the 1870s and 1880s, bought several plots of land on the South Cliff for development, including the building of his home, the Belvedere, which boasted a large area of the clifftop as its garden and a tunnel under the road from the house to give him private access.
This privatisation of what had previously been a public promenade was not without its critics, most notably Lord Londesborough, but Beeforth opened up his private gardens for a variety of events, possibly to combat this – and it’s now that we finally come to the Shakespearean connection and, possibly, the reason why the seal was in the Lord Collection.
In August 1886 Beeforth invited the noted actor-manager Frank Benson, then just 25, to bring his company to Scarborough and give an outdoor performance of As You Like It in the gardens - reserved seats were 4/-, second seats 2/- and ‘promenade’ 1/-. Perhaps the seal was a souvenir of that event?
In the limited space available to me, I’ve only been able to scratch the surface of the life of this fascinating man. If you’d like to find out more, I highly recommend Anne and Paul Bayliss’s excellent essay, which you can find here: http://www.friendsofsouthcliffgardens.com/documents/BeeforthAPBayliss.pdf