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Historic Site:The History at Scarborough Spa

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Historic Site, free entry

The Spa Scarborough

The Spa Scarborough

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The town's business and trading activities were in decline during the earlier 17th century and having experienced two sieges during the Civil War was showing little sign of recovery. Scarborough's birth as a seaside spa resort, which brought renewed prosperity, developed from the almost accidental discovery of the mineral spring waters earlier that century.

About 1626 Mrs 'Tomyzin' or 'Thomasin' Farrer, a woman of substance and wife of one of Scarborough's leading citizens, John Farrer, several times Bailiff of the town, discovered natural springs bubbling out beneath the cliff to the south of the town. These waters, which stained the rocks a russet colour, tasted slightly bitter and cured minor ailments. She told her neighbours and friends about the beneficial effects and soon drinking the waters became the accepted medicine for Scarborough's townspeople. If further proof were needed, they were said to have cured scurvy suffered by the weakened garrison of the besieged Castle in the civil War.

The medical profession analysed the mineral waters and found a high content of magnesium sulphate, its healing properties certainly as effective as Andrews Liver Salts. Dr Robert Wittie, the principal advocate of the mineral waters, published several books proclaiming the waters as a cure for all ills. Other doctors refuted these claims. Possibly on the basis that all publicity is good publicity, Scarborough developed as a fashionable spa town patronised by the gentry and aristocracy.

The age of tourism began with Dicky Dickinson, a man of little charm but far-sighted enterprise. Self-styled governor of the Spa, Dicky rented the site from the Corporation and about 1700 built the first spaw house and two conveniences, one for the ladies and 'another house for the Gent'. He was responsible for preserving order and collecting subscriptions from its patrons, some of which went to pay the poor widows who dispensed the waters from the newly built cistern.

These simple buildings and the mineral springs were buried by a massive landslide in 1737 but fortunately the springs were quickly located and new, better buildings were constructed. Throughout the following century the reputation and popularity of the resort continued to grow.

Such was its appeal that in 1826 the Cliff Bridge Company was formed to erect an ornate iron bridge across the valley, giving easier access from the cliff and the town where elegant hotels and Georgian lodging houses were being more and more heavily patronised. The Corporation granted the company a lease of the Spa grounds for the term of 200 years and although the taking of the waters tended to decline in popularity during the 19th century, the Spa's reputation few as a fashionable place of entertainment and relaxation. During its Victoria heyday, it was considered the most popular music hall venue outside London. The first orchestra appeared in the 1830s. Henry Wyatt's 'Gothic Saloon' of 1839 was enlarged to seat 500 in 1847. Sir Joseph Paxton, designer of the Crystal Palace, added a Concert Hall in 1858. This was gutted by fire in 1876 and the existing Grand Hall, Theatre and Buffet came into use in 1879. The Ballroom was built in 1925 and enlarged in the early 1960s. The pump room finally closed in 1939.

Escalating costs of repair and maintenance to the rambling buildings and the eleven acres of grounds forced the Spa Company into liquidation in 1957; the Corporation took back the lease and began the long task of rehabilitation and development. After two seasons of Eugene Pini and his Orchestra, Max Jaffa arrived in 1960 and stayed until 1986; steadily increasing his own and the Spa's reputation and decrying those who said that good music was dead. The delightful Victoria theatre, on whose stage many famous thespians have trod, was completely renovated in 1972. A massive programme of building renovation in the 1980s successfully combined the restoration of the buildings to their former glory with the development of the Conference and Entertainment Complex of today.

Circa 1626 Mrs Farrer claimed that the water had medicinal properties.

1698 First cisterns for water built by the Corporation.

1700 First Spaw House built by Dickie Dickinson, the first Governor.

1735 The staith (protective wharf) of Spaw washed away.

1736 Spaw rebuilt and enlarged.

1737 Staith damaged by subsidence and springs lost.

1738 2 February, springs rediscovered and staith repaired.

1739 Spaw House rebuilt.

1808 Spaw House damaged by storm. Rebuilding of Spaw.

1825 Spaw severely damaged by very high tide and nearly washed away.

1826 The Cliff Bridge Company was formed by 26 pioneers who met at the 'George' in York, and at the same time appointed Mr Outhett as Engineer at a salary of £200 for the erection of the bridge. Meeting was held 1 November 1826.
Until now the waters were retained and sold by the Corporation but this year the Spaw was taken over by the Cliff Bridge Company.
'W' omitted from 'Spaw' for the first time.

1827 Cliff Bridge opened on 19 July.

1836 House and Spa again destroyed by violent storm.

1837 Building commenced on Gothic Saloon (plans prepared by Henry Wyatt). First lease of Spa superseded by one dated 1 January 1837, in term of 200 years.

1839 Gothic Saloon opened 16 August.

1845 Saloon improved and enlarged.

1856 Sir Joseph Paxton consulted, and survey of Spa carried out by him.

1857 Work started on transformation and additions, according to his plans.

1858 New Spa Hall opened on 20 July with a festival and a grand concert.

1857/58 Prospect Tower added.

1861 Improvements made to Spa Gardens.

1871 Freehold of eight acres of land south of Spa purchased.

1875 South Cliff Tramway, the first cliff railway in England, opened to link Spa with Esplanade. Wells sheltered by erection of Band Rotunda, and rehabilitation of wells carried out.

1876 Grand Hall gutted by fire on 8 September.

1877 Present Spa building commenced October 1877, inside the original shell. Designer Thomas Verity & Hunt, London.

1880 Official opening of New Grand Hall (present) on 2 August 1880 by Sir Francis Wyatt Truscott, Lord Mayor of London, In State.

1881 First experimental lighting of Spa grounds with 'Brush' system electric light.

1886 New Spa restaurant opened.

1887 Sunday Concerts Began.

1894 Electric Light first used in theatre.

1904 Trams started running on Spa carriage road to town and back by Vernon Road.

1911 Extensions south of Spa, land purchased November - £7140.

1913 Building of new band stand -marble forecourt- colonnade & Grand Hall Café.

1914 Grand Hall Café opened.

1915 South Bay swimming pool completed at cost of £5000.

1920 Roof Garden added - Prospect Tower removed.

1924/25 Ballroom added.

1940/45 Last concert held 6 July 1940; reopened 21 May 1945.

1951 Cliff Bridge purchased by Council for £22,500. Freed of toll l19 July.

1953 Pay boxes town end of Spa Bridge removed in February.

1954 Glass screen erected around band stand (for ice show originally).

1955 New £2000 floor laid in ballroom and ballroom modernised and enlarged.

1957 The Spa purchased by the Council from the Cliff Bridge Company for £110,000.

1957 A concert on 26 October was the last event held under the old administration.

1958 New Spa restaurant opened at cost of £10,000.

1960 Spa Ballroom reopened on 16 April after extensive alterations at cost of £26,000. First season of Max Jaffa Concerts.

1963 Two domes on the sea side of the Spa were demolished and removed in November. Grand Hall modernised, balcony rebuilt and rest of hall reseated at cost of £27,550.

1965 February - Northern West Dome and stone surround demolished.

1967 Spa Ballroom altered with new intimate atmosphere.

1968 On the closing of the Olympia Ballroom, the Council decided to improve facilities at the Spa with the object of housing two separate conferences simultaneously. Work undertaken included additional secretariat facilities for conferences at the Grand Hall, provision of new toilets, improvements to the Green Lounge Café area, provision of conference secretariat and improvements to stage and catering facilities in the Ocean Room.

1981 The £3,000,000 scheme of improvement was completed, restoring the Spa Grand Hall to the full splendour of its Victorian heyday. Opening ceremony performed 23 May by Mr Michael Montague, CBE, Chairman of the English Tourist Board, in the presence of Sir Denis Truscott, former Lord Mayor of London and grandson of Sir Francis Wyatt Truscott who had performed the same ceremony just a century before.

1984 Completion of the second phase of the total scheme of refurbishment for the Spa, comprising an entirely new east façade and Promenade Lounge with mezzanine bar and enclosed foyer approach at a cost of approximately £2,000,000.

1986 A third and final phase costing £600,000 brought the Ocean Ballroom up to a much higher standard for multi-purpose use with additional catering facilities, passenger lift and new external staircase from roadway to terrace.

The Spa was operated by the Council 1698 to 1826
By Cliff Bridge Company 1826 to 1957
By the Council 1957 to date

(Research by Mr Cyril Prescott)

Baby changing facilitiesCash PointCoach parties acceptedCredit cards accepted (no fee)Credit cards accepted (with charge)Disabled toiletsFacilities for groupsFacilities for educational visitsOn-site cateringOn-site light refreshmentsPublic toiletsTelephone (public)Wheelchairs availableAccepts groupsFacilities for conferencingFacilities for corporate hospitality

Children welcomeDisabled access

Opening details

Times vary depending upon event or activity. Please contact the Spa Box Office for further details.


Free entry

Prices vary depending upon event or activity.


South Bay,
North Yorkshire,
YO11 2HD



See location of Scarborough Spa on Google mapsSee location on Google maps

Map reference: TA 044878  Lat: 54.27553 Long: -0.39731

By Road:
Follow signs into Scarborough Town Centre then follow further signs to South Bay. The Scarborough Spa is situated to the South of Foreshore Road.

Parking: with charge


  • Baby changing facilitiesBaby changing facilities
  • Cash PointCash Point
  • Coach parties acceptedCoach parties accepted
  • Credit cards accepted (no fee)Credit cards accepted (no fee)
  • Credit cards accepted (with charge)Credit cards accepted (with charge)
  • Disabled toiletsDisabled toilets
  • Facilities for groupsFacilities for groups
  • Facilities for educational visitsFacilities for educational visits
  • On-site cateringOn-site catering
  • On-site light refreshmentsOn-site light refreshments
  • Public toiletsPublic toilets
  • Telephone (public)Telephone (public)
  • Wheelchairs availableWheelchairs available
  • Accepts groupsAccepts groups
  • Facilities for conferencingFacilities for conferencing
  • Facilities for corporate hospitalityFacilities for corporate hospitality
  • Children welcomeChildren welcome
  • Disabled accessDisabled access