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The Spa in the 17th Century
A Mrs Farrer or Farrow discovered the natural mineral waters on this site in the 1620s. Today the only visible evidence of these is the well set in the wall on the steps down to the beach on the North side of the Spa.
The strong mineral content of the water is readily apparent in the staining caused to the stone, the reason why the waters were originally discovered as they trickled over the rocks and stones somewhere near this site.
Mrs Farrer soon discovered the medicinal benefits of the water and by the 1690s the wells were famous and Scarborough had made its first steps not only as a Spa town but as the original English seaside resort.
The Spa in the 18th Century
The first "Spaw" House (the spelling used until the early nineteenth century) appeared on or near this site in the early 1700s and a Governor, Dickie Dickinson, a great character, was appointed. The building was a basic wooden structure designed for the sale and dispensing of the waters and to provide basic amenities to visitors eager to try their curative effects. The water was also bottled and sold further afield.
By the mid 1700s, Scarborough was well established as a seaside resort as well as a Spa town with the added attractions of horse racing on the beach, boating and sea-bathing. Scarborough was one of the first places, if not the first, to use bathing machines and the 1735 engraving below shows the first ever recorded bathing machines in use.
The engraving also shows that access to the Spaw house was either from the beach or down the cliff paths from the area where the Grand Hotel now stands. This was a difficult route for the elderly or infirm who were hoping to be cured by the waters. The Spaw house was protected by a wooden wharf or staithe that was washed away in heavy seas in 1735. In 1737 a major cliff fall obliterated the house and the wells. Within five weeks the wells were rediscovered and it was said the waters had actually improved in quality!
At this time there were apparently two distinct types of water, both said to have their own particular restorative or health-giving powers.
The speed with which the wells were reinstated after such a major catastrophe shows their importance to the town. In 1739 a sizeable building or saloon was built with fine views over the sea and the wells were accessed by a long flight of stairs.
The Spa in the 19th Century
The series of mishaps and disasters that befell the Spa in the 1800s were each time countered by stylish new buildings and facilities showing the importance and popularity of the venue. In 1808 the Saloon was damaged by heavy seas, but a far worse storm - according to some the storm of the century - devastated the building in 1836 and it had to be completely re-built.
In 1827 the Cliff Bridge was opened. This improved access to the Spa and was a foretaste of ambitious plans ahead for the Spa. The "Gothic Saloon" designed by Henry Wyatt was opened in 1839 and included a concert hall to seat 500, a garden, promenade and external area in which orchestras were to perform. But by the time it opened, the Gothic Saloon, an impressive turreted building, was already too small. Sir Joseph Paxton, the landscape gardener and architect responsible for the grounds of Chatsworth, Derbyshire and the Crystal Palace, was called in to redesign the complex and in 1858 his Spa was officially opened.
This comprised a central assembly hall with adjoining galleries, which could seat 2000, while externally the sea wall was extended. It encompassed a double promenade and carriage road, a colonnade with shops, another open air bandstand and the prospect tower - the base of which can still be seen today in the linkway between the Green and Promenade lounges. Scarborough Spa was the most popular music hall venue outside London. In 1875 the first cliff tram in England was built to provide additional access and is still in use today.
On 8 September 1876 the beautiful Spa Saloon was destroyed by fire - the only area left relatively undamaged being the small saloon that Paxton's innovations had been designed to replace. No time was lost in yet again rebuilding the Spa and by June 1879 the new Grand Hall was opened to the public, with the formal opening ceremony taking place on 2 August 1880. So began a great era of music and entertainment with the leading musicians, conductors and performers of their day all performing at Scarborough Spa.