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South Cliff Gardens are a group of landscaped areas which, over many years, have progressively come under the ownership and management of Scarborough Borough Council.
A detailed report about the Gardens was compiled as part of our Heritage Lottery bid and a can be downloaded by clicking on these links:

The Gardens are comprised of: the Spa Gardens, Prince of Wales Gardens, the Rose Garden, Holbeck Gardens, Shuttleworth Gardens and the Italian Gardens.

The first area to be landscaped was the Spa Gardens, probably started around 1837.  George Knowles, architect and civil engineer, is credited with the design of the Spa Gardens and for organising the drainage of that part of the undercliff.  At that time the land was leased to the Scarborough Cliff Bridge Company, who managed the Spa.  There was a charge to enter the Spa and its grounds.  In a book published in 1858 we get this description of the view from Esplanade,  “a great slope descends to the beach, all embowered with trees and shrubs, through which here and there you get a glimpse of a gravelled path or the domed roof of a summerhouse.  And there, two hundred feet below, is the Spa – a castellated building protected by a sea-wall”.  The castellated building was the Gothic Saloon, which was opened in 1839 and is no longer visible.  In 1858 Sir Joseph Paxton designed, in the Italian style, the layout for the grounds adjoining the newly-built Music Hall.  Parts of his design still exist.  Scarborough Corporation acquired the Spa in 1957 when the charges for entering the grounds were abolished.

By 1860 Prince of Wales Gardens had been established as a private garden for the surrounding  residents.  In 1926 the Corporation took over and opened it to the public.  It was then laid out with rockeries, a lily pond, lawn and classical-style shelter.

The  Rose Garden was created by George Lord Beeforth of Belvedere House, Esplanade, who had acquired 13 acres of the undercliff, south of the Cliff Lift, in 1883.  Over 14,000 rose bushes were said to have been planted in “The Large Rosary” which he sheltered from the east wind by planting hundreds of conifers and deciduous trees.  In 1912 the Corporation took over almost the whole of Beecroft’s Belvedere Gardens, including the Rose Garden, and opened it to the public.

The creation of Holbeck Gardens dates from 1885-1895.  The work was carried out for Scarborough Corporation as public gardens.  The Scarborough Cliff Bridge Company lent to Scarborough Corporation the services of their head gardener at the Spa, William Skipsea, to lay out the Holbeck Gardens.  At that time Holbeck Gardens were the only part of the present South Cliff Gardens which were open to the public without charge.  The large shelter (number 8) which overlooks the sea, is shown on the 1892 Ordnance Survey map of Scarborough.  It is one of only three shelters in the South Cliff Gardens which has survived from the Victorian period.  The putting green dates from 1925; the Pavilion (or shelter) alongside dates from 1928.  Both are the work of Harry W. Smith, the Borough Engineer in Scarborough from 1897 to 1933.

Shuttleworth Gardens were previously known as Red Court Garden.  Alfred Shuttleworth bought Red Court, at the corner of Esplanade and Holbeck Road, in 1906.  The house at the opposite side of Holbeck Road blocked his view of the sea.  He bought the house, demolished it and made the site into a garden.  In 1917 he gave the garden to the town.  The corporation changed the name to Shuttleworth Gardens.  In 1937/38 the miniature rock and water garden was laid out with plants, summerhouses, boathouse and bridge all to scale.  Mr. Shuttleworth also presented Holbeck Clock Tower to the town to commemorate the coronation of King George V in 1911.  Another of his gifts was the statue of Mercury in the Italian Gardens.

The Italian Gardens were laid out by Harry W. Smith in part of the former Belvedere Gardens which had belonged to George Lord Beeforth until 1912.  The shelter at the north end of the Italian Gardens bears the date 1914.

In 1913 the Corporation acquired the land south of the Cliff Tramway and north of the former Belvedere Gardens from the Cliff Bridge Company.  On part of this land the Clock Tower Café was built during the 1914-18 war.  This structure and the 22 beach chalets in front of it have recently become listed buildings, at grade 2.  All are attributed to Harry W. Smith.

Since 2002 the South Cliff Gardens have been included on English Heritage’s Register of Historic Parks and Gardens at grade 2 in recognition of their architectural and historic interest.  

Sources:) Walter White: A Month in Yorkshire (1858)  Genevieve Lord: Scarborough’s Floral Heritage (1984) Meredith Whittaker: The Book of Scarborough Spaw (1984) Anne & Paul Bayliss: Architects and Civil Engineers of 19th Century Scarborough (2001)

Click here for the English Heritage listing for the gardens


The Spa buildings and the gardens of the South Cliff are so much part of the Scarborough scene, taken for granted by residents and visitors alike, that it is hard to realize that at the time of Queen Victoria's accession the cliff face south of Bland's Cliff was as undeveloped as White Nab remains today.

Early in the 19* century the town still enjoyed nationwide fame for its "medicinal" waters, but in the face of competition from inland spas and south coast towns Scarborough's popularity as a Spa town was declining. It was being abandoned by the very rich and a new social pattern was to emerge, bringing into sharp focus the changing needs of the visitors.

Although the Cliff Bridge had been opened in 1827 it led only to the rudimentary buildings and bare grounds of the Spa, overlooked by an undeveloped Belmont. Even the building of the elegant terraces, which included the Crown Hotel (1844), created an island remote from the town. More than 20 years were to pass before the opening of the first Valley Bridge provided a level traffic route to the expanding South Cliff area.

Concessions were being made however to the new generation of visitors - men and women who crossed from St. Nicholas Cliff as much to enjoy the music, the fireworks, and the promenading, as to take the waters and 'endure' the sea bathing. It was this demand for entertainment that led the Cliff Bridge Company (whose initials can still be found amongst the ironwork on the Spa buildings) to develop its grounds with walks, trees and gardens, and to replace their wooden structure with more distinguished Halls in 1839 and again in 1858. Sir Joseph Paxton added the Grand Staircase. Southwards however from these grounds the cliff face was bare, windswept and unvisited.

Gradually, as imposing buildings spread farther south along the Esplanade and inland towards Filey Road it became apparent that the neglected land offered opportunities for more gardens to complement those in the Spa grounds. Fortunately 13 acres of land were bought in 1883 by George Lord Beeforth, who was also responsible for many of the houses on the south Esplanade. On the storm-beaten cliffside he planted 14,000 rose bushes with trees to screen them and developed a cultivated vista from the seaward end of the subway which linked his own home 'The Belvedere' with his private garden and stone summer-house.

The Cliff Bridge Company had bought 8 acres of land to the south of the Spa, but sold 2 acres to the South Cliff Tramway Company for the erection of their steep track in 1875.

The subsequent history of the South Cliff is that of progression from private and individual enterprise to municipal control. Beeforth was to sell all 13 acres to the Corporation in 1912 and the Cliff Bridge Company sold all their land south of the Tramway. This allowed further development under the genius of Harry W. Smith, who devised so much of our parkland and floral heritage during his 37 years as Borough Engineer. Beeforth's Rose Garden was retained, other gardens developed, and in 1914 the new Italian Gardens, high above the almost completed bathing pool, were opened. Although the development of Holbeck Gardens with the putting green and pavilion had to wait until 1925, it is interesting to note how many postcard views of the earlier gardens in Holbeck Ravine survive, suggesting their great popularity. Much later, during the depression between the wars, unemployed men were found work in widening the paths of the Ravine.

Scarborough's first putting green soon found favour with visitors who passed under the Clock Tower which commemorates another benefactor, namely Alfred Shuttleworth. From his summer residence 'Red Court' Shuttleworth's view south-eastwards was impaired by another house. He eventually bought the house, demolished it to enjoy the unbroken view, and built Red Court Garden which he was to present to the town. (His earlier gifts had been the Clock Tower and the statue of Mercury in the Italian Gardens.) The Corporation renamed it the Shuttleworth Garden and eighteen months before the outbreak of the Second World War designed the attractive and ever-popular miniature garden.

The post-war period saw what was perhaps the logical 'democratisation' of the South Cliff. Public Service Vehicles appeared for the first time on parts of the Esplanade. Tolls of the Valley Bridge had long since been removed and now the Cliff Bridge was to be toll-free so that all who would might walk in the Spa grounds without charge. With the acquisition by the Scarborough Corporation in 1957 of the Spa and its grounds, all the cliff face from Aquarium Top to Holbeck Ravine came under municipal ownership, save for the tiny private garden opposite 'The Belvedere' and the Tramway track which slices the South Cliff in two, still offering (though no longer for Id!) an alternative to the 240 steps from the South Sands to the Esplanade.

Perhaps now the evolution is complete and we are fortunate to be the legatees of planners and gardeners long ago departed. Sadly vandals daub Sir Joseph Paxton's summer-houses, dogs foul pathways, shelters and flower beds, the thoughtless cast their plastic trays and tins amongst the primroses and flowers. But the gardens remain, and season by season, year by year, in their beauty and serenity the tired, the contemplative, and the appreciative can still enjoy their glories and the ever-changing seascape beyond.

Scarborough & District Civic Society

May 1988