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These gardens have a heritage that goes back beyond Sir Joseph Paxton who was responsible for the Italian staircase, gardens and terraces close to the Spa in the 1850's.

The layout of the paths appears in an artist's drawing of the plans by the architects Verity and Hunt in 1880. George Lord Beeforth created other large areas including extensive rose gardens in 1885; at a similar time William Skipsey began the landscaping of the Holbeck Gardens.

Yet it is the deep understanding of the area by Harry W Smith that gave rise to the gardens we see today. A brilliant design, bringing together old and new areas and seamlessly linking different skills and uses so effortlessly together. Three rules were applied to these gardens for this final  design. For the long-term preservation of the Esplanade it was essential to stabilize the cliffs, yet equally every part must still give pleasure to the visitor, and finally to allow the undercliffs to contain attractive gardens, the plants must  survive the salt laden winds.



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