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.
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 1400 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)