We often admire the Victorian era and the achievements of the many who contributed much to the making of the 19th century. The list of great men and women and their deeds is endless. However, the Victorians were not always successful and did not get it right every time. This is the story of the ‘town that never was’, a project of endeavour and ambition and of a dream that went awry and ultimately failed.
On the fringes of the North Yorkshire moors, high on a headland perched on the edge of 600 foot high cliffs there is the infrastructure and remains of a town that not so much died, but was not really born. The history of the local area goes back to the days of the Romans who built a small fort and signal station as part of their chain of coastal defences. In the 1600s the area became ‘industrialised’ and played an extremely important part in England’s wool and textile industry. Alum was discovered. Alum was used to make coloured dyes ‘stick’ to wool and cloth and without it the colour would simply wash out. The process of extracting alum liquor from the shale mined from the cliffs and then treating it with seaweed and human urine to obtain the alum crystals for the textile trade was a well guarded secret! By the 1860s the works had all but closed and within 20 years the railway came to the area.
It was the heyday of the Victorian railroad, new lines were springing up all over the country and it was the birth of the holiday and the seaside town. New resorts such as Saltburn, Hornsea and Withernsea were built on the Yorkshire coast. The Peak Estate Company, takings its name from nearby Peak Hall and the adjoining estate was set up. The railway duly arrived in 1884 and by 1897 plans for a ‘new town’ to include shops, tearooms, guesthouses, hanging gardens and attractions were drawn up. Roads, drains and a mains water supply were laid down and the land was divided into 1500 plots for building and offered for sale. The town was renamed Ravenscar, possibly to avoid confusion with the Peak District in Derbyshire or just simply to sound more attractive. Sadly the dream died, investors did not buy the plots of land and the town was not built. The usual Victorian recipe for inventiveness and entrepreneurial success based on core values and common sense was on this occasion missing. Ravenscar failed due to its location. High on the cliff tops, exposed to the elements with only a rocky shoreline hundreds of feet below and accessible by a railway line with a gradient trains often struggled to overcome.
You can visit Ravenscar today and walk along Marine Esplanade, along the Crescent into Station Road and around Station Square. There are a few isolated Victorian buildings which stand as a legacy to the dream. You can take afternoon tea at Raven Hall Hotel (formerly Peak House) and stroll through the landscaped hanging gardens, admire the views and feel the Yorkshire sea air against your cheeks and imagine how it might all have been.
A longer more detailed article will be published at a later date.