Posts Tagged ‘Victorian new town’

Saltburn-by-the-Sea, a 150th anniversary

On the 17th August 1861 the first steam train pulled into Saltburn-by-the-Sea. For one man, Victorian railway owner and politician Henry Pease, it was the realisation of a vision, a dream come true. A new town, a ‘railway town’ built from nothing on the cliff tops of the North Yorkshire coast. Today Saltburn-by-the-Sea celebrates its anniversary 150 years, a small but vibrant seaside resort with a population of around 6,000 people.

From early beginnings

According to popular story one day whilst walking the coast between his brother’s house and ‘old Saltburn’, a fishing hamlet by the sea of no more than a ‘smugglers inn’ and a handful of fishermen’s cottages, Henry Pease was inspired by a vision to build a town on the cliffs above. Iron stone had previously been discovered in the nearby hills and the Pease family had played an important role in developing Middlesbrough only 13 miles away as an industrial centre.

Land was purchased from the Earl of Zetland, surveyors commissioned to design a town layout and his fellow directors of the Stockton and Darlington Railway company persuaded to extend the line.

Streets of terraced houses named after gemstones, Coral, Garnet, Ruby, Emerald, Pearl, Diamond and Amber, were built all with sea views. A ‘railway’ hotel with its own private platform, The Zetland Hotel, was finished in 1863. A pier with a landing stage for steamers was constructed and opened in 1869. The elegant Queens Hotel followed in 1875.
In the early 1880s a cliff lift, an inclined tramway running from the beach at the bottom to the town at the top, was built to replace an earlier cliff hoist. Ornamental Italian gardens were laid out with walks through a wooded valley. Saltburn by the Sea had become a popular and elegant seaside resort.

The dream was complete

Saltburn-By-The-Sea Today

With its wide sweep of sand, donkey rides in summer and backed by a promenade the beach is popular with families and surfers alike. In fact it is has now been names as one of the UK’s top 10 surfing hot spots.

Retaining much of its original Victorian charm Saltburn is a delightful place to visit today. A haven for artists and lovers of the great British seaside. A favourite destination for walkers and cyclists.

The pier, now half its original 1400ft length, is the only remaining pier in the north east of England and makes a great view point to look back on the town and up and down the coast.

The cliff lift, the oldest working water powered funicular in the country, still transports visitors from the beach and lower promenade to the town above. There in a series of well laid out streets a variety of interesting shops, cafes, restaurants, bars and hotels can be found.

Alternatively walk through the valley gardens, or take the miniature railway to enjoy the wooded valley, stream and ornamental gardens.

For those wishing to venture further afield there are delightful cliff top walks. Behind the old smugglers Ship Inn lies Huntcliff, towering cliffs where the Romans built a signalling station rising to more than 365 feet. An energetic climb but well worth it for the views over industrial Teesside to the north and southwards along the Yorkshire coast to Staithes.

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The view along the coast from Ravenscar (Peak)

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.

Ravenscar (Peak) on top of the cliffs

The 'hanging garden' terraces of Ravenscar (Peak)

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