Standing on the fringes of the rugged North Yorkshire Moors and perched on the top of 600 foot high cliffs overlooking the North Sea sits the village of Ravenscar, the ‘town that never was’, or the Victorian dream that failed.
Ravenscar is situated mid way between the popular seaside resorts of Scarborough and Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast. Go there and you will find the infrastructure and remains of a town that not so much died but was not really born at all. It is an example of a Victorian project to realise a dream a story of endeavour and ambition that went awry and ultimately failed.
Ravenscar and the surrounding area is a lovely picturesque and most interesting place to visit. Once there you can walk along Marine Esplanade, along The Crescent into Station Road, around Station Square and stand on the old platform. However, you will not find or see rows of magnificent Victorian houses. Instead only a few isolated buildings which stand as a reminder to the dream. You can take afternoon tea at the Raven Hall Hotel (formerly Peak House) and stroll through the landscaped ‘hanging’ gardens, admire the views along the coast to Robin Hood’s Bay. You can delight in the cliff top views and feel the bracing sea air against your cheeks and imagine how it all might have looked if the vision had come true.
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. You can visit the remains of the Peak Alum Works, a fascinating industrial archaeological site, and only a short walk from Ravenscar.
The end of the nineteenth century was the heyday of the Victorian railroad, new lines were being constructed and springing up all over the country. It was the beginnings of the holiday and the seaside town with new resorts such as Saltburn, Hornsea and Withernsea being built on the Yorkshire coast.
Ideas to develop the coast to the north of Scarborough came to the fore and the Peak Estate Company, taking 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. It was decided to rename the town Ravenscar, possibly to avoid confusion with the Peak District in Derbyshire or just simply to sound more attractive. Sadly the dream did not come to fruition, investors did not buy the plots of land and the town was not built. Access by train proved to be difficult with trains often struggling to overcome the steep gradient of the newly built line. With Ravenscar’s exposed cliff top location often at the mercy of the wind and rain, a rocky shoreline hundreds of feet below with difficult access and no proper sandy beach this particular Victorian ‘new seaside town’ failed.
The Victorian dream may have failed but the village of Ravenscar lives on and whether you are visiting the area by car, bicycle or on foot you will have a delightful day out. A scatter of houses line the roads and Station Square. The Raven Hall Hotel standing on the cliffs makes a pleasant stop for a meal and a drink, as too the tearooms in the square. The National Trust visitor centre tells the history of the area and the story of the town that never was with an exhibition and displays and provides information for walks and activities in the local countryside.