The water margin

Text by Dav White, photos by Dave Barry

Holm means hill.

Peasholm Hill - part natural, part artificial - has for a long time been an exit terminal, both politically and geographically.

Given the task of developing the land around Peasholm, civil engineer Harry W Smith decided to give the new gardens at Peasholm Hill an oriental theme.

He planned a series of themed tree environments in the valley, following the stream up the dingle called the Barrow Cliffs.

To help furnish the park, Scarborough Corporation bought authentic Chinese sculptures from a Colonel JR Twentyman, who had built oriental gardens at the Manor House in Kirby Misperton.

Col. Twentyman had wanted his gardens to be as authentic as possible and had hired skilled craftsmen from China to help achieve his design.

The craftsmen sculpted the statues that can be found in Peasholm Park.

An interesting stone lantern near the second bridge in the glen, in a section of the park called the water garden, has the mythical Chinese water rabbit from the Chinese zodiac carved on either side.

The sculptures were carved in Kirby Misperton in 1903, the Chinese year of the water rabbit. 

In the Chinese zodiac, each year is allotted an animal and an element. The water garden is behind the waterfall cascade into the main lake. The lantern is now by the water course of Scarborough’s ancient parish boundary.


Peasholm dingle, or glen, was planted out in a series of sectioned themes replicating the  forests of the world, evoking various natural forest environments with the appropriate tree species.

The sections begin at the stone bridges as you walk up the glen. The section of pine forests of North America, for example, starts after the bridge in the water garden and contains maritime pines, Scots pines and hairy birch trees.

After that, we cross into the Chinese foothills section containing weeping willows, silver birch and snowy mespilus.

Further on, we cross into the English beech wood containing beech, poplar and sycamore.

At the next bridge, you enter the slopes of Nepal, containing Himalayan spruce, tree of heaven and Japanese cherry trees.

Finally, heading towards the glen bridge, we find ourselves in the woodlands of New England, containing Monterey and Nootka cypress and American limes.

To help exhibit this marvel of arboriculture, two tree crossings were to be constructed at canopy level - but were never built. One was to span the glen from Peasholm Drive at the top of Victoria Park Mount over to Ryndleside on the opposite side of the glen. The other was to cross from Ryndleside back over the glen to the shelter at the Victorian garden, a little further down Peasholm Drive.

The plantations in the glen, together with the trees in the gardens at Glenside, Dean and  Manor Road cemeteries, make well over a thousand trees. They are all special in their own way and help make Scarborough a unique place to live.

Smith’s oriental theme of Peasholm Park takes inspiration from the 19th century Thomas Minton willow pattern pottery design; the features of the story in the design are present in the layout of Peasholm Park.

The fable tells a tragic tale of true love. Eloping lovers are chased by the mandarin’s assassins over a bridge to escape by boat to a little island (at the foot of Peasholm Hill) only to be discovered; they set fire to their abode rather than return to a life of misery.

The gods looked favourably upon the couple and transformed them into lovebirds rather than leave them to a fiery fate. All the features of the fable can still be found in the park. True to the story, the pagoda has caught fire in the past, not caused by the mandarin’s assassins as in the willow pattern, but by a stray firework. The willow pattern poem ends with, ‘Forever are flying together across the river of my willow-ware plate’. 


The naval battle recreated at Peasholm in summer is the Battle of the River Plate. Below Peasholm Hill, beneath the lake, just in front of the naval battle stage set of Montevideo, lie the ruins of Northstead manor house.

The manor of Northstead is a former medieval estate and although it no longer exists, it still plays a vital role in parliamentary affairs.

The 1689 Bill of Rights and the 1701 Act of Settlement are two of the main constitutional laws governing the succession to the throne. They state that a gentleman who has an office under the monarch, or receives a pension from the crown, could not be an MP. This was intended to avoid unwelcome royal influence over the House of Commons.

MPs are technically not permitted to resign their seats. Instead, they can opt to be appointed to an ‘office of profit’ or an ‘office under the crown’, thus disqualifying them in a gentlemanly fashion. The ancient title of the crown steward and bailiff of the manor of Northstead is one of these posts of office.

Past MPs appointed to the office of Northstead include Robert Kilroy Silk, Jerry Adams, David Cameron and Ed Miliband. The current crown steward and bailiff of the manor of Northstead is former Copeland MP Jamie Reed, a self-proclaimed Jedi, now head of community relations at Sellafield nuclear facility.

Peasholm Park has been voted the sixth best park in the UK and the 25th best in Europe by Trip Advisor, in its traveller's choice awards. It is registered by English Heritage as a place of special historic interest.