Road took hundreds of men nearly 11 years to build

Words by Dave Barry

An exhibition on Marine Drive has opened at the Maritime Heritage Centre.

It focuses on the construction of Scarborough’s biggest ever engineering project, completed 110 years ago.

After the building of Foreshore Road in the 1870s, it was suggested that a road around the castle headland might be built.

The idea was to connect Scarborough’s bays by a route that would enable visitors and residents to walk or drive easily from one to the other.

It was not a new idea. Josiah Forster Fairbank had already advocated a bay-to-bay tunnel through the castle hill.

The need to stabilise the cliffs in the north bay had already led to the construction of a sea wall and Royal Albert Drive, which opened in 1890.

A consultant was appointed to conduct a feasibility study for the proposed new road. Sir John Coode (1816-92) specialised in maritime construction and was probably the most distinguished harbour engineer of the 19th century, working throughout the British empire.

He stated: “The proposal represents no insuperable difficulties in the way of its execution and the question will have to be determined more on financial than on engineering grounds”.

Coode assured ratepayers that the 19th century equivalent of the council tax wouldn’t go up by much, estimating that the work would cost £70,000. The sum included £10,000 for the approach road leading from Foreshore Road.

The year before Coode’s report was published, over 700,000 tickets were collected at the railway station and a quarter of a million people visited the underground aquarium below the Spa footbridge.

“If the same number of persons who visited the aquarium in four months passed over the new road only once a year, and half of them came back again, their tolls would amount to £1,589”.

After a heated debate and a vote of the ratepayers, work began in 1897.

As with most big projects, it took a lot longer than envisaged. Intended to take less than three years, it took over a decade to complete, hindered by storms and problems with some of the construction methods employed. It took hundreds of men nearly 11 years to build.

The construction involved a great deal of hard work, much of it by hand. The castle cliffs had to be reshaped to reduce the risk of boulders falling, foundations had to be constructed and blocks and stones laid.

The blocks were made in the north bay and moved into position using the latest technology, rail trucks and steam cranes, running on gantries that were prone to being washed away in storms.

A fierce gale on 7 January 1905 caused considerable damage to the Marine Drive and wrecked the north bay pier. A period of difficulty followed as corporation and contractor argued over what needed to be done.

The Marine Drive was formally opened on 5 August 1908 by a member of the royal family, the Duke of Connaught.

The cost was much greater than originally anticipated because of the difficulties and delays. It cost £124,700, many millions of pounds in today's money.

Tolls were to be used to recoup some of the money. Toll-houses were built at both ends of the road and toll collectors appointed.

The charge was a penny per person, whether you were on foot, in a car, on a horse or on a motorbike. It was collected at the southern end at a tollhouse which miraculously escaped the municipal fervour to demolish fine old buildings in later decades.

In the first year, the toll brought in £1,892. It was supplemented by charges for attending the entertainments staged on the Marine Drive.

It proved extremely popular with promenaders and remains so today; people enjoying the spectacular views and possibly - as today - trying to spot cetaceans in calm water and peregrines nesting on the cliffs.

* The exhibition, which will run for three months, has been put together with the help of Scarborough Council and Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society.

The Maritime Heritage Centre is open from 11am to 4pm Wednesday to Sunday. Entrance is free.