Monthly Archives: August 2022

Withernsea Improvement Co. 4.

One big part of Bannister’s grand plan (s.p.b.s) was the building of a pier, this considered essential to the success of the project in 1860s. Engineering plans were prepared for an ultra-modern structure but this was rejected on the grounds of economy. The resulting structure was very long for the time but less well built, a fact which may have contributed to its rapid demise. The pier was opened in 1878 and extended into quite deep water, but only two years later in a violent storm, two ships crashed into the pier, one breaching the middle of the pier’s length. The other struck the end of the pier and, in deeper water, all the crew drowned, their collective grave in the current churchyard. Between 1880 and 1893 the pier was severely damaged three further times in similar conditions, after which no further attempt was made to re-build it. What does remain are two castellated buildings that were the pier-head, these said to have been modelled on Conway Castle north Wales (nearby at Penmaenmawr William Gladstone had his holiday home, British Prime Minister 1868-1874, 1880-1885, 1886, and 1892-1894).
To look out to sea from Withernsea in the 1870s would show a scene contrasting with that of today (obviously so as there were no wind turbines then). There would have been many sailing vessels, a few steam, sailing up and down the east coast, some setting-off for Scandinavia and lots of fishing vessels depending on the season. In storms at sea these vessels were often allowed to drift in the storm, this being considered safer than being static at anchor. It was in such a situation that Withernsea pier was repeatedly damaged.
Persons of my generation may remember piers that outlasted Withernsea’s but which are now no more. Mine is Hunstanton pier, 1870-1978. A relatively short pier it suffered long-term neglect. As the seashore is very gently sloping it was possible to walk much further out into the Wash than was possible on the pier. Again the pier-head building remains.

Withernsea Improvement Co. 3.

The Hull and Holderness Railway Co. was promoted and largely funded by Anthony Bannister, businessman of Hull. He wanted to develop the terminus at Withernsea as an up-market resort and in anticipation of this bought-up large parcels of land in the parish on which his plans would be put into effect, then selling the housing at a profit. He commissioned Hull’s later-to-be-famous architect Cuthbert Brodrick to design the elegant streets and the general lay-out plan. The scan above is part of Brodrick’s plan and shows two terraces of high status housing facing the Promenade and sea, and west of these a grid-plan of streets, some with substantial semi-detached houses with considerable garden plots. Although only two of Brodrick’s proposed houses were built the street plan remained to today, later to have sections of by-law housing built either side of the roads.
The nature of Brodrick’s proposed Promenade is uncertain to me, but may have been just the natural cliff-line planted with root-binding grasses and allowing access to the sandy beach. If so, this would have provided only temporary respite from coastal erosion as today concrete walls are needed further reinforced by large boulders of Scandinavian granite positioned at the base of the promenade wall.
Brodrick’s planned housing was, in fact, in the traditional parish of Owthorne, to the north of the present day Valley Gardens (no longer gardens), main street and pier-head. The rail station was to be just south of Brodrick’s Promenade.
Valley Garden, the centre for public functions in Withernsea today, is a remnant of a once-upon-a-time mere. The names Withernsea, Hornsea and Kilnsea relate to their Anglo-Saxon past when they were sited beside a ‘pool’, ‘lake’ or ‘mere’, all then well inland. The fact that they are now beside the ‘sea’ is a coincidence of History and Geography.

Withernsea Improvement Co. 2..

The photo above is of a painting by a Mr. Gammidge dated 1880 and showing a sailing ship, the Saffron’, which punched a hole through the newly built Withernsea Pier and was then beached south of the Pier. Clearly a sailing ship, the main mast had been lowered pointing to the stern, and with a very deep draught. The ship, having been tossed around in a storm, also breached one of the early groynes built by the Improvement Company (s.p.b.). The picture, and yesterday’s, are taken from a collection of source materials compiled in 1987 by the Local History Archives Unit of Humberside College of Higher Education (as then), the Unit supervised by the late Chris. Ketchell. It is this source of evidence that informs this, and the next few, blogs/posts.
One document from the pack (see above) copies the Prospectus of the Withernsea Pier, Promenade, Gas and General Improvement Company. The Objects of the Company included the purchase of agricultural land for building, ‘laying out streets, roads, drains etc’ (see posts on Ravenscar), the construction of a pier, an ‘Ornamental Promenade’ and a Spa Saloon ‘providing recreation and amusement for Visitors and Residents’. That last phrase showed that the planned housing would cater for new residents attracted to the site as well as holidaymakers.
The Prospectus also recognises the importance of the railway and infers that commuter traffic to and from Hull would be part of the demand for new housing (as it was to be in Hornsea, but not there by an improvement company but by market forces).
A further objective was to protect ‘the Coast from the encroachments of the Sea, although early photos suggest this was to be by planting grasses below the promenade rather than by building a sea-wall. It also seems that the North Eastern Rail co. had already tried to secure the coast as the Improvement Co. was to follow ‘the same plan’.
(to be continued).

Ravenscar – Withernsea.

When thinking about coastal studies, and resorts in particular, it soon happens that similar histories crop-up in different places, indeed this is why local history alone can fall short.
The financial failure of the proposed cliff-top resort at Ravenscar and of the similar project at Withernsea on the Holderness coast is one such example, although Withernsea did develop into a bustling little resort despite the demise of the project. As with the development of many coastal resorts, railways played a significant role, especially after national legislation required railway companies to provide third class accommodation. At Ravenscar a newly created station was to be vital to the settlement’s development while at Withernsea a whole rail-line was built to promote the resort (Anthony Bannister, the Hull businessman who promoted and mostly funded the new line, initially proposed it as a rural line to serve the farming communities of south Holderness and with its terminus at Easington, taking it to the coast was an idea that came later). The Hull to Withernsea rail-line, an offshoot from the Victoria Dock Railway line, was completed and opened in 1854, the then population of Withernsea and nearby Owthorne being about 250 (the story of the ‘Sister-Kirks’ of Owthorne and Withernsea is told in a plaque set in relief on the Prominade wall at Withernsea). The rail-line terminated at a point just short of the coast and in the first four months 60,000 day trippers visited by train. In 1855 a large hotel was completed next to the rail station; this building survives having had a number of functions across the decades including a convalescent home and cottage hospital.
Although the Hull to Withernsea Railway had to be leased to the North-Eastern Railway in 1860 to ensure its future, Bannister turned his attention to the development of the resort and formed the Withernsea Pier, Prominade, Gas and General Improvement Company in 1871.
The photo above shows the lighthouse and some late 19th century housing and is dated, perhaps, to the early 1920s.
(to be continued)

Ravenscar 2.

Most of the man-made scars on the cliff-face in the coastline north and south of Ravenscar are not the result of the planned gardens of a new resort (s.p.b.s) but a result of the alum open-cast mining along and above the cliffs. Certainly in the 18th and early 19th centuries alum quarrying was a major industry and employed many people in the production and transport of the element. The photo above, photographed from my 35mm slide, shows the remnant of such quarrying, Whitby just visible in the distance and remnants of some of the associated buildings far right.
Certain strata of shale rock revealed in the rock-face were extracted and then piled into mounds which slowly smouldered for a number of months. The process that followed to produce pure alum involved large quantities of human urine and of kelp seaweed which in turn added the vital elements, the final powder being barrelled, lowered down the cliff-face and then sent by coastal ship to particular markets, often in London. The function of the alum was to act as a mordant, that is a product that had the effect of ‘fixing’ the natural dyes then used to add colour to cloth so that the dyes didn’t wash-out in the first wash. The alum industry rapidly declined with the discovery and manufacture of artificial dyes in the 19th century and man-made materials in the 20th century. So the scares along the coast of the North Yorkshire Moors are all that remains of this once vital industry. Guided tours of the alum works at Ravenscar itself can be arranged. Plans to establish a resort here (s.p.b.s) weren’t introduced here until the alum industry locally was in rapid decline as smoke from the smouldering mounds gave-off a toxic aroma.
It has been stated that one of the main places providing urine was Hull, with male urinals built especially as collecting points.

South Cliff Gardens, Scarborough 3 and Ravenscar.

The photo above shows one of the restored shelters (s.p.b.) with a children’s play area being created above on the cliff face.
The creation of gardens on a cliff-face is a project that can be found elsewhere. An example that comes to mind is the point along the North Yorkshire coast at Ravenscar, overlooking Robin Hood’s Bay from the south. Here a grand plan was devised in the late 19th century to create a planned coastal settlement which would have access to the beach, albeit difficult, by steps between terraces cut into the cliff-face, although the gradient here was steeper than at South Bay, Scarborough. On these terraces gardens were to be created which themselves could be destinations for holidaymakers. Although the entrepreneurs managed to get a rail station created here at which trains on the Scarborough to Whitby line would stop, the development project was a financial failure and the resort and gardens were never completed. However, a local road network and drainage system was created and a few houses built, in particular a terrace of four large Edwardian houses which stood near the once station and showed that the plan was to attract the better-off type of resident/holidaymaker. The station has long-since closed as has the railway itself with only some evidence of one of the two platforms surviving.
The name Ravenscar was promoted by the development company, the area previously known as Peak, although a large farmhouse on the site that pre-dated the development was called Raven House, this being subsequently developed into the famous hotel on the site today. One point about this building is that at one point in its history a castellated garden wall was built, this a reminder that such walling in post medieval times has invariably been for decorative purposes only, this true on church buildings as much as elsewhere.
Unfortunately my photos of Ravenscar are all 35mm slides.
(to be continued)