Series celebrating the forgotten world of the town. Nicholas Crane visits Scarborough and finds out what has happened to the town since its heyday.
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I've seen towns explode into cities.
I've seen towns with their hearts ripped out.
Every town has its own tales of triumph and catastrophe.
All of them face challenges.
As a geographer,
I believe that towns are the communities of the future.
Towns will be the places we want to live.
By 2030, a staggering 92% of us will be living the urban life.
Congested cities sprawl across our map,
but cities don't have all the answers.
I believe we need to fall back in love
with the places that first quickened our pulses.
Smaller than a city, more intimate, much greener, more surprising.
Towns are where we learned to be urban.
They are the building blocks of our civilisation.
market towns, river towns, industrial towns.
Collectively, they bind our land together.
This is the story of towns, but it's also our story.
Where we came from. How we live.
And where we might be going.
This is Scarborough,
a Yorkshire coastal town with a history of boom and bust.
I want to find out what's happened to this town of 40,000 people
since its heyday as Britain's first seaside resort.
Whether our fondness for foreign holidays has left this port
high and dry.
How a town on the edge survives.
At eight in the morning of December 16th 1914,
Britain was attacked from the sea without warning.
Two German battle cruisers hurled 500 explosive shells
at a wakening seaside town.
18 people lost their lives.
It was the first time in over 100 years
that civilians had been killed by an enemy on British soil.
On that winter's day,
the town that suddenly found itself at war was Scarborough.
The shock of the German shelling reverberated around Britain.
This wasn't a major city, or a crucial naval base.
This was a peaceful British town with ordinary people going about their everyday lives.
After the attack, Scarborough, and Britain, had a choice -
take the blow or fight for the future.
"Remember Scarborough" became a rallying cry,
a call to arms to enlist in a war that was no longer distant.
It seems to me that many of our towns are facing
the same kind of choice now -
take the hit or come out fighting.
This is an era of extraordinary social and economic convulsion.
Our towns are on the front line of change.
They were created and developed for particular purposes -
trade, defence, industry.
But what happens when those traditional roles suddenly disappear?
Should towns like Scarborough accept defeat?
Or should we all enlist and fight for their future?
Tonight they're launching a massive arts festival here in Scarborough.
It's February, it's freezing,
it seems like a mad idea.
But Scarborough does things differently.
Physically and creatively, it lives life on the edge.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
A town's place in the landscape
explains why people have settled there,
and to a large extent, it guides their destiny.
The geography of a town affects perceptions, attitudes,
and how its people live their lives.
Scarborough is arranged a bit like the stalls of a theatre,
in tiers above two bays, one to the north and one to the south.
Two scoops out of the coastline,
with a massive headland between them.
A Yorkshire Rock of Gibraltar crowned with a defiant castle.
This town sits right on the edge - on the edge of Yorkshire and the edge of England.
Poised between land and sea,
it's always been engaged in a struggle between prosperity and oblivion.
There are plenty of towns where you can drive for a couple of miles
from the centre in any direction and reach countryside.
Try that in Scarborough, and you'll drown.
Draw a circle around Scarborough and half of it is sea.
It's a town of two halves.
This half, the seaward side,
made Scarborough feel part of the wider world.
But this half, on the landward side,
made Scarborough feel at the END of the world.
Approach Scarborough from the land, and it's at the end of the road,
and at the end of the line.
These days, you could argue that Scarborough's out in the cold.
So how does a seaside town like Scarborough survive?
Is it about to slide into the depths or rise like a recovering Atlantis?
I want to know if this town has a future
or if Scarborough's dead in the water.
Looking back through time, this town was born from the water
when men from the North beached their longships in this sheltered bay.
The name Scarborough seems to date back to Viking times.
It crops up in the Icelandic sagas
when two Viking brothers allegedly landed on the Yorkshire coast
and founded a fortress called "Skardaborg" - Scarborough.
To warriors from the frozen north,
Skardaborg must have been a bit like an all-inclusive Mediterranean resort -
lovely sandy beach, warm sun, plenty of food.
What more could you want?
But Skardaborg was more war-zone than resort.
Soon after the settlement's foundation,
a rival group of Vikings burned the place so effectively
that it fails to appear at all in the Domesday survey of 1086.
The town really got going in the 12th century.
As a trading port with a great defensive headland,
Henry II saw potential in Scarborough.
It was the perfect place to build a castle and to establish a town.
# Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
# My friend, you can save your money and time. #
By 1163, Scarborough was in business.
It grew to be equal in power to York
and one of the largest towns on the East coast.
And in 1253 came a medieval hyperstore
the likes of which had never been seen in Northern Europe.
It was Scarborough Fair.
Scarborough Fair was held on the sands, on the site of this harbour.
It ran for 45 days every year, through August and September,
an exceptionally long time for a fair to last.
It was a fish market.
Not just any old fish market,
but the biggest fish market in Western Europe.
5,000 barrels of salt herring were sold here every year.
Fresh herring, dried herring too.
Large salted cod were also a speciality.
The Fair was a huge source of revenue,
bringing in over £250,000 in today's money to the town every year.
Scarborough Fair put Scarborough on the map.
Fish merchants came to the Fair
from Flanders and France, from Norway and Scotland,
feeding a commercial boom and driving the growth of the town.
Eventually, other market towns and ports caught up with Scarborough,
and the last Fair was held here in 1788.
Today, Scarborough's fish market is only a shadow of its former glory.
After the golden age of medieval fishing, and of Scarborough Fair,
the amazing moment for me - the defining incident
that raised this town to international stardom
came from the discovery of some water
which had a rather strange effect.
It was the early 17th century, Charles I was on the throne,
and it was the beginning of Scarborough's next golden age.
It started with a funny tummy.
In 1626, a Mrs Elizabeth Farrer,
who seems to have been in need of medical attention,
came across a spring at the foot of the cliff.
The stones surrounding it were curiously stained.
Tasting the water, she realised that it had a very high mineral content.
It was a purgative - just the business for cleaning out her system.
Drink this, and you'll be sprinting for the porcelain.
It started a revolution.
The town of Scarborough became the place to take curative dips in the sea,
and to take spa waters as a laxative.
But what was it they came here to drink?
So, what's actually in this water?
Well, there's quite a lot of mineral content.
-I mean, if you can see by this... it's 2.7 grams per litre.
So, extremely high, and that's made up of calcium carbonates,
iron oxides, obviously, magnesium sulphates.
2.7 grams in this water, so what would it normally be in ordinary water that we drink?
It's about 6.8 times higher than what you get in a bottle of mineral water or tap water,
so extremely high, yeah.
And Will, what's this gadget you've got here?
This can tell us the sulphate content of the water.
We can see there's a lot of minerals in the water here
precipitating out and we know that there's a lot of magnesium
and sulphate in the water, in particular.
Magnesium sulphate is Epsom salts which is often prescribed as a laxative
which is probably why the spa waters were famous for their purging effects.
So, we can have a quick look at this device here
and see how the values we get now compare with our modern day drinking water standards.
-So, we've got a value of, uh...
-Now, our water companies like to keep that value below 250mg per litre.
Yeah, anything above that, you can start to taste it,
and at values of around 1,000 or so, it will start having that purging effect.
So, if you drink water that's got six times more sulphate in it than ordinary tap water,
what actually happens when it goes in to your system?
People react differently,
but you'd probably have a lively day or so afterwards!
Yeah, very good.
'News of Mrs Farrer's discovery spread fast,
'but it was the publication in 1660 of a book
'which converted a trickle of visitors into a torrent.'
Forget our modern holiday ads with their palm trees,
their cocktails, their sky-blue pools.
This little book, Scarborough Spaw by one Dr Wittie,
turned a struggling fishing port into a national health resort.
Wittie's readers were urged to take the waters of Scarborough
between May and September - advice which triggered
a new, annual migration to the town.
The spring on the beach may just as well have been gushing liquid gold.
Scarborough suddenly found that it had a new, seasonal market.
And Dr Witties' advice extended to sea bathing too,
recommending that gout-sufferers strip off and take the plunge.
In 1733, a visitor to Scarborough wrote, "It is the custom
"for not only gentlemen, but the ladies also,
"to bathe in the seas.
"The gentlemen go out a little way to sea in cobbles and jump in naked, directly".
Cobbles were small boats, the local shallow-bottomed fishing vessels.
No cobbles about today so I think I'll dash for it.
By the 1700s, there was no shortage of medical opinion
concerning the benefits of sea bathing.
Healthy males were directed to bathe for five minutes before breakfast daily,
while women, invalids and children were told to take three dips
of two minutes duration, three hours after breakfast, three times a week.
It's absolutely freezing!
The pioneering detox was hugely profitable for the town
and Scarborough became Britain's first seaside resort.
Spa towns like Bath, Harrogate and Scarborough were Britain's first tourist destinations.
And in the wake of spa success, entertainment was king.
The Spa buildings became synonymous with big shows.
In its Victorian heyday, Scarborough Spa was considered
the most popular music hall venue outside London.
Look at this.
Classic...seaside architecture at its best.
It's an absolute gem. It's a cast iron concert hall.
The Spa has been rebuilt, remodelled,
revamped time and again.
Every time storms have flattened it, fires have gutted it,
it's bounced back bigger, better, bolder, more stylishly.
The Spa is a barometer of Scarborough's confidence and vision.
And right now, this building is definitely going places.
Towns have to be resourceful.
They have to make the best of what they've got.
Scarborough turned a trickle of foul-tasting water
into a river of money.
Scarborough's evolution from spa to seaside resort
changed the character and economy of the town.
Seasonal waves of tourists created wealth for building, for expansion.
Tourism altered Scarborough's geography.
Over on the South Cliff, dignified townhouses
were constructed for well-heeled Northern industrialists who came for the season.
To the north were rows and rows of guesthouses.
And slicing into the centre of town was the railway
which brought generations of holidaymakers for sun, sand and fun.
The spa waters and the sea air led to centuries of success.
Tourists flocked to this fashionable town.
It became a high-class Monte Carlo of the North
and a great deal of the money and the style that came to Scarborough every season
poured into one building in particular - the Grand Hotel.
The Grand rules the Scarborough skyline.
Completed in 1867, it was built in a V shape, V for Victoria.
And it was designed around the theme of time.
The four towers represent the seasons.
There are 12 floors for the months of the year,
52 chimneys symbolise the weeks,
and originally, it had 365 bedrooms, one for each day of the year.
When the Grand was built, it was one of the largest hotels in the world.
The Grand was THE place for anyone with money in the North
who wanted luxury by the sea.
"Grand" doesn't do it justice, it's completely over the top.
Look at those tiers of golden bricks climbing above the sea.
The towers shaped like fish heads gaping at the heavens.
There's decorations dripping from it - balconies, stone swags.
Even the cast-iron drain pipes are twisted like barley sugar.
It's completely over the top, opulent, extravagant.
It looks like the summer palace of an imperial fruitcake.
'These days, just like the rest of the town,
'it has to appeal to a broader section of the market.
'I want to know where the Grand's guests come from today
'and what they think of this once exclusive hotel.'
When did you come here?
-Er, what day is it today?
-Did you know each other before?
-No, we didn't.
We're with those over there and we've just met.
Just in case his wife's watching.
We walked in today and we thought like, "Oh, God, this is really grand."
From the minute we came on the coach to walking in and seeing the staircase,
yeah, it's been wonderful.
-Have you ever seen stairs like these?
-No. Only on Titanic.
If you were to look back 50 years, we probably couldn't afford to come in here.
We'd be on the outside with our noses on the window pane,
licking the glass for a taste of what it would be like inside. And now, we can afford to.
Everyone here's the same, aren't they? Just ordinary people.
Most of the Grand's visitors are coach parties -
older people who are looking for value for money.
The hotel has had an astonishing 95% occupancy in the last year.
This is a high volume business.
It has to be to make the place financially viable.
The Grand is a survivor.
This is an extraordinary place.
And people are so fond of it.
Once upon a time, walking into the foyer of the Grand
would have been a bit like boarding first class on a luxury ocean liner.
Parlour palms, chandeliers,
staff attending your every need.
You wouldn't have got in here without a tailcoat or a black tie.
But all that's changed. It had to.
For a building like this to keep going,
exclusivity just is not an option.
To survive, you have to open your doors to everybody.
For any seaside town, bringing in the crowds
and keeping tourists happy is going to be crucial.
It's what every seaside resort economy is built on -
attracting visitors and attracting money.
And Scarborough's no different.
But what if the ground shifts?
It's all very well filling hotels
but what if parts of the town are destined to slide into the sea?
Holbeck Hall, one of Scarborough's oldest
and grandest buildings has always been popular with the tourists.
-But today, they came to Scarborough for all the wrong reasons...
-On the 3rd June 1993,
the muddy cliff below Holbeck Hall began to slump.
It got worse and worse, until finally on June 5th,
after heavy rain, parts of the hotel toppled down the slope.
It was a dramatic spectacle, and the world was watching on TV.
But it was the land, not the sea, that was to blame.
This is very dodgy geology.
A lot of the cliffs round here
are thickly capped with a layer of something called glacial till -
a mess of mud, sand, stones, clay - left behind by the last glaciers.
It's about as stable as porridge.
Underneath it is a more solid rock foundation of sandstone.
When water seeps into the glacial till,
it starts to slip and slide off the sandstone into the sea.
Scarborough's great headland is banded with harder rocks
which have resisted the sea,
but to each side of the headland are softer, less stable deposits
which have been eroded into Scarborough's two great bays.
As Scarborough grew, the town colonised areas of unstable geology.
And today, specialist abseiling teams
are tasked to monitor the cliffs.
It looks a messy business.
There isn't really a proper, a proper name for what we do.
Like Cliff Inspector?
Cliff Inspector, yes, or Cliff Monitor.
'Wendy Noble conducts cliff surveys along the coast
'to check the stability of the geology.
'On a daily basis, she sees that the land is slipping away.'
So, when you come down here,
what are you looking for, in terms of ringing alarm bells?
Well, directly on this area here we're looking for the grass
maybe slipping off the top
and underneath the grass, you've got the boulder clay.
-It's just dribbled over the top.
-It's just dribbled over the top of all this shale
and with the water that seeps through it, it does soak through
and onto a slip plane which then creates a sliding effect and all the material
then starts to slide away and tip off the edge of the cliff here.
-And that's what we're standing on now?
-And that's what we're standing on now.
-Doesn't make me feel confident. Shall we go down a bit lower and have a look at the sandstone?
-I'm not predicting that!
-Are you all right?
-Yes, I'm fine.
I don't normally get a hood full of soil but...
Can you predict when all this junk will fall down?
Not really, no.
We look out for huge cracks and fissures and things like that.
If they're getting bigger, we try and do something about it.
I've done a bit of abseiling but I've never deliberately abseiled
-anywhere as absolutely disgusting as this.
-Quite a lot of crumbly cliffs around here.
That's a highly technical term.
-Highly technical term - very crumbly! Shall we go down a bit further?
-Yeah. You bet.
'So, this is what Scarborough has to contend with -
'foundations that are slipping into the sea.
'This town has not got it easy.'
Living on the edge is a contradictory state.
I mean, here's a place that wants to thrive
despite the fact that it's being constantly nibbled by nature
and despite the fact that it's not on the way to anywhere, it's at the end of the road.
It's perverse, really, contradictory.
Maybe it's that perversity, that constant struggle
that attracts a certain sort of person to Scarborough.
people who want daily contact with the essence of life,
the impermanent realities of existence.
Out here on the edge there's a heightened regard, I think,
for time and for place, and perhaps for people, too.
At Knipe Point,
the next raft of Scarborough properties is sliding over the edge.
They're mostly holiday homes,
but a few permanent residents live with the daily threat of losing their houses
with the next heavy rainfall or melt of winter snow.
They're right on the brink, about to topple over the cliff.
No-one in their right mind would buy a house here.
Or would they?
'It looks like a crime scene. Taped-off cliffs and bungalows.
'But a local artist has bought one of these houses and is turning it into an art installation.
'Maybe it's disaster art. Maybe he's just after the publicity.'
-Hello, Kane. Can I come in? It's freezing out there!
-It is, yes.
It's not a normal-looking bungalow. My goodness!
Is this a workshop, Kane, or is this art?
This is art. I see this project of the building as an installation,
but I actually work in here to paint as well as experiment and try different things.
Why did you deliberately buy a house that's going to fall over a cliff?
When I was offered the opportunity about a year ago to buy the house, for £3,000, I just grabbed it.
I bought it on my credit card, that was important. The idea of that was to do with the credit crunch.
It was a reference to the credit crunch, to mortgages, to the fact that
we engage with a mortgage, it's going to last 25 years,
and really we don't own these properties.
We're borrowing them, then we're moving them on. It's a massive expense.
There's all sorts of references to that.
-Is it the impermanence of life generally?
The transience of life, the temporality of life. That, for me, what it's all about.
What's the connection between all these cards and letters and...
I did something called "the last post",
and I quite like the idea of people writing to a house that was going to disappear.
And people have expressed personal thoughts, memories, concerns.
From Italy, from Germany, from Budapest, from Greece,
from America, Canada.
But this is, for me, the most significant part of the project.
These letters were written by local school children.
And I said to them, "You can write on the letter 'to be opened', and I'll read it,
"or 'not to be opened'", and then these letters will go over the cliff
never to be seen or to be read.
The letters from the school children that you've read,
-what sentiments were they expressing?
-I've got some over here.
"I'd like to say goodbye to the house, goodbye to my thought.
"I wish I was braver to stand up to my parents. Since they are divorced they keep back-stabbing each other,
"and I miss my dad and don't think I could stand up to them,
"or at least they got along but I doubt it'll ever happen."
-And there's a drawing.
-It is, it is.
But if those children have used it to put closure on something or a way of expressing themselves,
it has to be a good thing, and maybe it's the start of a discussion or dialogue
with an adult, with a friend.
I feel you've rather derailed me, Kane. I've got to confess that...
I came to the door feeling a little bit antagonistic towards the whole notion.
I feel a bit derailed by that letter from the child, and by those ones, and I think that...
But the whole thing, essentially, it's the story of tragedy.
It is the people in Knipe Point, they're in a situation where they're stuck
and nothing can really help them.
This land is going to go. It's steadily slipping over the edge.
Like parts of the coast eroding all around Britain,
there's nothing to stop it.
People will lose their homes, their investments, everything they thought they could rely on.
'There are coastal communities from Norfolk to Dorset
'who'd sympathise with the people of Knipe Point.'
Something happened when I walked into Kane's house.
I'm ashamed to say that I went along with preconceptions,
fairly antagonistic ones.
I thought, "Well, here's a man who...
"An artist who's trying to make something of other people's misfortunes."
There are several local residents there who are watching their houses
topple over the edge of a cliff into the abyss,
and there's Kane making his artistic statement.
And, sure, he's got an eye for the main chance.
Where else are you going to pick up an artist's studio
with a sea view like that for three grand?
But I think he's doing something really important. He's drawing attention to some really big issues.
Climate change, environmental collapse, the housing crisis, economic recession.
He's also connecting Scarborough to the wider world,
which is what a place at the end of the line really needs.
There are people far away from here who are learning about
this strange bungalow that's about to fall into the void.
But what really excited me was that after about ten minutes in there,
I suddenly realised that Kane had invited me to take part
in a completely unpredictable, very thought-provoking conversation
about what it's really like to live on the edge.
It would be so easy for a seaside town like Scarborough
to be isolated and cut off from the rest of the world.
But art, music, theatre, culture can be lifelines for a town.
A thriving theatre or cinema, an art gallery or museum,
can draw the crowds and bring people together.
And culture travels.
It connects towns to other towns, to villages and even cities.
And this town has been exporting plays around the globe for the last 50 years.
The plays of the world's most performed living playwright,
Sir Alan Ayckbourn.
Alan Ayckbourn came to Scarborough in the 1950s.
He settled in the town, stayed put,
and he's written 75 plays here in the last 50 odd years.
Ayckbourn plays go on to London, New York, Tokyo, Berlin.
They're translated into 35 different languages
and made into internationally acclaimed films.
Just about all of them have been premiered here, in this small seaside town.
Somebody said, "You not fancy a job in Scarborough?" I said, "Where the hell's Scarborough?"
They said, "It's in Yorkshire." I said, "How do you...?"
They said, "It's by the sea." I said, "Sea?"
How did the population of this Victorian seaside resort react to your plays?
Half our audience are fish, somebody pointed out.
We've got the North Sea and, yes, we're on the end of a railway line and on the end of a road.
But they got curious. They looked at us rather strangely.
Sometimes you've got an audience of people who are obviously totally unused to theatre
and it was loudly discussed in the play.
It was like they don't know we're live.
It was topped by one woman, as the lights came up on this scene,
she went, "Ooh, it's in colour," which I thought was absolutely sweet.
What did Scarborough itself bring to your work?
I think it kept me on the ground because...
Man on the street audiences. I couldn't write airy-fairy stuff.
They have sayings here.
"They like their comedies but they don't like them too daft to laugh at."
So you have to write characters that they relate to or they recognise.
Has Scarborough been a touchstone for you as a playwright and director?
Yes. It's a wonderful place.
A lot of the material is obviously gathered from one's existence in the present,
but I observe the Scarborough scene
and I write about it, thinly disguised on it.
But they're all seen through a southerner's eyes.
The local restaurants, which I'm very fond of,
I'm known to lean backwards so I'm listening to the table behind me.
I'm a lousy dinner companion, but by God, I get some good stuff from the other table.
Certainly, those are two people having a very intimate conversation and my ears are flapping back.
What effect do you think the theatre's had on the town?
I think it just opened a little door which said it is possible to be done.
You know, we take a show from here to New York
with the same company, the same production, the same design team,
and it gets fantastic reviews,
and it's on the Time magazine's top three shows to see.
And yet it's a Scarborough show!
So all that rubbish about "What are you doing here?" is nonsense.
The best is here, and that's what I try to say.
I mean, you're a seaside resort, you can have the best,
and the people who say to me, "What are you doing there?"
I say, "Well, come and have a look."
A seaside town that can hold its own on the international stage.
It's a bold vision, I like it.
Scarborough characters are exported to Broadway,
tread the boards in the West End.
The people may be thinly disguised, but Ayckbourn has made Scarborough
internationally famous, just by being here.
Seaside towns like Scarborough can find themselves
balanced on an economic knife edge.
They face far greater challenges than inland towns.
The nature of the summer season is boom then bust, year after year after year.
And these days you can't rely on sticks of rock, donkey rides,
sandcastles by the sea.
You have to adapt. Change tempo.
Move with the times.
Scarborough has taken more than its fair share of punishing blows.
When fishing collapsed, the town reeled.
And then, when holiday-makers abandoned British seaside resorts
and jetted off to hotter latitudes, Scarborough reeled again.
It's happened to other coastal towns too, from Margate and Weymouth,
to Great Yarmouth and Blackpool.
Our great Victorian seaside resorts,
with their promenades, piers and nostalgic iron-work,
have had to re-invent themselves
with art galleries, festivals, sporting events, conferences.
It's not enough to rely on summer visitors.
So what's waiting in the wings for Scarborough?
Where's the next wave of good fortune coming from?
How long till the next jackpot?
These days, seaside towns are rediscovering what they always had - the sea.
Never mind the weather.
If you've got good waves, the surf fanatics will find you.
Even in winter.
'The rise of British surfing towns first started in Cornwall,
'but in the north east surf scene, Scarborough leads the way.'
So what is the surfing like here?
World class, simple as that.
All around here, there's a lot of variety,
there's good waves for people to learn on South Bay.
Bigger waves outside the town. Lots of variety for everyone.
World class? Scarborough's a world-class surf resort?
I think so.
What kind of difference has it made to the economy of Scarborough having surfing here?
It makes a big difference because it's cold weather tourism and wet weather tourism.
All the tourists normally come on a nice sunny day and sit on the beach.
Surfers come rain, shine - if the waves are good, everyone turns up and has fun anyway.
I really understand the pleasures of sitting on a warm, sunny beach on an August day, but this is mid-winter.
We're a hearty bunch!
So where do we start?
Right, so you want to put your board down here
and just point towards the sea.
So first thing to do is just learn how to get ourselves
nice and straight on the board.
So hands there, chest over the board,
just lift yourself up and lay yourself nice and straight.
Hands at the side...
'I feel like an old dog trying to learn new tricks
'but if Scarborough has to move with the times, then so do I.'
Now just turn towards me and just swivel your hips,
so just turn like this.
And then from there,
-just slowly up to standing up, OK?
-That's perfect! Absolutely perfect!
-Is it that easy?
-Of course it is!
I told you it was simple!
OK, here we go.
That's great fun. You get knocked around all over the place, though.
Just a question of sticking with it.
If this town wants to get up and stay up, ride the wave,
it needs to function all year round.
It's always been the problem for seasonal towns,
finding income in the quiet months.
Reinventing itself as a surfing destination is one trick that
Scarborough might be able to pull off.
But striving to have businesses that work year round is nothing new
for resort towns.
A number of coach manufacturers set up in seaside towns
because, traditionally, coach building was seasonal,
with the winter months being busiest.
There were coachbuilders in Lowestoft, Blackpool and Hove.
While the hotel and tourist industry was all about summer work,
men could work through the winter building coaches.
Coach-building was great for a town like Scarborough
because, for many, it brought year-round employment.
Plaxtons of Scarborough are Britain's only surviving luxury coach-builder
and build nearly a third of the country's coaches.
The company was set up just over 100 years ago.
At the end of the Great War, they started supplying car bodies
to the likes of Rolls Royce and Bentley.
In the '20s, they established themselves as coach-builders.
And today they're still a big name in the bus world.
How long have you worked here, Allan?
I started in 1969, so that works out about 42 years.
42 years in this factory, that's a long time.
It has, yeah, it's been a lifetime, it's been my life.
What was it like when you arrived?
Er, scary, everything made of wood, 35 jobs a week.
Did you say coaches made of wood?
Made of wood, yeah, the bodies were all made of wood.
2,000 men, and now we're down to four vehicles a week and 400 men.
2,000 men in the whole works?
Yeah, we had two factories then, one here and one at Seamore Road, which is in the town itself.
Sixty years ago, there were more than 100 companies building buses and coaches in Britain.
Now, there's only one luxury coach-builder left.
And they're fighting a battle with foreign imports.
The coach comes in as a chassis and then we start by putting
a frame on it, which is a frame which you see at the moment.
This frame's part of the roll-over structure, it's a bit like a cobweb.
This gives it its strength and makes it safe to use on the road.
-Reminds me of building models.
-It is, yeah, it's a bit like a Meccano set, I think.
-Anything I can do, a job I can have a crack at?
we'll let you have a go at a windscreen.
-That can be difficult, but you can have a go.
-I'll have a bash.
"Have a bash" - wrong word!
-All right, then, Nick?
It weighs a ton, Mick!
Just lay it back. That's it.
That's the heaviest bit of glass I've ever picked up.
I need you to lift it a bit higher so that I can get this corner in.
Your corner wants to be that much above the gaiter.
-Right, swap hands.
-That's it. About there, yeah.
Right, just let it come down, slowly.
How do I get my fingers out from underneath?
-LAUGHS: When they start getting a bit tight, just pull them out.
I could do with you all the time. As I say...
You guys are working so fast.
Want to have a go at that?
Get it in there, just like that.
Twist and pull.
Twist and pull all the way along, like opening a can.
-Gosh, it's tough rubber, isn't it?
-This is difficult, Mick!
How do you get that last bit in?
Yeah, that's in.
-That's a tough job, thank you.
-All right, mate.
I take my hat off to you.
One of the things that strikes me, around here is that everybody's
really friendly with each other.
I think it's because everybody knows each other.
You know, it's quite a small area we all live in.
We all live in Scarborough virtually, you know,
the workforce mainly come from Scarborough.
-There's a lot of banter.
When I learned me apprenticeship, the person who taught you,
not only taught you how to become a tradesman.
He taught you... how to become a man.
He was like a surrogate father, really.
I suppose it didn't only teach me how to have a trade at the end, but it taught me everything,
you know, to respect people, to...
Just my whole way of life, really, was born through Plackies.
Sounds as if you were brought up by Plaxtons.
Yeah, you're are, really, you're brought up by Plaxtons.
There's a big stamp on you that says "Plaxtons" on it.
Plaxtons isn't what I expected.
It's not really a factory at all, it's a community,
part of the living town.
Never in a million years did I think I'd find myself feeling,
I don't know, slightly emotional about bus fabrication.
But, having spent the day there, I've been made very welcome,
I feel oddly, kind of moved, actually, stirred by the spirit of the place.
When you think back over the last 50 years of British history,
the industries which have been decimated - fishing, mining, manufacturing - it's incredible
that this company's putting their bespoke motor coaches and buses on the road for a global market.
I think to the outside world,
Scarborough's not well-known for its red buses and coaches
but now I've seen around the factory I can see that these things
are one of the reasons that Scarborough's heart is still beating.
In small towns, community matters hugely.
It's one of the great strengths of town life, the friendliness,
neighbourly feeling, and willingness to get involved.
And in Scarborough, community involvement has been taken to a new level.
When it comes to deciding how council budgets are spent,
the people of Scarborough turn out to vote,
and they turn out in their droves.
-Hello, there. It's really busy, isn't it?
-It certainly is.
People are making choices about how we spend a grant fund in Scarborough.
There's 29 projects here that are asking for funding and we've got £74,000 to allocate.
What people need to do is, as they come in, they have a scoring sheet,
and they need to score each of the projects between one and five.
Five if they think it's a fantastic project,
one if they're not so keen on it.
They give each one a score, and at the end we'll add up the scores,
and keep going with whoever gets the highest scores until the money runs out.
-So this is a ballot paper.
-It is, yes,
though you're not eligible to vote.
-Can I have a look around?
There are local sports clubs, church halls,
scout groups and alcohol outreach workers,
all looking for a slice of funding.
-How much money are you trying to raise?
-We're trying to raise £10,000.
At the moment, we have an old clubhouse and we think
£10,000 over the next 25-30 years will be a fitting legacy.
What do you think of this method of allocating funds
-where everybody in the community votes?
-I think it's brilliant.
It's called participatory budgeting.
It originated in some of the poorest areas of Brazil in the late 1980s.
Scarborough is one of many British towns to have adopted this novel idea -
that a municipal budget should be allocated by its own citizens,
by ordinary people placing votes.
The people in here are building their own town, doing it their way.
-You're trying to attract funding for a loo?
-We have got two loos already but they need refurbishing.
-So how much money do you need to raise for the loo?
-Well, we need just under £10,000.
-What do you think of the system of votes?
-I was sceptical at first,
but I think, now that I understand it completely,
I think it's probably quite good.
..Stick a stamp on there...
It does feel as if the whole community has a voice in here,
the means to make things happen.
This is local democracy - democracy in action.
I like it. I like it a lot.
You know, Scarborough's not an inward-looking town
with one foot in the past - it looks forward.
It's got the outlook of a coastal town with a view to the big blue yonder.
It's all about catching the next big wave.
One of the projects looking for funding is Mud In Your Blood,
a group from a local housing estate who want to set up a trail-biking track for young bikers.
-There's lots of people coming by. It's absolutely packed.
-Oh, it's heaving again, heaving.
We've got a good turnout. People must be interested.
What sort of sales spiel are you giving people? You've got 30 seconds to sell Mud In The Blood.
We're playing on the youth, the nuisance bikers round the estates that cause trouble.
We're trying to pull it on them, so we can get them on to a safe,
controlled environment wearing all the right equipment.
This maybe appeals to the younger side though a lot of people say "Oh, I'm a biker, I want to try it."
Mud In Your Blood's home patch, Eastfield,
is on the edge of Scarborough.
Like many of Britain's council estates,
it was built in the 1940's, as part of the post-war housing effort.
Now, it's in the top 10% most-deprived wards
in England and Wales.
Lads riding trail bikes round the estate
have been getting into trouble with the police and annoying other residents.
But all that could be turned around.
-You look as if you're enjoying yourself!
-It's pretty muddy this track, isn't it?
-It's Scarborough rain.
-Want a tour of the track?
The local landowner, who owns a lot of land round the Scarborough area,
donated this to us to try and set this up, which was quite good of him.
What difficulties do you face in setting up something like this?
Mainly all the planning applications, the noise surveys,
the environment surveys that we've got to get funded.
This is just a stepping stone, hopefully, to something bigger,
a better piece of land, where we can have a cafe, a mechanic, we can have apprentices,
we can employ staff, give people jobs, which this will generate.
What about training youngsters to look after bikes and so on, will they be part of that?
Yeah, we can train them up, we have trained mechanics,
I'm a trained mechanic. Learn 'em to strip bikes down,
and even repair 'em for people.
-Do you have a full-time job?
-Yeah, I work full-time, this is just me hobby...
Messing about in the mud.
You might argue that towns create the population centres
that lead to social problems.
But they're also the places that come up with ways to solve them.
For me, what Mud In Your Blood is doing ticks all the boxes -
youth, training, opportunity.
They're trying to make a positive difference.
It's a real buzz! And it's grassroots stuff.
And the thing about local grassroots projects is that they have
an inbuilt will to survive, because everybody's got a stake in success.
Townspeople put in the effort, townspeople reap the rewards.
It's really inspiring!
Seaside towns have been built on fun and Scarborough is no exception.
There's enterprise from the bottom up here
plus some quite alternative leadership.
Scarborough is the only town in Britain to have an all-female mayoral team.
'Hazel Lynskey is the mayor of Scarborough,
'while Sheila Kettlewell is mayoress.
'Eight years ago, Sheila was mayor and Hazel was her mayoress.
'I think I may have stumbled upon a Kennedy-like Scarborian dynasty.
'But if anyone can tell me what's kept Scarborough going through thick and thin,
'it's going to be Sheila and Hazel.'
I see these coins just teetering on the edge and it reminds me
so much of the feelings I had when I came to Scarborough
and saw the cliffs crumbling and all the houses perched on the edge.
-What do you think it is that keeps Scarborough going?
-It's the people.
You know, the land is going to move.
That's a natural progression of the land.
But the people will always be here.
-They're quality people.
-But there have been booms and busts in the past, haven't there?
The fishing industry went,
then British holidaymakers gave up our seaside resorts for the Med.
-What are your recollections of the ups and downs of Scarborough?
-I think, the tired look of the town.
Erm, sort of, seventies, early seventies, there was lots of tired buildings,
because there wasn't a lot of money about.
And it began to look a little bit downtrodden.
I never lost the love of it, but I used to be disappointed.
Then you got the investment in the town, and it was slow.
But then, I don't believe you can do anything overnight.
We've had lots of ups and downs, but even when we're down,
we're never rock-bottom down,
cos we always know we're going to come up again.
I think this is self-evident,
whether you look at the history of the town, the castle, the harbour,
the foreshore, outlying villages, there's always been ups and downs.
But I think we've benefited in Scarborough,
and the fact that hoteliers have invested in their hotels,
we're now a 52-week town. We're not just a seasonal town.
I think that is something that is really, really important.
Breaking away from the seasonal market?
I think so yes, yes.
At one time it was six weeks,
if they didn't make their money in six weeks, that was it.
But now it is 52 weeks a year.
Whoa! Oh, yes...
Scarborough has broken away from sole reliance on the summer season trade.
It's beginning to spread its wings.
This is a fantastic place to be, even in February.
And the range of what you can enjoy - hip hop, jazz,
traditional seaside shows - it's what suits this town.
Hosting an arts festival in February is not just for the tourists -
it's also for locals to enjoy. Something to look forward to and celebrate.
Scarborough and its fighting spirit are enough to win over even the hardest cynic.
# She was once a true love of mine. #
This town has endured more ups and downs
than an end of the pier roller-coaster.
Scarborough once had the biggest fish fair in Western Europe.
It was a leading health spa, and Britain's first seaside resort.
Vikings named it, kings built castles here,
Kaiser Bill shelled it.
I think this town knows how to roll with the blows,
knows how to take the best of the old and look to the new.
Scarborough still sits on the edge.
But there's no chance it's going over the edge.
For a free booklet about what makes our towns work, call:
Or go to:
and follow the links to the Open University.
Next time I'll be in Perth,
where I'll be finding out why this town thinks it's a city.
How a tennis ball wrecked Perth's royal connections
and why rivers can be key to any town's success.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
We live in one of the most urbanised countries on earth. By 2030 a staggering 92 percent of us will be living the urban life. Congested cities sprawl across our map, but they are not the only way to live. Smaller than a city, more intimate, more surprising: this series celebrates the forgotten world of the town.
A Yorkshire coastal town, Scarborough has had more ups and downs than a roller-coaster. It once had the biggest fish fair in Western Europe, it was a leading health spa and holidaymakers flocked to Britain's first seaside resort. Geographer and adventurer Nicholas Crane finds out what has happened to the town since its heyday and whether our fondness for foreign holidays has left this port high and dry.