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Yorkshire Scarborough and its Castle and Church

“Queen of the Yorkshire Coast”

Dominated by its castle, set high on limestone cliffs above the sea, Scarborough with its two bays, has been a major tourist centre since the C17th, when the discovery of a mineral stream led to a spa being established here.

Scarborough Spa became Britain’s first sea side resort and a popular destination for the wealthy. Visitor numbers increased rapidly in the C19th when the railway arrived, bringing thousands of workers from industrial Yorkshire and the Bass Excursions from Burton upon Trent.

Splendid hotels were built to accommodate the influx of tourists. When the Grand Hotel on South Bay opened in 1867, it was one of the first giant purpose-built hotels in Europe. 150 years late, it still towers above its surroundings.

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The town has a long history. There was an Iron Age settlement on the headland and the Romans built a Signal Station here. Its foundations can still been seen in the outer bailey of the castle.

There may have been a small settlement at the base of the cliff but anything was destroyed by a Viking raid in the C10th. Henry II built a royal castle on top of the headland in the C12th. He granted town charters allowing a market to be held here.

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A harbour was built below the castle and the town rapidly became a major trading centre with a six week Scarborough Fair, attended by merchants from across Europe until the late C18th.

The oldest part of the town is clustered around the harbour on South Bay. Protected by its three piers and lighthouse, this is popular with pleasure boats and yachts, although there is still a small fishing fleet working out of the harbour. The lifeboat station is here.


This is still very much the tourist end of the town with its wide expanse of sand, promenade with amusements, entertainments, sea food stalls, ice cream parlours and cafes. The commercial centre with the main shopping area and nightlife, grew on the cliff above. A cliff railway, the Central Tramway, carries visitors from South Bay to the town one hundred feet on the cliff above. This is the only one of Scarborough’s five cliff railways still working.

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At the far end of the bay is the Spa Complex. You can no longer take the waters here, but it is still an important entertainment venue with conference halls, theatre and orchestra. Nothing is left of the sea water bathing pool once found near here.

The North Bay is quieter and less commercialised with buildings set back from the bay. This is a Blue Flag beach with a collection of brightly coloured beach chalets. It is more exposed and is popular with surfers.

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Immediately behind North Bay is the lovely Peasholme Park, set in a natural ravine developed as an oriental themed park with pagoda, waterfalls, mini bridges and gardens. There is a tree trail around the park. Attractions include a boating lake with mock naval battles. There is a putting green and bandstand with concerts during the summer months.

The North Bay Railway is a miniature steam railway running between Peasholme Park and Scalby Mills to the north. Next to the railway is Scarborough Open Air Theatre. Near Scalby Mills is Sands Sea Life Centre.

The two bays are connected by the Marine Drive which runs round the headland below the castle. There is a regular open top bus service during the summer months. The 109 HOHO service runs between the two bays, railway station and other main attractions.

Scarborough Castle and St Mary with the Holy Apostles Church are reached by a steep climb from the harbour. This is an area of narrow streets lined with tall houses.


Usually shortened to St Mary's, (#5) the church is set high above the town, below the walls of the castle. It is surrounded by a large graveyard, which is a place of pilgrimage for Bronte fans as Anne Bronte is buried here.


Dating from the C12th this, along with the castle, is one of the oldest buildings in Scarborough and was the garrison church for the castle. Scarborough was a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War and a huge cannon was installed in the church which fired through the east window and inflicted great damage to the castle keep. Unfortunately the church suffered similar damage to the east end and north transept, which were never repaired. This gives the church a truncated appearance as what was originally the central tower is now the east end, with the chancel beneath it.

Scarborough Castle(#3) standing 300’ above the sea is surrounded by a massive curtain wall and occupies all of the headland. It was one of the most formidable fortresses in England. Now little remains apart from the keep, curtain wall and the C18th Master Gunner's house. It does have good views of Scarborough, the harbour and the two bays.

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North Yorkshire has a series of popular holiday resorts along the coast from Redcar to Bridlington, all with glorious sandy beaches. Scarborough is still, justifiably, the most popular with its wide range of attractions to cater for all visitors.
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Scarborough is one of those places that I occasionally think I ought to see. One thing I do know about it, that would be of interest to visitors, is the reputation of the Stephen Joseph Theatre as the base for the playwright Alan Ayckbourn
Scarborough Castle

Scarborough Castle with its ruined keep, and set high on the headland between North and South Bays, can be seen all over the town. It is a natural defensive site standing 300 feet above sea level and surrounded by cliffs on three sides. It was virtually impregnable until the arrival of heavy cannons.


Fragments of Beaker pottery have been found on the headland and there was an Iron Age settlement here. The earliest surviving remains present day visitors can see are those of a late C4th Roman signal tower. Surrounded by a protective wall and ditch, this was one of a series of signal stations along the east coast to warn of hostile vessels and intercept them.


Around 1000AD a small Chapel of St Mary was built here on the foundations of the signal station. This may have been linked to a small Viking settlement around the harbour below. This was reputedly destroyed by Harald Hadrada before the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. There is no mention of Scarborough in Domesday Book. All that is left is an underground vault with and C18th water tank.

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The present castle dates from the early C12th when William le Gros, Count of Aumâle, who was a powerful Anglo-Norman baron and grand-nephew of William the Conqueror began to build a castle here.He enclosed the headland with a wall with a tower at the entrance. William didn’t enjoy his status for long as in 1154, Henry II appropriated it, turning it into a Royal Castle, with a planned new town at its foot. Scarborough rapidly became a thriving port.


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He was responsible for building the massive keep, enclosing it in an inner bailey surrounded by a ditch and wall.

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A ditch was cut across the neck of the headland and a curtain wall to protect the landward side.

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John was responsible for the curtain wall which enclosed all of the outer bailey over looking the town. John’s rule was strongly opposed by the northern barons, so the castle at Scarborough was fortified as a strategic stronghold. With an eye to comfort, he also constructed the King’s Hall in the outer bailey and the chamber block against the curtain wall.


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Henry III was responsible for strengthening the entrance of the castle with the barbican with a drawbridge across the ditch. By now it ranked as one of the most formidable fortresses in England and Edward I continued to use the castle after the death of Henry III, to house prisoners of war during his campaigns against the Welsh.

In 1312, Edward II made his favourite, Piers Gaveston Governor of the castle. This irked the barons who besieged the castle which surrendered after a few days from lack of supplies. Gaveston was beheaded on his way back south.

During the Hundred Years War, Scarborough was an important port for the wool trade, so was attacked several times by enemy forces. With rumours of a French invasion, the castle was repaired between 1396 and 1400.

The last King to stay in the castle was Richard III while he was assembling a fleet to resist the expected invasion of Henry Tudor. After a couple of uprisings in the C16th, the Governor was required to live in the castle to ensure its security.

After the accession of James I and the political union of Scotland and England, there was no longer a threat of Scottish invasion and the castle was sold to a prominent local family, the Tompsons. The land was rented out as pasture. During the Civil War, the castle was a Royalist stronghold. It was of great strategic importance to control coastal trade and many of the supplies for Charles’s northern army came in through Scarborough. The Parliamentarians gained control of the town and established themselves in St Mary’s Church, which was used to bombard the castle with heavy cannon fire. Within three days, half of the keep had collapsed. By the end of five months, the castle capitulated having run out of gunpowder and supplies.

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At the end of the Civil War, there were plans to slight the castle so it could no longer be used as a military stronghold. Opposition from the town preserved it from destruction. The castle was used as a prison for those ‘deemed to be enemies of the Commonwealth’. The castle was returned to the crown after the Restoration of the monarchy.

There was no significant work done on the castle until the failed Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, when a barracks was built within the walls of King John’s chamber block. The castle was refortified with gun batteries above the walls leading to the barbican. The Master Gunner was a very important position and he had his own house on the edge of the inner bailey.

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Although Scarborough saw no action during the Rebellion, later threat of French invasion during the Napoleonic Wars meant it continued as a garrison until the mid C19th.

During World War One, Scarborough came under attack by two German warships in a raid that killed 17 people and and seriously injured another 80. The town and part of the castle keep, walls and barracks were damaged.

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Scarborough Castle cont...

There is a plan of the castle here.

It is a steep climb up to the castle and the twin towered barbican with portcullis, which was build to guard access from the town. Beyond is the massive ditch which was dug to increase defensibility of the site.


Beyond the entry, the access road is enclosed between walls with a walkway allowing the garrison to patrol and overlook the ditch. The gateway controlling entry to the inner bailey is long gone. On either side of this is the C13th curtain wall which protects the landward side of the headland.

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The inner bailey contains the remains of the keep and a well. It is protected by a smaller wall and ditch.

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The Master Gunners house is the crow stepped building built in the C18th for the master gunner. The cellar may have served as a powder magazine. There would have been a parlour and kitchen on the ground floor with bedchambers and attics above. This now houses a a tea room and exhibition about the castle.

The humps and bumps in the inner bailey mark the foundations of domestic buildings that were destroyed by King John when he built his hall and chamber block.

The ruined keep is still impressive set on a broad sloping base.The architecture is Norman with round topped windows. The living quarters on the first floor were reached up a stone staircase, which were housed in a small attached tower.The modern flight of steps is modern.

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The inside of the keep is now empty although the remains of fireplaces with tiled backs.


The basement was used for storage and was reached by an internal spiral staircase. The first floor contained a large hall with smaller chambers and latrines off. The remains of a spiral staircase in one wall led to the chapel in the tower guarding the original stairs leading into the caste. The inner compartments of the king and his family were on the second floor.

The viewing platform in the curtain wall of the inner bailey looks down on the harbour as well as St Mary’s church and the roofs of the town. There are also good views across the outer bailey with the foundations of its buildings.

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The outer bailey is a large grassy area. On the far side, overlooking the sea are the foundations of the late C4th Roman Signal station protected by a ditch and bank.

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All that is left of the King’s Hall are the foundations. This contained the great hall where the household ate and slept. At one end were the buttery and pantry while the kitchen was in a separate block to reduce the risk of fire.

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The chamber block was built against the curtain wall with a large and smaller room on two levels. A tower in curtain wall provided extra space and a room on each floor. All that survives today is basement which probably contained household offices. The royal apartments would have been on the upper floor and may have included a chapel.

The building was in ruins and no longer used by the C16th. After the Jacobite Rebellion, the building became a barracks. The stone walls were encased in brick and contained three floors. The building was badly damaged by German shells in 1914 and demolished after the war.


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The curtain wall with its towers defended the landward side of the castle.

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The towers are now hollow but would have been built with floors and had a battlemented wall walk between them.

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At the far south end of the curtain wall is the Sally Port which led to a lower battery and gun emplacement added in 1643 to guard the harbour. This part of the cliff is unstable and parts of the curtain wall here have collapsed. Near it is one of the postern gates through the wall.

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The castle was taken over by the Ministry of Works in 1920 and the damaged barrack block removed. It is now in the care of English Heritage and is open daily throughout the year, apart from January and February when it is only open weekends. There is a small exhibition in the Master Gunners house which also has a small tea room selling cakes and snacks.

There are a few display boards near the Master Gunner’s house with information about the history. The other display boards around the site mark stops for the audio guide.

There is no parking at the castle although there is a pay and display park by St Mary’s Church and also on street parking. The nearest post code is YO11 1HY and the grid reference is TA 049 891.
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St Mary’s with Holy Apostles Church and Anne Bronte’s grave

St Mary’s with Holy Apostles, usually shortened to St Mary’s Church, is set high above the town, below the walls of the castle. It is surrounded by a large graveyard although many of the tomb stones have now been moved to the sides or else used as paving slabs. The grave of Anne Bronte who died in Scarborough still stands in the small graveyard across the road from the church, although the inscription is now much eroded. A slate plaque was placed in front of the grave in 2011 with the original text.


It is a scene of pilgrimage for Bronte fans and a copy of her death certificate is displayed in the south aisle of the church, along with a notice explaining the errors in it.



It is a big church, reflecting the importance of Scarborough Castle as a Medieval Royal Castle. King John worshipped here when he was in Scarborough in 1201.

The church dates from 1150 and, with the castle, is the oldest building in Scarborough. It may have been built by the masons working on the castle, who would have worshipped here.

In 1189, King Richard grated the church to the Cistercian Abbey of Citeaux in France.

The church was extended at the start of the C13th when the north and south aisles were added. The Black Death in the mid C14th lead to the wealthy building chantry chapels off the south aisle where priests could pray for their soils.

The transepts were built in the mid C14th in the newer perpendicular style. A second north aisle was built which resulted in the roof being raised and blocking the clerestory windows in the north walls. The quire was rebuilt on a much larger and grander scale.

At the start of the C15th, the church was handed over to the Augustinians at Bridlington Priory.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the church became the parish church.

During the Civil War, the Castle was a Royalist stronghold, while the Parliamentarians had taken control of the town and the church. They even installed a huge cannon to fire through the the east window which inflicted great damage on the castle keep. By the time the castle fell, the east end of the church and north transept had been ruined beyond repair. Now only two tall columns of stone next to the road, mark the extent of the pre Civil War chancel.

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In 1659, the weakened central tower blew down in a gale and had to be rebuilt over the repaired crossing which became the chancel. It is still a large and impressive church, even with the truncated east end.


There was a massive restoration of the church in the mid C19th when box pews and galleries were removed.

The original Norman work can still be seen in the west window of the side aisle.


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St Mary’s with Holy Apostles Church cont...

Inside it is an equally large and impressive building. Some of the round Norman pillars survive in the north arcade. The rest are later and octagonal. Over the pointed chancel arch is the inscription “come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy ladened and I will give you rest”. On the wall above the arch is a crucifix.


Steps lead up to the small chancel with its C19th wood choir stalls and large organ on the north wall. It is dominated by the east window dating from 1958 which replaced the Victorian window damaged by a German mine in WW2.

This is a glorious window with the Hand of God at the top surrounded by two angels. Below, Christ sits in Majesty with the dove of the Holy Spirit at this feet.


At the bottom on either side are two modern characters. On the left is a woman with her cat. on the left is a bespectacled man with his dog. Between them are depictions of all God’s living creatures, including a crocodile, lion, monkeys. kangaroo, camel, toad...



The rest of the windows are C19th, including the lovely west window with scenes from the life of Christ.


The clerestory windows above the south arcade include depictions of local saints.


At the end of the south aisle, behind a glass screen, is the Lady Chapel with a simple altar. Along the sides of the south aisle are what used to be chantry chapels. No longer used, the walls are covered with memorials.


That nearest the east end is now described as the Anne Bronte Corner and has a small display about her, including her death certificate.

The back chapel is now the baptistry.


The brass plates on the walls are C18th and C19th and were originally on tombstones before being removed and displayed on walls around the church.


The far north aisle had to be rebuilt after the Civil War. The second arcade of columns is more slender than others in the church, although that at the east end still has a band of medieval carving at the top.



The beautiful reredos standing at the east end is C19th, and according to the leaflet in the church came from Christ Church, the C19th Chapel of Ease. At the centre is Christ crucified surrounded by four of his disciples including St Andrew, St Peter and St James the greater with a scallop shell.


Standards hang from the walls of the chapel and the memorial to the Dead of World War One is on the wall. The chapel is also described as the Fisherman’s Aisle and there are two memorials to members of the Scarborough Lifeboat crew.


This is a lovely church and well worth making the effort to visit. It is open every day in the summer months, except Saturdays. Entry is either through the west door, or the south porch. There is a small pay and display car park opposite or on street parking. There is a small Fair Trade shop which also serves hot drinks as well as crisps and biscuits. The nearest post code is YO11 1TH and the grid reference is TA 890 504.

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