I’m very pleased to feature the second of two new guest posts from Peter Claxton recounting Bridlington Borough Council’s significant council housing programme and its vigorous efforts to promote the town as a seaside resort. (Peter has contributed earlier posts on the history of council housing in Cottingham.) He now focuses most of his research time on Kingston upon Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire during the 19th and the first half of the 20th century with particular emphasis on public health and housing.
…they were the best houses the Corporation had ever built, surpassing those in other parts of the town. (1)
In my previous blog I examined the varying fortunes of the two diverse parts of Bridlington, The Quay and Old Town during the nineteenth and first quarter of the twentieth century; a period that witnessed the start of municipal provision of housing for the working classes and support for the burgeoning leisure market. In this follow-up blog, I pick up the story as the demands placed upon the borough council by both the ‘local populace’ and ‘leisure interests’ intensify.
The actions of Bridlington Borough council during the 1920s mimicked those of many other seaside authorities. Bournemouth, Folkestone, and Southend had spent £171,000, £96,000, and £135,000 respectively on seafront attractions. (2) North of the harbour, new colonnade shelters and a wide deck promenade provided seating for 3000 people, as well as cover in the unlikely event of an inclement day by the North Sea. Nearby the new Beaconsfield tennis courts catered for the sportier type. However, further development of the north shore – as detailed in the Bridlington Corporation Act, 1920 – was scaled-back and attention switched to the south shore.
South of the harbour, 1926 witnessed the opening of the art deco New Royal Spa Hall, built at a cost of £50,000. Sadly, the pleasures derived from visiting this attraction were short-lived. Also, the golf course was now in municipal hands and work had already started on a new sea wall south of the Spa. Completed in 1928, it was named after the Princess Mary.
Yet not everyone benefited from the new attractions and rising visitor numbers. One disillusioned council tenant questioned how: (3)
The town expects to get any rates when all the people who are staying here are in camps. There are many like myself who depend solely on visitors.
Although the change in the ‘holidaying habits’ of visitors affected many of the town’s residents financially, they also presented a new opportunity for the council. It quickly sought to accommodate campers on a purpose-built site south of the town. (4)
Committed to build on foundations recently laid, a lecture at the Spa Theatre by J.W. Mawson titled ‘Town Planning and the Future of British and Continental Health Resorts’ offered the council a way forward. (5) His father T. H. Mawson – once referred to as the Capability Brown of Empire – was a leading landscape architect and town planner. One-time president of the Town Planning Institute, he was offered the position of visiting lecturer following the founding of a chair in civic design at Liverpool University by Lord Leverhulme.
Engaged to formulate both a statutory town planning scheme and a comprehensive development plan for the town and sea front, neither came to fruition. Inter-authority wrangling over apportioning costs relating to the town planning scheme and the radical nature of the proposed town and seafront redevelopment scuppered the council’s ambitions. Fortuitously, the council engaged the services of a bright young architect, Percy Maurice Newton.
Previously employed by the Corporation of Hull, Newton’s work at Bridlington – initially in the surveyor’s department – did much to secure the town’s position as a leading east coast resort. In the Old Town during the 1930s, his work included housing off South Back Lane, Marton Road and Baptist Place. Of the latter, a council member noted, ‘truly practical houses always were beautiful, and he thought those houses came as near to that category as any in Bridlington.’ (6)
Of the 3000 houses built in Bridlington between the wars, 635 were by the council. Yet Newton’s influence on ‘civic improvement’ was to be seen in more than just housing. And in 1930 the opportunity to display his talent presented itself. A new town hall – to replace the harbourside one lost to fire – was proposed and would be strategically positioned between the two parts of the town. Built in the late Wren style, (7) by local firm Smallwood & Sons, the £34,000 build did not place a significant financial burden on local ratepayers. Support from the Unemployment Grants Committee at Westminster reduced the debt to £12,950. (8) Complete with council chamber, offices and ballroom, the building boasted a fan-assisted ducted heating system and rubber surfaced walkways to aid noise reduction.
But in January 1932 as the build was nearing completion, disaster struck the town. The 1926 New Spa Hall was also lost to fire. Newton was tasked with designing a replacement and the ambitious target of ‘opening for the season’ was set. Taking direct responsibility for the ‘build phase’, Newton ensured that the Spa Hall, built in 52 days, was ready for visitors by the end of July. His health suffered, and in response, an indebted council financed an ocean cruise holiday to aid his recuperation.
Away from the seafront, Newton also designed a new Senior Elementary School. (9) Eventually catering for 800 children, the first phase of the St George’s School accommodated 400 boys and opened in 1935. The girl’s department followed in 1938. (10)
By the mid-1930s, the dated Grand Pavilion on the north shore was finally demolished. Newton’s 1937 replacement – regarded by some as his most aesthetically pleasing work – was built on the Victoria Terrace Gardens. It was later described as ‘visually … the most successful International Modern style building in East Yorkshire, [and] very much a symbol of a modern forward-looking resort.’ (11)
Across the road from the new town hall, the Newton designed Corporation Electricity showrooms opened in 1939. It was destroyed by enemy action in 1941 and later rebuilt. The municipal power station had closed in 1935 following the town’s connection to the National Grid.
Seasonal visitor numbers increased significantly between the wars. With a resident population of around 20,000 during the 1930s, it was estimated that 60,000 visitors were in the town on August Bank Holiday 1935. (12) This was scant solace for the residents. Even the local fishing industry was in decline during this period.
Post 1945, the Corporation moved decisively in an attempt to alleviate the town’s two perennial problems, ‘winter unemployment’ and ‘lack of good housing’. To the south-west of the town a small industrial estate – for light industry – was built, and by the end of the decade, further industrial development would take place at Carnaby, on a former RAF airfield just to the south of the town. Yet in 1951, the town still had 13 per cent of males and 45 per cent of females employed in personal services compared to 4.5 and 20 per cent nationally. (13)
Attracting new industry to a seaside town often proved difficult. The possibility of a tannery – classified as a special industry – being established on the industrial estate was one such example. Deemed that it would have an adverse effect on the town’s major industry, leisure, the County Planning Officer remarked: (14)
A large proportion of the holidaymakers that come to Bridlington are desirous of leaving behind them such things as ‘special industries’ and would cease to come. If such were the case we might be left with a prosperous industrial estate but a decadent health resort.
There was after all, the title of ‘King of watering places’ to take into consideration.
With almost 1300 families requiring rehousing, the council compulsory purchased 86 acres of the Bessingby Estate. The award-winning West Hill estate designed by Clifford E. Culpin, welcomed its first tenants in 1949. (15) Close to 800 homes would eventually be built on the West Hill site; almost two thirds of the council’s post-war provision.
As the council worked its way through its rehousing programme dark clouds were gathering. The well-established holidaying habits of the town’s loyal seasonal clientele were changing. Coach and rail travel still dominated through the 1950s, but when the axe fell on branch lines in the mid-1960s, Bridlington lost its direct link to both South and West Yorkshire. The motor car gave families the flexibility and freedom to choose alternative destinations. For some, sun, sand, and sangria beckoned.
By 1972 the council had completed its housing provision. Just over 1800 homes had been built by the local authority since 1913. But as with the demise of the Old Town 100 years earlier, Bridlington, yet again, had to re-evaluate its future. Local government re-organisations would come and go, borough status would be lost, and absorption into the area of the East Riding of Yorkshire Council would take place.
Today, many visitors are day trippers, others are owners of mobile homes or static caravans. The ubiquitous guest house still prevails, and the town continually seeks to find new ways to promote itself. Just as the words of a certain James Coates had 200 years earlier. (16)
Peers, knights, and squires, and dames repair
To bathe, and drink, and take the air.
Such situation on the coast,
Such air, such water, none can boast.
(1) Bridlington Local Studies Library, Annals 55
(2) Seafront regeneration briefing document, East Riding Archives, BOBR/2/15/4/518
(3) D. Neave, Port, Resort and Market Town: A history of Bridlington (Hull Academic Press, 2000
(4) Hull Daily Mail, 26 April 1933
(5) Hull Daily Mail, 16 February 1927
(7) D. and S. Neave, Bridlington: An introduction to its History and Buildings (Smith Settle Ltd., 2000)
(8) Hull Daily Mail, 10 May 1932
(9.) Hull Daily Mail, 18 March 1931
(10) Hull Daily Mail, 16 May 1938
(11) Neave, Port Resort
(12) Neave, Bridlington
(13) K. L. Mayoh, Comparative study of the Resorts on the Coast of Holderness. unpublished M.A., University of Hull, 1961.
(14) Hull Daily Mail, 1 March 1950
(15) Neave, Bridlington
(16) J. Coates, Bridlington Quay, 1813.