A Brief History of Scarborough Town

Posted by Helen Marsden on ← Back to posts

Scarborough North Bay

Photo by Tom Tolkien

Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Many people associate Scarborough with the beautiful old English ballad, popularised in the Seventies by Simon & Garfunkle. Scarborough was supposedly founded around 966 AD, by Viking invaders, although continuous settlements and raids left very little evidence of this for the Domesday survey to record in 1085.

Henry II

Vikings, Romans, and Saxon settlements disappeared into the mists of time, and the town was really revived by Henry II in 1155, which was when he granted it a town charter. He built the magnificent castle on the headland, and granted permission for a market to be held on the sands. In 1253, Scarborough Fair was given a Royal Charter to proceed, and the six-week long fair began to attract huge numbers of visitors.

Scarborough Fair

The importance of the fair can be gleaned from Charter telling us that it could “continue from the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary until the Feast of St Michael next following (15th August to September 29th). This was an unusually long duration for a medieval fair, and we know that tradesmen and merchants from all over England came to buy and sell, as well as those from Norway, Denmark, the Byzantine Empire and the Baltic states. The fair declined in size and popularity over the centuries and no longer exists now. But English Heritage celebrates the event every year with a number of historical events.

Scarborough Spa

In 1626, a stream of acidic water was discovered, running down from the cliffs just to the south of the town centre. A Spa was rapidly established, and became wildly fashionable after the publication of a book about Spa waters, written by Dr Wittie. Soon Scarborough was attracting hosts of holidaymakers, who came to take the waters, and stayed to bathe in the sea. The first modesty-preserving wheeled bathing machines were invented in Scarborough in 1735, which was at the forefront of the Victorian seaside holiday boom.

Sand, Sea and Spas

The Grand Hotel in Scarborough was built to accommodate the guests who poured into the town and, when it was completed in 1845, it was one of the largest and grandest hotels in the world. Scarborough was soon established as the see-and-be-seen holiday destination in the north of England, and its popularity has continued right up to the modern day. With miles of beautiful golden sands, higher than average sunshine, literary and cultural associations, a thriving artistic community, spas, proximity to the North Yorkshire Moors, and nearby Whitby, Scarborough has just about all you could want from a holiday base.