A New Olympia: Designs on Scarborough 2017-11-27T16:12:55+00:00
A New Olympia

A New Olympia: Designs on Scarborough

21 October 2017 – 7 January 2018

By the mid-1930s, Scarborough’s reputation as Britain’s pre-eminent holiday resort was beginning to fade and the borough began to face growing competition from other seaside towns. Plans for re-designing Scarborough as an Art Deco oasis were drawn up.

The A New Olympia: Designs on Scarborough exhibition explores the fascinating proposals of architect Stanley Davenport Adshead with his plans and photographs of the period.

Free with Annual Pass, no booking required.
Suitable for all ages.

The Glory of Scarborough

Alongside the exhibition, artists John Hall and Bill Bartlett are currently recording the sounds of the Olympia Leisure Arcade – feed your senses and find out more.

Designs on Scarborough

By the mid-1930s, Scarborough’s reputation as Britain’s pre-eminent holiday resort was beginning to fade and the borough began to face growing competition from other seaside towns. The Holidays with Pay Act 1938 provided one week of paid holiday for all employees; Scarborough’s attractions needed to be modernised and extended to appeal to visitors enjoying this newfound leisure. In 1938, Scarborough Corporation commissioned plans for a major redevelopment of its amenities for transport and entertainment. Their chosen architect and town planner, Stanley Davenport Adshead, was noted for his designs for Worthing (1926) and the 1934 Art Deco pavilion on the Victoria Pier in Colwyn Bay.

Adshead had already produced planning surveys of south Teesside, the Thames valley, west Essex, Teignmouth and York.  His book Town Planning and Town Development (1923) covered regional planning and street layout and took account of the increasing impact of the motor car on urban environments.

The outbreak of the Second World War meant that Adshead’s vision of a new, glamorous Scarborough, with its bathing pools, concert halls, bandstands and ballrooms, would never be completed. His plans and drawings provide a glimpse of what might have been.

Scarborough in the 1930’s

‘The growth of Scarborough seems to justify the claim that as a seaside resort its natural features and early development give it advantages possessed by but few seaside resorts in this country.’ – S.D. Adshead, Scarborough: a survey (1938)

Scarborough grew rapidly from the middle of the 19th century.  In 1861, its population was 18,500; by 1931 it had reached nearly 42,000.  Recovering from the First World War bombardment, the town began to flourish once again as a glamorous destination.

Scarborough was among the first towns in the North of England to use statutory planning to prevent ‘undesirable re-development’, particularly on the Esplanade, the North Promenade and the Weaponness Estate. In July 1920, a planning resolution for undeveloped areas was passed and by 1932 schemes for open spaces, roads and residential zoning had been approved by the Minister of Health.

The Corporation began slum clearance in the 1920s and in the 1930s built the borough’s first council houses. 1925 saw the opening of the Corner Café complex, as the North Bay began to rival the more traditionally popular South Bay. (The café offered a venue for singers and variety performers, but fell into disrepair, and was demolished in 2007).

The Futurist Theatre opened as a cinema in 1921 and in 1928 the Valley Bridge was widened to provide vehicle access across Ramsdale. In 1931, Scarborough’s electric trams were replaced by buses, the North Bay miniature railway was erected and a new lighthouse was built to replace the one destroyed in 1914. The open air theatre opened in 1932 with a performance of ‘Merrie England’.

Adshead’s grand scheme for Scarborough, estimated to cost £150,000 (£54 million today), took these developments as his starting point. He proposed several new recreational facilities. He surveyed the historic fishing village, suggested improvements to the sea front and Valley Gardens, to roads, tramways, parking and approaches to the town. His plans included an aerodrome, protection of existing woodlands and water supplies, improvements to street furniture and lighting, and a scheme to control litter and advertising. However, by 1945, at the end of the Second World War, fashions had changed and large-scale redevelopment of the town was no longer a priority. His North Bay bathing pool was completed in 1938, but since its closure in 2007, almost nothing of Adshead’s vision for Scarborough is visible today.

SD Adshead

Stanley Davenport Adshead
M.A., M.Arch., F.R.I.B.A. ( 1868-1946 ): Architect and Town Planner

‘It is forgotten now that he [Adshead] is a famous man, a great town planner and an architect whose work always maintains its high standards of elegance. What a great draughtsman he was.’ – Professor Sir Charles Reilly, architect

‘When one meets most famous men, it is with a certain degree of disappointment: they so frequently appear to be less than their work, but Adshead seems greater.’ – Christian Barman, architect and industrial designer

By the time Adshead wrote his report for Scarborough in 1938, he had already retired as Professor of Town Planning at London University after an illustrious career. Training in Manchester and early work in London was followed by four years as clerk of works for the vast mansion at Rosehaugh, Argyll.

Returning to London in 1898, he found work as a freelance perspective artist, drawing schemes for other architects for competition and exhibition.

In 1900, he made the perspectives for five out of six of the entries in the competition for London’s new central criminal courts at the Old Bailey and by 1904, he had won a competition in his own name for a library and technical school in Ramsgate. In the commissions that followed, Adshead developed the late eighteenth-century revival style, heavily influenced by American Modernism, on which his reputation today rests.

In 1909, he became Professor of Civic Design at the University of Liverpool, where he laid the foundation for the planning profession in Britain. Following the first Town Planning Act in 1909, Adshead became the first editor of the Town Planning Review, which promoted formal design in place of garden city vernacular. In 1914, he left Liverpool for a new chair in civic design at University College, London and remained there until his retirement in 1935.


Peasholm Lake, Scarborough

1930’s Scarborough

View Gallery
North Bay Bathing Pool

Boating and Bathing

View Gallery
Olympia Cafe

Olympia Café and Ballroom

View Gallery
St. Nicholas Gardens

Views of Scarborough

View Gallery