Stunning images from history show the creation of Scarborough's tourism resort as engineer Harry Smith's vision is honoured

As a tourism destination Scarborough is renowned as one of the nation’s best loved coastal resorts.

Yet it was one man’s vision who defined the drawing board for much of which it is now famed.

The late Harry Smith, as the borough council’s engineer, was behind designs for the town’s Open Air Theatre, its Peasholm Park, colourful beach huts and popular promenade.

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Piece by piece in Scarborough’s post-Victorian spa town hey-day he had rewritten its tourism facade, as well as eradicating its lesser known slums.

Peasholm Station. Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre launches an exhibition about Harry Smith, former Borough Engineer from 1896 to 1933, who oversaw many transformative projects in the town. Bruce Rollinson.

Now, as an exhibition opens at the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre to honour “a local hero”, volunteer curators hope to celebrate his legacy.

To Les Shannon, who has helped amass research and photographs, they show but a fraction of what this mastermind and visionary achieved.

He said: “It’s unbelievable what is still here, when so much has faded away. Harry Smith was definitely ahead of his time. And reading between the lines, I think he loved Scarborough as much as any Scarborough-ian could.”

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Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre launches an exhibition about Harry Smith, former Borough Engineer from 1896 to 1933, who oversaw many transformative projects in the town. Bruce Rollinson.

Born in Warwickshire in 1867, Mr Smith was apprenticed to an architect and engineer at the age of 14. By the time he was 29, he was appointed borough engineer for Scarborough.

One of his first jobs was a public shelter on Victoria Road, which still stands today. Another was for a new fire station, hailed as “fit for any city”.

Then came extensions to create the Town Hall, opened in 1903, and St Nicholas Gardens as his first foray into a public park.

Impact

Opening of Marine Drive. Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre launches an exhibition about Harry Smith, former Borough Engineer from 1896 to 1933. He oversaw many transformative projects in the town, including the South Bay Pool, Open Air Theatre, Town Hall conversion, Cliff Lifts, Beach Huts, the War Memorial, Peasholm Park and South Cliff Gardens. Bruce Rollinson

But he was only just beginning. Marine Drive, the town’s Floral Hall, the boating lake, pagoda and waterfall at Peasholm Park, and shoring up cliffs on the North and South Bay.

Beneath them, a little terrace of beach huts and the promenade below, alongside the country’s first large saltwater swimming pool in 1915.

And of course, Northstead Manor Gardens. Work began here in 1928, with tennis courts and a roller-skating rink, followed by a boating lake and a now-listed water chute.

Miniature railways must have a destination, he had determined, and so his extended to Scalby Mills. Then, with a stage in the lake and seating, the Open Air Theatre was born.

Heritage Centre volunteer Les Shannon preparing the exhibition which opens on January 12. 6th January 2022. Picture Bruce Rollinson Writer: Bruce Rollinson

Legacy

Mr Smith, a father of three, died six months after the passing of his wife Jessie in 1944.

He is reported to have once told a colleague: “If you do nothing else, whenever you can, plant a tree. It will be there when you have gone.”

Now, a century after his first trees were planted, many still stand, while the attractions he designed remain the “jewel in Scarborough’s crown”.

Mr Shannon said: “He built Scarborough as the tourists know it. From a Japanese garden in Peasholm Park to the Open Air Theatre and a miniature railway.

“He was just a wonderful man, so ahead of his time. A real visionary. Some people have asked for a statue, but in my opinion his parks are a better tribute. He is a local hero, in my view, and in a lot of people’s views.”

Peasholm bandstand. Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre launches an exhibition about Harry Smith, former Borough Engineer from 1896 to 1933, who oversaw many transformative projects in the town. Bruce Rollinson.

Exhibition

The three-month exhibition on Harry Smith, engineer from 1896 to 1933, features photographs of the cliff lifts, parks and attractions he created. It also hints at a lesser known side to Scarborough’s history, in slum clearances through to the 1960s.

Mr Shannon said: “Scarborough had been very much seen as a holiday destination, as a Victorian spa town. When Mr Smith came to town it was on the verge of change, when the working man could spend his money here. Scarborough wouldn’t be Scarborough without his legacy.”

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Peasholm opening day. Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre launches an exhibition about Harry Smith, former Borough Engineer from 1896 to 1933, who oversaw many transformative projects in the town. Bruce Rollinson.
Beach huts on the bay. Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre launches an exhibition about Harry Smith, former Borough Engineer from 1896 to 1933, who oversaw many transformative projects in the town. Bruce Rollinson.
The sands, North Bay. Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre launches an exhibition about Harry Smith, former Borough Engineer from 1896 to 1933, who oversaw many transformative projects in the town. Bruce Rollinson.
Open Air Theatre. Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre launches an exhibition about Harry Smith, former Borough Engineer from 1896 to 1933, who oversaw many transformative projects in the town. Bruce Rollinson.
Open Air Theatre. Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre launches an exhibition about Harry Smith, former Borough Engineer from 1896 to 1933, who oversaw many transformative projects in the town. Bruce Rollinson.
Children's boating lake and Open Air Theatre. Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre launches an exhibition about Harry Smith, former Borough Engineer from 1896 to 1933, who oversaw many transformative projects in the town. Bruce Rollinson.
Boating lake. Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre launches an exhibition about Harry Smith, former Borough Engineer from 1896 to 1933, who oversaw many transformative projects in the town. Bruce Rollinson.
North Bay miniature railway. Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre launches an exhibition about Harry Smith, former Borough Engineer from 1896 to 1933, who oversaw many transformative projects in the town. Bruce Rollinson.
North Bay Pleasure Gardens.