Bridlington Spa: How Victorian attraction is bringing the good times back to Yorkshire coast

Global superstars from David Bowie to The Rolling Stones once rocked the boards at Bridlington’s “quintessentially British” grand Spa.Now it is picking up bookings for major acts from the Kaiser Chiefs to chart-busting Raye - and with quite the coup to host the reunion of Britpop legends Pulp in May.

So is this a change in pace - and what does it mean for Bridlington as a coastal destination? Well last year it brought in 10,000 visitors, from Rio to Oklahoma, with a big tourism spend.

It’s a long way from its Victorian roots, when genteel ladies would come to bathe in its famous spa waters.

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To general manager Mark Lonsdale this heritage remains at its heart, even as it moves with the future.

Bridlington SpaBridlington Spa
Bridlington Spa

“Absolutely there is a change in shift,” he said. “We haven’t stopped doing what we were. We still have tea dances and ballroom dancing - it costs £6.50 and you get a cup of tea and a scone. We are just doing more.

“It might be perceived as ‘little old Bridlington’, but that’s nonsense,” he added. “I want to see more gigs. I want everybody to know where we are. Just because we’re a town, it doesn’t mean we can’t play with the big boys and be a city destination.”

Lockdown was tough for Bridlington Spa, as it was for all major venues. It was among the first to emerge, hosting ‘Comeback Cabarets’. They were a sell out.

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The venue hosts major conferences, wedding fairs, pantomimes and shows. Last year there were 792 events and private parties. Still, said Mr Lonsdale. it’s the “big gigs” that people count. Lockdown did mean taking a look at the mission, reflecting on the Spa’s commitment.

Their last gig, in January 2020, had been the Kaiser Chiefs. Mr Lonsdale admits this was likely because the Yorkshire-born band were doing two gigs in Hull and needed a third date.

“We were waiting for promoters to come to us,” he said. “We weren’t getting gigs. It’s a complete mindset shift - so far it’s paid off. Not just for the venue but for the town.

“We are the largest venue in Hull and the East Riding. Nowhere else can hold 3,800 people indoors - it’s about making sure that we’re the venue of choice.

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“We are now the promoter – we talk to band managers and agents. There are some that would say it’s a risk. We said ‘let’s just do it, let’s crack on’.”

Built for the first time in 1896, for visitors that would flock to the resort’s spa waters, Bridlington Spa has through history been at the core of the coastal town’s fortunes.

There were major fires, first in 1906 and then 1932. That time, the building was rebuilt within 52 days - there was a recognition already of how much value it brought to the town.

Now, there is the pantomime, smaller sessions gigs celebrating local talent. Last year, it sold 30,000 of its famous scones. TV presenter Clare Balding is keynote speaker at its The Business Day event.

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The spa is owned by East Riding Council and what is core to the community doesn’t change, insisted Mr Lonsdale.

“When it was built it was all about the quintessential British seaside. Family entertainment, a draw for people to come to the town. We’ve moved on - but that emphasis is the same.

“We are here for a fleeting moment in the Spa’s history. We do have a huge responsibility and everything we do is looking to the future, with a nod to that history.”

He is excited though, about what the future holds. Taking a greater responsibility for gigs, and being proactive about getting them, is already beginning to pay off.

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Last year it was Rag’n’Bone Man, with one couple flying in from Rio de Janeiro just to see the show.

When Pulp starts its reunion tour here in May, they will rehearse for two days beforehand. Then the Kaiser Chiefs in June.

“These are global acts, global audiences, coming to Bridlington,” said Mr Lonsdale. “It works. It’s all on at the Spa, it really is, we can do anything. Now it’s really started to put us on the map not just for the UK but globally.”