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Dickie Dickinson dispensing mugs of spa water

Scarborough Spa

The Rock & Co illustration (above)was drawn by the Punch cartoonist Thomas Onwyn and depicts Dickie Dickinson dispensing mugs of spa water draining out of the base of the cliff at Scarborough. Whilst this plate is dated 1855 it must, judging from the style of clothing, have been drawn from an earlier image of about 1730. One was left pondering on who was Dickie Dickinson.

The medicinal value of the spa water was recognised as early as the 1620s and due to its location on the foreshore was owned by the Corporation. A little research in the Scarborough Reference Library indicated Dickinson leased land adjacent to the spring for £1 (one pound) per annum from 1727 to 1734 and he thereby acquired control over access to the waters.

Dickinson proved quite a success as a local celebrity with his eccentric manners and mild deformity, which earned him the soubriquet of “The first Governor of Scarborough Spa”.

The New Spa& Saloon,Scarborough

In 1826 the Scarborough Cliff Bridge Company was formed to take full control of the spa waters, and the storm damaged wooden structures on the shore were replaced by a stone terrace and castellated spa building three years later. The etching of the New Spa is from a letter paper published by Ainsworth in the 1840s based on a drawing by the local artist H.B.Carter.

That about completes the idiosyncratic social history of Scarborough Spa since the York and North Midland Railway which was opened in 1845 led to a more corporate and large-scale investment in tourism.

Keith Smith



This regular feature shows special items from members’ own collections. Submissions by email should include a scan of the item.