That explained a lot. We were standing on the site of a 4th century Roman signal station. From here, the legionaries could see 20 miles in every direction. A lovely view, although one day spoiled by the sight of longboats on the eastern horizon, bent on conquest.
If peers were to relocate … let them do so in a way that really allows our legislators to see how the marginalised England-of-the-littoral really lives. – Colin Brazier
The foundations of the signal station didn’t go to waste. St Mary’s chapel was built there, until it too was reputedly destroyed by Harald Hardrada’s heavies. The chapel is really just an enlarged hole in the ground, with a barred metal gate preventing entry. I crossed myself at the entrance, said a silent prayer for those long-forgotten Anglo-Saxon monks, and moved on.
There was a lot more to see. We were in the 16-acres of grounds that make up the boundaries of Scarborough castle. We marvelled at the precision masonry of the partially-ruined keep. Turning landwards, we could see the town spread before us. Little had changed since my boyhood holidays here.
Except that it is much changed. The decline of England’s coastal resorts is greatly lamented even as it is much-documented. In the late-1970s I remember row upon row of Victorian terraces, every one a Bed and Breakfast packed with holidaymakers, like me, from the industrial hinterland. Then Spain happened. Or at least cheap package holidays arrived. Guaranteed sun. The B&Bs emptied, only to be refilled by poor, often jobless Britons, whose councils had an obligation to house them, but no council flats to put them in.
Walk around the town and it’s hard not to be struck by a pervasive sense of decline, magnified by the ghost of confident Victoriana. The prodigious buildings festooned with seagull droppings. The formerly ornate ironwork now rusted and neglected. I sat at dusk with my children, overlooking the South Bay. To our left the town hall, with its glorious redbrick facade and a worn look of dilapidation. To the right, the 1881 funicular which saved passengers a steep walk to the beach. A monument to the can-do spirit of nineteenth century innovation.
All this and the stereotypical drunk. Friendly enough to begin with (“have you seen a pair of trainers?”), but with aching predictability taking our smiles as an invitation to panhandle, before the arrival of open hostility. I did what every parent does in that situation does. We moved on. It was hard not to see in that vignette in the gloaming – a rather sad metaphor.
So-far-so “you’ve heard it all before”. The past is a foreign country: things fall about when the centre cannot hold, the flight of respectability. If I was a better-known journalist, Scarborough’s newspaper (a shadow of the one there once was) might pick up my words and get a local worthy to condemn them as “running down” their town. There might be the odd concession to modernity. A little light Twitter trolling perhaps.
York doesn’t need an injection of money, relevance and attention. It has plenty enough already. – Colin Brazier
But I seek to make an original and constructive point. Whenever I return to God’s Own County I make a point of buying the newspaper that I’d dreamed of working on as a boy, and actually did, as a young man: The Yorkshire Post. It carried a story about the House of Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who was repudiating the idea of moving the House of Lords (the Upper House of the British Parliament) to York. A letter written by Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this month said: “The Government is considering establishing a Government hub in York and it would therefore make sense to consider this as a potential location.” Sir Lindsay responded by telling The Yorkshire Post “if you were serious about going somewhere else and you want to go to a major city, I think the infrastructure is there, you know, there’s no better than our second city Manchester.”
In Sir Lindsay’s repudiation, I think he’s right. York doesn’t need an injection of money, relevance and attention. It has plenty enough already. Along with Harrogate (and increasingly Whitby), it’s a little bit of Surrey in the North Riding. No, if peers were to relocate to Yorkshire and claim their £305 a day for turning up, let them do so in a way that really allows our legislators to see how the marginalised England-of-the-littoral really lives.
They could do worse than commandeering the Grand Hotel, opened in 1867, and at the time, the largest brick building in Europe.
It’s a pipe dream, of course. Not only does the Commons Speaker feel that relocation from London is a non-starter, but so does his Upper Chamber counterpart, Lord Fowler. He recently emailed fellow peers telling them that “…there are 79 nations with bicameral legislatures….In all but one of these the chambers are located in the same city. The one exception is the Cote d’Ivoire, whose lower house is located in Abidjan, while its recently established upper house is located some 235 kilometres away. No disrespect to the Ivory Coast, but it is not immediately clear why the UK should follow their lead.”
Well, it wasn’t immediately clear why the Victorians wanted to turn a fishing port and ruined castle into the jewel of the North Sea coast. But they came, with their millions of bricks, architectural fancies, cutting-edge engineering and “if we build it, they will come” ingenuity. As a former journalist, Lord Fowler can spot a good story when he sees one. And, unlike my daughter, he wouldn’t need an App to find Scarborough on a map. He is, after all, a former chairman of The Yorkshire Post.
Colin Brazier is the author of Sticking Up For Siblings: Who’s Deciding the Size of Britain’s Families? (Civitas)
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.