Monday, September 29, 2008

More about Robin Hood's Bay

Give this a miss if you have read enough about it already, but the research I have done since coming home has revealed quite an interesting history for the building on which I was focussing most of my attention. One of the local people I had asked had said my mother-in-law's painting might be of the Old Coastguard Station and the Leeds University Marine Laboratory. I decided to search the web for the Old Coastguard Station, and I readily found pictures of the building the way it used to be in days of yore, and the way it is today. You might think that the round roofed tower to the left of the slipway had survived the rigours of time and the sea pretty well - not so however.

Alan Staniforth, one-time Heritage Coast Ranger for the N. York Moors National Park Authority, explains in an interesting article he wrote about the North Sea Trail. In it he revealed that "a building with its toe in the sea at the bottom of Robin Hood's Bay village has a shorter history than its design might at first indicate". It seems that this late 18th century building, after being used as a public house and then dwelling houses until 1829, was then taken over by the recently established coastguard service. After they moved to a purpose built station on Fisher Head in the early 1900s, the building was hired, and later bought, by Leeds University, to accommodate students studying marine biology.

During the war the building was taken over by the War Department, and afterwards use of the laboratory was at a low ebb until the arrival of new staff in the early 1960s. This led to its demolition and the rebuilding of a purpose built marine laboratory which opened in 1967. The design was not popular with the local community, however, and one can see why from the picture of it nearing completion in 1965. Only 15 years later, the new laboratory was closed down for economic reasons.

The property was eventually purchased in 1999 by the National Trust for use as an Information and Interpretation Centre. The new building was demolished, and the present building was constructed to the style of the old coastguard station, as you can see from my own picture taken 10 days ago. For an account of this remarkable piece of reconstructive work, it is worth going to the website of Allen Tod Architecture, where you will also find really good pictures of the three architectural stages in the building's life. [You will need to click on Projects, then scroll down the list to find Robin Hood's Bay]

All this is fascinating, but I am no nearer identifying my painting. But I don't give up easily, and reference on the website to a history of Robin Hood's Bay by Barrie Farnill, led to my buying the book second hand. It contains many wonderful old photos, but sadly none that threw any more light on my enquiry. There is, though, an enticing description which gives me hope that someone may yet tell me what I want to hear:

"To the south of Wayfoot [the end of the slipway], a sea wall was built many years ago, an extension of a much older one. Behind the older wall one particularly interesting 17th century house, known now as The Coble, shelters snugly and securely. It was once the home of the chief coastguard officer of Robin Hood’s Bay. From what is now a sunny glas-walled lounge, but was formerly a balcony, the old water-guard scanned the horizon through telescopes for sight of smuggling luggers. In more recent years, the coastguards occupied an old building on the north side of this house, one which was pulled down and rebuilt by the University of Leeds in 1965. Here, too, was the old round-house, which served as a bad weather look out post, and a building in which the water-guard, forerunners of the coastguards, kept their boat. "

Well, there is something decidedly 'lookout-ish' about that little sort of bay window hanging out over the sea on the left of the building in the painting, and there is a balcony too. And what about those shadowy flag poles, (which can be seen if you enlarge the picture), or are they the masts and rigging of a real or imagined smugglers' lugger trying to creep past the coastguard station? Remember, this was painted around 100 years ago! I would like to have certainty one day, but meanwhile, all this speculation and my own imagination have added enormously to the charm of the picture for me.

[Black and white photographs are from the Robin Hood's Bay official website.]

1 comment:

ELLE said...

Robin Hood's Bay is one of the most picturesque places I have visited in the UK. On a sunny day, it can rival Torquay! I'm lucky enough to live closeby (when home from uni) in Scarborough.