Curator's Choice: The vintage posters comparing Scarborough to the French Riviera

| 30 July 2013

Curator's Choice: Julie Baxter, Assistant Operations Manager at Scarborough Museums Trust, on tourism and railway posters from the Scarborough Collections...

A photo of a woman posing with a bygone tourism poster
“Scarborough is known as the world’s first holiday resort and the Queen of Watering Places, so it’s fitting that Scarborough Museums Trust holds a fantastic collection of tourism and railway posters featuring the town.

We’ve put together an exhibition, Last Stop Scarborough, featuring around 40 of the best from the 200-odd we hold in the Scarborough Collections, ranging from the Edwardian period through to the 1960s, when this kind of illustration-led marketing started to dwindle.

A photo of a painted poster showing a young man relaxing on a beach
They’re gorgeous and hugely collectable pieces of art. Some are obvious images – vivid, sun-drenched images of the sweep of Scarborough’s South Bay, the geography of which has been compared to the French Riviera.

Others are less so – quite why the artist thought a family of penguins sheltering from the sun under Japanese parasols or a sporty lion who bears a distinct resemblance to the ‘go to work on an egg’ cartoon lion from the 60s would sell a Northern seaside resort is beyond me, but there they are.

They’re a fantastic canter through the fashions of the first half of the 20th century, too. One of the earliest is an Edwardian scene on the Spa, which is absolutely stunning – jewel colours and wonderful fin de siècle feathered hats and draped dresses, all quite formal.

By the 30s, things have become much less formal, with bathers in the town’s open air, sea water swimming pool, the girls all sporty and tomboyish, the boys rather louche and laid-back.

A photo of a black and white poster advertising railway travel
And by the 50s and 60s, the fashions have become distinctly racier – there are some very itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny bikinis on gorgeously sun-tanned bodies.

There’s only one poster in the exhibition that’s photographic – a London and North Eastern Railway poster dating from, probably, the early 1950s.

It’s a black-and-white image of a couple looking out of a train window, and both amusing and intriguing to anyone who actually lives here, because the view they’re looking at – of the town’s Spa buildings – can’t possibly be seen on any railway journey.

The cutting and pasting is primitive enough to make today’s Photoshop whizz kids wince.

And one or two are just downright strange. There’s a fantastic image by Frank H Mason, and Noel Pocock – we have paintings by Mason in the Scarborough Collections, and it looks as though he did the background of the town’s South Bay and Pocock painted the figures of, bizarrely, the walrus and the carpenter from Through the Looking-Glass.

A photo of a bygone poster showing bathers relaxing at a seaside resort
The pair’s signatures are below an ‘acknowledgement and apology’ to Sir John Tenniel, who illustrated the original Alice books.

It’s got a line on it from the poem: ‘They cheered like anything to see such quantities of sand’ – the word ‘cheered’ is underlined on the poster, presumably because the original wording is ‘they wept like anything’.

It exhorts people to contact the Passenger Manager at the North Eastern Railway, York, to get a free copy of the booklet Alice in Holidayland, ‘containing a New Version in Picture and Verse of a Story Beloved by Children’. They just don’t make ‘em like that any more.”

  • Last Stop Scarborough, which examines the history of Scarborough as a holiday resort, can be seen at Scarboorugh Art Gallery until January 5 2014. Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm plus Bank Holidays.

More pictures:

A photo of a vintage advert for a glamorous seaside resort
A photo of a bygone tourist poster for the yorkshire coast
A photo of a tourist poster for Scarborough
A photo of a painting of a cartoon lion by the seaside
An image of a tourist advert painting of a woman relaxing on a sandy cliff
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