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George Rowntree

The Reminiscences of George Rowntree
1855 -1940

written during the winter of 1935-36



Special Constables.

During the War a large number of towns-people enrolled themselves as Special Constables, the object being that they could be called on in any emergency for non-military duties. At first we met for drill. I did not feel, at my age, there was any use in going through marching orders, and, with others over 60, we were regarded as reserves, useful in case of another bombardment to direct people to the recognised roads from Scarborough inland. A number patrolled the streets in the evenings to enforce the strict regulations that no lights should be seen. People would forget to pull down their blinds when they lighted up inside; the constable would call, and, if it was a glaring case, issue a summons. One evening at my house, Riseborough, two men called and said that a light was visible for miles. I asked them to come in and show me the light; sure enough, an electric light shone on an inside window board ; the curtain was not sufficiently drawn to prevent a reflection from the wood showing a chink of light outside. A small affair, where a caution would have done, but the particular "Specials" were down on pacifists, told me that a lamp tight had been seen in a field at Hunmanby, and my light might be in league with the Hunmanby light to guide German vessels; so far did the imagination go in wartime. I was summoned and fined 10/-. Another time a deliberate plot was laid to catch us selling goods at prices other than the law allowed, with the result that a charge of 21/2d. had been made instead of 21/4d for an article that was correctly sold at 41/2d. by the pound. Another fine of 10/-. The caretaker of the Adult School was summoned for showing a light; the man was so indignant 'that he brought the door on his shoulder into the court. This was an interior door with a muffled glass panel. The light was said to have travelled from one room, across a passage, through to another room, before it could have been seen, and, being an interior passage, the man thought the door would be sufficient to satisfy the bench. He had an awkward impediment in his speech ; he would face the chairman and pull the most extraordinary grimaces before he could get a word out. All his efforts were futile; a fine of 10/- was imposed ; the chairman saying to me, ‘Poor fellow, he evidently is not quite right in his head.’ In these minor cases a caution would have been ample, without bringing the cases to court, but, being, pacifists, the letter of the law was enforced.


How seldom do we connect Springhill and Waterhouse Lane with our town’s supply of water .

The old spring on the hill was, I believe, the oldest source of the supply of water, except the private wells which can still be found in many a backyard. The quality of the water from Springhill was and is excellent. The supply ran down in pipes as far as Waterhouse Lane. It is to the foresight and enterprise of John Woodall, the banker, that the first waterworks were provided.

He saw in Cayton Bay a spring of fresh water in the sands which, at half tide and lower I ran down the sands and into the sea. The fishermen of Scarborough used to take large casks to Cayton Bay and at low tide filled them with fresh water; these they brought back full in their small boats to the vessels going to sea, Mr. Woodall bored into the cliff until he struck the stream of water. This he successfully pumped up, and the supply was found ample for the town. The reservoir for the Cayton Bay water was first at the corner of Filey Rood and Wheatcliff Avenue. The only year that I recollect any shortage of water was in one year in the seventies, when the supply was limited to certain hours, The later development of water from Irton has given a supply ample for our needs for a long time.


In these days, when Medical Officers of Health cover the length and breadth of the country, we forget what changes have taken place. The work of the Scarborough Hospital was, as its name implied, merely a Dispensary ; trained nurses were a luxury for the wealthy, and fever cases were usually treated at the home of the patient, In the year 1872 there was a good deal of Smallpox in the town; men and women would be seen in the streets fully out with pox marks. One day a customer fully out came and bought some article in the shop, and the coin was handled by an assistant and put into the open till amongst other money. In a few days this assistant was laid up, and the doctor declared it smallpox. It was not a serious case, and my stepmother nursed him through it; but, unfortunately, another assistant, W. Sewell King, broke out in the same way. He was moved into a spare room; the case was serious, the patient became delirious, but, with careful nursing under the doctor's orders, my stepmother pulled him through, though he carried on his face for life the pox marks.

Meteor Shower, 1866.

There are few to-day who remember the extraordinary shower of meteors that occurred in November 1866. I was the youngest boy at Thomas Walton's School, J. W. Hoyland being the next of age.

On the occasion referred to, Thomas Walton came into our bedrooms and woke us up between 10 and 12 o'clock at night. The sky was clear, and the shower of meteors shooting across the heavens from N.W. to N.E. was more like a snowstorm than a shower of stars. Brock's rocket are nothing compared with the meteors, many of them leaving long tails through the sky, some of them green or mauve in colour.

The astronomers of to-day say that there never was such a display on record since the year 1833, so it is left for those who are here in 1966 to look for something similar .

Olaf and May Landsen.

During the first ten years of our married life we had frequent and acceptable visits from May Jeffrey, a cousin of my wife. She loved music, played both violin and piano exceptionally well, was particularly fond of Wagner and Beethoven, and enjoyed playing provided she was appreciated; if she was not, she would close the piano, burst out crying and leave the room.

May was a great walker and a traveller ; enjoyed walking through the forests in Norway, playing to the trees and the birds as she walked, sometimes through the night. In 1894 May told us that she was engaged to a young Norwegian, Olaf Landsen, and they wished to be married at Scarborough in the manner of Friends. It was at the time when the old Meeting House had been sold and Friends were meeting in King Street until the present Meeting House was finished. It was, therefore, arranged for 'the legal wedding to be at the Registrar's office, and then for them to come to 14 Valley Bridge Parade, where several Friends attended, and the ceremony was completed with a short meeting for worship. The bride was in her white bridal costume, the couple pledged each other in the Friends' fashion, and a marriage certificate was signed by the bride and bridegroom, and afterwards by those present The young couple left with the best wishes of all present. Two years had elapsed, when a telegram came requesting me to go to the Vicarage, Robin Hood's Bay ; the Vicar told me that Olaf and May (now Landsen) had gone down to bathe, that they only had one bathing suit between them, that May had had her bathe and handed the dress to her husband. Whether he got into a muddle with the garment, or whether it was the strong current that carried him out, is merely conjecture; the tragic end was that he was carried out too far and then sank. I have known that part of the Bay near Stoup Beck to be dangerous all my life, and Olaf is not the only one who has been carried out by the strong current. May, after trying in vain to get any help, found her way up to the Vicarage, where I met her. She was wonderfully calm, and the old Vicar, Rev. Cooper, was kindness itself throughout. May came to us for a short time after which she went to her brother, Herbert Jeffrey.

Rights of Way.

When I was a boy at Oliver's Mount School, there was a good deal of interest taken by Scarborians in preserving the rights of way for the public. One Friend, Henry Foster, having failed by correspondence to convince the Corporation that there was a public right for a footway from the Aquarium through the Plantation, put his arguments before the public by taking a poker down from his home, breaking the iron railings and walking through. The Corporation knew that Mr Foster had the law on his side, repaired the broken paling, leaving the path, through the railings open, and saying nothing more about it. This aroused some of us, a younger generation, to be defenders of the rights of the public in other parts; for instance, the stone steps from Ramshill Road up to Belmont Road run between two private properties. The owner on one side, presumably without the knowledge of the Corporation, attempted to annex the space occupied by the steps by building a brick wall across at the bottom and at the top of the steps. It was agreed by a few of us that a row of bricks should be taken off each evening. This was carried out with the assistance of a frost that prevented the bricklayers getting on with their work. The would be owner then fixed a wooden boarding top and bottom, but this gave way to strong boots, and the neighbouring owner decided to leave the steps alone. The same fate, befell an attempt to stop the footpath from the South Cliff to the sands, close to where the lift is now built, the fence at the top being broken as often as it was erected.

Bootham Weekly Review.

A few weeks ago I received from Barbara Fowkes, the daughter of the late; I. Harry Wallis, a copy of an old Bootham Weekly Review. This paper was first issued 11th February 1870 by four boys, Erland Sanders (President), I. Henry Wallis (secretary), Harry Corder and myself. How long it lasted I cannot say. We were all under 16 years of age, the youngest publishers in the country! The copy I received had an article by I. Harry Wallis on "Fighting the Forest." It was written so graphically that I decided to save up my money and, together with the writer, go and see the bird life, the animal life, the butterflies in South America. Alas! that time has not come. Perhaps it is as well.

Another article was written by Harry Corder , containing drawings of Sun Spots, and a diagram of the Planet Saturn with circles round at various distances, showing the moon's distances from the planet; his knowledge was all obtained from his own observations in the Observatory. These articles would compare favourably with many of the present Weeklies.

The use of the Observatory was reserved for those in the Senior Class, and is a unique possession for any School. Edward Grubb and Harry Corder were the two boys to whom I looked for help, as there was no teacher told off for the job who could give the boys any training on Astronomy. My interest was to see through the telescope the countless numbers of stars, clusters and nebulae, the infinite vastness of space; the discovery to myself that the more space you were able to see, so much the more would you find an infinite number of stars. We learnt first, how exceedingly little we knew. We had learnt that the word "infinite" , is right to use both for space and for worlds. If there is no limit to space, and all space is occupied with worlds, we ask ourselves the questions, "Whence ? and Whither ?" Was there never a beginning ? My own answer is, was there ever a beginning to the Almighty ?
What, then, are we ? Single units, responsible for our own short span here ? And then what? The future all unknown; I hope we can still say, "We thank Thee for our creation!"

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