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The 'Town' that never was!

Updated on February 9, 2017

The Victorian dream that died: Ravenscar, North Yorkshire

Standing on the fringes of the rugged North Yorkshire Moors and perched on the top of 600 foot high cliffs overlooking the North Sea sits the village of Ravenscar, the 'town that never was.'

Ravenscar is situated mid way between the popular seaside resorts of Scarborough and Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast. Go there and you will find the infrastructure and remains of a town that not so much died but was not really born at all. It is an example of a Victorian project to realise a dream a story of endeavour and ambition that went awry and ultimately failed.

Ravenscar and the surrounding area is a lovely picturesque and most interesting place to visit. Once there you can walk along Marine Esplanade, along The Crescent into Station Road, around Station Square and stand on the old platform. However, you will not find or see rows of magnificent Victorian houses. Instead only a few isolated buildings which stand as a reminder to the dream. You can take afternoon tea at the Raven Hall Hotel (formerly Peak House) and stroll through the landscaped 'hanging' gardens, admire the views along the coast to Robin Hood's Bay. You can delight in the cliff top views and feel the bracing sea air against your cheeks and imagine how it all might have looked if the vision had come true.

Ravenscar on the North Yorkshire coast

A markerRavenscar, North Yorkshire -
Ravenscar, Scarborough, North Yorkshire YO13, UK
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Brief history

The history of the local area goes back to the days of the Romans who built a small fort and signal station as part of their chain of coastal defences. In the 1600s the area became 'industrialised' and played an extremely important part in England's wool and textile industry. Alum was discovered. Alum was used to make coloured dyes 'stick' to wool and cloth and without it the colour would simply wash out. The process of extracting alum liquor from the shale mined from the cliffs and then treating it with seaweed and human urine to obtain the alum crystals for the textile trade was a well guarded secret! By the 1860s the works had all but closed. You can visit the remains of the Peak Alum Works, a fascinating industrial archaeological site, and only a short walk from Ravenscar.

The Victorians

The end of the nineteenth century was the heyday of the Victorian railroad, new lines were being constructed and springing up all over the country. It was the beginnings of the holiday and the seaside town with new resorts such as Saltburn, Hornsea and Withernsea being built on the Yorkshire coast.

Ideas to develop the coast to the north of Scarborough came to the fore and the Peak Estate Company, taking its name from nearby Peak Hall and the adjoining estate was set up. The railway duly arrived in 1884 and by 1897 plans for a 'new town' to include shops, tearooms, guesthouses, hanging gardens and attractions were drawn up. Roads, drains and a mains water supply were laid down and the land was divided into 1500 plots for building and offered for sale. It was decided to rename the town Ravenscar, possibly to avoid confusion with the Peak District in Derbyshire or just simply to sound more attractive. Sadly the dream did not come to fruition, investors did not buy the plots of land and the town was not built. Access by train proved to be difficult with trains often struggling to overcome the steep gradient of the newly built line. With Ravenscar's exposed cliff top location often at the mercy of the wind and rain, a rocky shoreline hundreds of feet below with difficult access and no proper sandy beach this particular Victorian 'new seaside town' failed.

Ravenscar today

The Victorian dream may have failed but the village of Ravenscar lives on and whether you are visiting the area by car, bicycle or on foot you will have a delightful day out. A scatter of houses line the roads and Station Square. The Raven Hall Hotel standing on the cliffs makes a pleasant stop for a meal and a drink, as too the tearooms in the square. The National Trust visitor centre tells the history of the area and the story of the town that never was with an exhibition and displays and provides information for walks and activities in the local countryside.

And finally...

...a Royal mystery!

There is a popular myth that King George III was brought to Ravenscar and confined at Raven Hall during his bouts of madness.

King George came to the throne in 1760 and reigned until his death in 1820. However, by 1788 he began to show the first signs of 'madness' and was treated by a physician with a reputation for curing mental illness, a Dr Francis Willis. There were further brief relapses into 'insanity' in 1801 and 1804, and for the last ten years of his life King George was regarded as 'insane' whilst his son George, Prince of Wales, later to become King George IV ruled in his stead as Regent.

At about this time the ownership of Raven Hall passed into the hands of the Willis family, to Ann Willis who was married to one of the sons of Francis Willis, Richard Willis, who also attended King George III. However, there is no direct evidence King George was ever brought to Ravenscar and the dates for the King's illness and that of the Willis family ownership of the Raven Hall are a little awry.

For several decades thereafter it was also rumoured that Rev Richard Charles Willis, who inherited the Hall in 1831from his mother Ann, was an illegitimate son of the former monarch!

It all adds to the telling of story of the town that never was, Ravenscar.

Further along the coast...

The North Yorkshire coast is full of surprises and interesting places to visit. Here are just a few:

About the author

Antony was born in the small coastal town of Saltburn-by-the-sea, and lived in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire before returning to his native Yorkshire. He has spent his adult life in the north of England working for a UK Bank and two Government Agencies.

Now living in Yorkshire between the Dales and the Moors Antony enjoys writing and taking photographs. He has written and published two ebooks bringing together some of his short stories and humorous anecdotes, and been published in The Yorkshire Dalesman.

His interests include walking, photography, history, travel, reading and watching cricket.

© 2011 Antony J Waller

Have you visited the 'town that never was'?

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    • profile image

      David Andrews 

      11 months ago

      In the late 1960s I was an Ordnance Survey surveyor revising the old County Series 1:2500 scale mapping of the North York Moors. I recall having to survey the remnants of Ravenscar town infrastructure, kerbs and buildings, onto the new National Grid mapping. It became something of an adventure to trace the remains of the old and overgrown road network. I wonder how much of it can still be found?

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello once more Antony. Last time I dropped by I meant to say something about Whittaker's Brickworks along by the tracks towards Fylingthorpe - not much to show it was ever there - that was established to provide the means to build the town. There's a picture in one of the books about the line with a passenger train headed by a B1 'Bongo' 4-6-0 passing the brickworks.

      I read also in one of my books that the wooden platform shelter at Peak was blown away in a winter storm.

    • Northern-Light profile imageAUTHOR

      Antony J Waller 

      3 years ago from North Yorkshire

      You've got me scratching me 'ead now. I'm sure I saw something rather than just read it. One of these days I'll get round to teking another gawp!

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      There's 'nowt' on the station or the trains at Ravenscar, unless it's in the Raven Hall Hotel, but they've probably got more on the Lyke Wake Walk, as it terminates there. I drove there a couple of years ago with a friend, and 'on me tod' before that when I also visited Staintondale to the south. The tunnel's all covered up and filled in at both ends, I saw that when I walked from Whitby along the trackbed back in the late 80's/early 90's.

    • Northern-Light profile imageAUTHOR

      Antony J Waller 

      3 years ago from North Yorkshire

      Thanks for that Alan. It's been a while since I last visited and I keep meaning to go back to take more photos. I'm sure there's an information board there about the trains, the line, the bad winter of '46 and the problems encountered etc.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello again Antony. Up until 1965, at the time I was at Scarboro' School of Art (now part of Yorkshire Coast College) I used to pass through here on the train between Scarboro' and Ormesby (now Marton) at times when I felt flush at the weekend. The tunnel and approach from Fyling Hall Station was tricky at the end of a day, with the water and oil drips onto the rails (water from the tunnel lining, oil from the engines). There's a story about that in one of J Robin Lidster's books about the line, the upshot being two D49 4-4-0 'Hunts' entering Scarborough via Falsgrave tunnel with one coach (of three, the other two being left at Fyling Hall because of adhesion problems with their big 6' 2" wheels).

      *'Farmer George' (George III) stayed at Fyling Hall during one of his odd bouts, I read somewhere in a history of the area.

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