Spa Theatre, Bridlington, East Yorkshire
PUBLISHED: 21:41 14 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:15 20 February 2013
Do we still like to be beside the seaside? Jo Haywood spends a sunny day in Bridlington to find out. PHOTOGRAPHS BY NEIL HOLMES.
The grand old lady of South Bay in Bridlington has had a bit of a facelift. In fact, after her 19.5 million refurbishment, the 101-year-old Spa Theatre could now easily pass for 90.
The building was opened in 1907 after the original New Spa, launched in 1896, was destroyed by fire. It was given its first makeover in 1926 with a new art deco look that cost the council 50,000. By the time the new millennium dawned, it was beginning to look a little tired, so councillors once again asked residents what they wanted to do: knock it down and start again at a cost of 60 million or revamp the existing structure for 12 million.
The people chose to retain the building and recapture the original elegance of the art deco ballroom and the Edwardian theatre. Although some in the town blanched when the cost of the work spiralled from 12 million to 19.5 million, East Riding Council promised the spa would become a major force in entertainment and conferencing. And its confidence looks like it might actually pay dividends. The opening week of celebrations was a great success, kicking off on May 31st with a concert from the top Yorkshire indie band The Pigeon Detectives and ending on June 7th with a public open day. And bookings in excess of 1 million were already in the bag before the doors even opened.
But Bridlington is not just about the spa. This lively and popular resort has much more to offer: two awardwinning beaches stretching north and south with a busy harbour nestling in the middle, a waterside fun fair featuring The Eye On The Bay (a giant wheel that could easily pass itself off as the London Eye's little brother) and more shops, restaurants and bars than you can shake a stick of rock at.
The town has moved with the times but it has also managed to hang on to the finest traditions of a typical British seaside resort, with donkey rides on the beach, seafront souvenir shops selling kitsch by the kilo, fresh fish shops offering the best of the local catch, amusement arcades aplenty and colourful Victorian B&Bs that jostle for position on the promenades like a queue of immaculately made-up maiden aunts.
But it is not all kiss-me-quick hats and candyfloss. There is a serious business side to Bridlington too. That business can be found down in the harbour where dozens of fishermen still bring in a healthy catch every day. Tony Pockley's family have been crabbing and lobster potting out of Bridlington for generations - ever since the first boat left the dock.
'Flamborough used to be a bigger fishing port than Brid,' he said. 'But then someone built an engine and everything changed. My great-grandfather launched the first boat out of Brid with an engine. In that first week his catch was bigger than the whole of the Flamborough fleet put together.'
Crabbing and lobster potting have been a booming business in Bridlington for generations. Unfortunately, however, the current generation is starting to feel the pinch (no pun intended).
'Soaring oil prices and mind-numbing bureaucracy are crippling us,' said Tony. 'I've been out on the boat since leaving school 32 years ago and I had hoped that generations to come would continue the family business, but my son is finding it tough at the moment. I wouldn't blame him at all if he decided to pack it in.'
Rapidly rising oil prices mean that it now costs in excess of 300 just to get a boat out to sea. Factor in harbour taxes, the crew's wages and the numerous other overheads involved and crabbers have to earn a pretty penny to make their business pay. 'We are suffering like the farmers have suffered,' said Tony. 'And we are having to diversify like they have had to diversify.'
He now takes out parties of scuba divers keen to get a look at the numerous wrecks peppered around Bridlington's dual bays and is involved in a filming project to capture the town's underwater heritage on DVD. 'The sea is literally awash with wrecks,' he said. 'We have a rich history out there if only you know where to look for it.'
And he does. But there is one wreck that not even he can find - and that is the USS Bonhomme Richard, which sank in 1779 after engaging with HMS Serapis in the Battle of Flamborough. A great many have searched for the wreck over the years, including bestselling author Clive Cussler, founder of the National Underwater and Marine Agency in the US, who has spent thousands of dollars in fruitless searches. But Tony thinks there's a very simple reason why no one can find it. 'If you ask me, it's been totally destroyed by dredging,' he said. 'It would be thrilling to find it, but I really don't think it is there to be found.'
Times are undoubtedly tough for Tony and the rest of the Bridlington fishermen, but there could be some good news on the horizon in the form of a large scale lobster hatchery. Consultation has begun on a scheme to replicate the National Lobster Hatchery, which attracted 43,000 additional visitors to Padstow in Cornwall last year, in either Bridlington or Scarborough.
Local fishermen would loan egg-bearing females to the hatchery, the eggs would be hatched out in tanks - overlooked by the fee-paying public - and the young would be released again for the fishermen to catch. An initial report says that Scarborough has the potential to attract the most visitors. But if the hatchery is built in Bridlington it would give the town the opportunity to promote itself as the largest lobster port in the UK - a boost the hard-working men and women of the harbour would warmly welcome.