The original Scarborough Fair dates from medieval times and the festival was held annually for centuries. This bonanza, equivalent of a modern day oil boom began when vessels from most Western European maritime nations visited the port to fish and trade the abundant shoals of herring. These shoals, which still gather to spawn off our coast in August and early September annually, continued to be caught and landed by English and Scottish drifters until the early 1970s. Nowadays this stock of herring is harvested by a few, gigantic Dutch and Scottish trawlers. There are numerous places in the world named ‘Scarborough’. Ours was the first. Why? Because ocean - going ships were being built in Scarborough to sai l the globe when most present day seaports were still unheard of. Our town has a maritime history second to none.

From the 17 th centuries, shipyards all along the foreshore constructed hundreds of ships, some of more than 600 tons. One notable vessel, called ’Scarborough’, built in 1794 was in the first convoy, taking prisoners to the penal colony at Botany Bay. Ships built in Scarborough were used as transports and supply vessels during the American War of Independence and appeared at many other historic e vents but not as men o’ war. Most of the timber for these ships came from the Castle Howard estate and was grown especially for shipbuilding.

The decline of this industry came with the building of iron ships. Before the industrial revolution, luggers, yaw ls and cobles were also built in Scarborough to fish for cod, haddock, plaice and sole on the North Sea grounds with lines and trawls. With the advent of steam, paddle tugs, were converted into the first powered trawlers. Soon purpose - built steam trawlers and drifters were packing the harbour. Prior to the Great War, fortunes were made, as fish was despatched to the demanding inland markets, via the new railway system. This same railway brought coal to power the ships and many wealthy visitors on holiday to experience pleasure trips on the many large passenger vessels and sailing cobles.

The onset of WWI saw the decimation of Scarborough’s trawling fleet, mostly sunk by U Boats. Other ships were taken for admiralty duty. More steam trawlers arrived betwee n the wars and some survived WWII. These craft went for scrap in the early 1960s. Over 40 vessels of 30 - 60 feet in length dominated the harbour for the next 30 years but post EEC membership, Scarborough’s fleet has been decimated. The few remaining boat s are now finding good catches as fish stocks quickly recover. Who knows what the future holds for our ancient port?

The following pictures of Scarborough may take a few minutes to load, depending on your internet speed.

Sailing smack Circa 1890


Gyping and salting herring pre 1914


Herring season 1960s


Scarborough Harbour Circa 1975


Scarborough from Olivers Mount (circa unspecified)