Scarboroughs sea fisheries exhibition - John Woodall

Famous Scarborians: John Woodall Woodall - Victorian Benefactor of North Sea Fishing by Anne and Paul Bayliss. Reproduced from the Scarborough and District Civic Society, December 2008 by permission of the editor.

In 1894 John Woodall Woodall (1831-1905) commissioned local architect J Caleb Petch (1853-1921) to design an exhibition hall that could accomadate 5000 people. It was built on Foreshore at the bottom of Woodalls extensive garden's where he previously he had had a range of workshops. Woodall's plan was to hold a major sea fisheries exhibition, which was formally opened 31st May, 1895 by General Sir Evelyn Wood VC, Prime Warden of the Fishmongers' company. Exhibits covered every imaginable aspect of fishing. In 1898 Woodall sold the exhibition Hall, his gardens and his family home, to Scarborough Corporation. The House became the present day Town Hall, his gardens formed St Nicholas Cliff public gardens and the exhibition hall became Olympia - an all-weather tourist attraction until its destruction by fire in 1975.

Photo : John Woodall Woodall.

John Woodall Woodall was the son of Johh Woodall (1801-79) a successful Scarborough Banker. Woodall junior was educated at Rugby and at Oriel College, Oxford where, in 1854, he was awarded a first class degree in natural sciences. After serving in the militia during the Crimean War (1853-56) John W. Woodall returned to Scarborough and became a partner in the family bank. He was elected to the Town Council and served for many years as a councillor,and alderman and was four times Mayor of the Borough. He held many other public appointments in Scarborough and the North Riding.

Woodall training in biology together with an early interest in angling introduced him to the study of the artificial breeding of freshwater fish and he was a member of the Yorkshire Fishery Board for some 30 years. Woodall became the first chairman of the newly-formed Sea Fisheries Committee for the North-East Coast which was alarmed that annual fish landings were diminishing. Woodall ascribed this to the replacement of the old line boats by steam trawlers resulting in over-fishing which he claimed also damaged immature fish. He was very keen to see the introduction of artificial breeding programmes for sea-fish as had been developed by a Norwegian expert, Captain Dannevig at Floedevigen to stock local fjords with cod. Woodall had visited these hatcheries, carried on a longstanding scientific correspondence with the Captain and lectured and wrote articles on the subject. He also kept a comprehensive library of books on scientific research and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in recognition of his work.

Not only did Woodall prepare material relating to sea-fish stocks for various Royal Commissions but he also carried out practical research. He owned a yacht, the Garland, which he had fitted-out for marine studies and carried out his research in the North Sea and the Humber Estuary. The boat was bought by the Scotch Sea Fishery Board for their research and it returned to Scarborouqh to collect sole to propagate in the waters of Scotland . Woodall often praised the Scotch Sea-Fishery Board and its hatcheries while decrying the lack of interest in England. Woodall new vessel, the Vallota,again fitted out for his research, which on occasions he placed at the disposal of the East Coast Fisheries Board which had no money to purchase its own vessel. Much of the fitting was carried out by Woodall himself who maintained marine workshops at the foreshore end of his garden, where later the exhibition hall would be built. In these workshops as furniture for the family home - St Nicholas House, including an octagonal table inlaid with 50 rare woods.

John Woodall Woodall retired from public life in 1892 because of ill health and the erection of the exhibition hall was his last major act. After selling t h e St Nicholas Estate to Scarborough Corporation in 1898 he moved to London where he continued to be active in Masonic matters. As early as 1867 he had been described as one of the most active Freemasons that Scarborough has ever known and in 1885 had been elected Grand Treasurer the first provincial mason to attain that honour.

John Woodall Woodall died suddenly in March 1905.


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