The port of Scarborough was born as a fishing community and remains one yet. That side of its life saw many ups and down over time. The rich story of line, trawl and drift fishing from the coble and five man boat through to the steam and oil powered vessels of the 19th and 20th centuries is remarkable and deserves more attention than it has yet received. What ever the role of Scarborough as Britain's first seaside resort, and its current efforts to remain a resort , it is worth remembering that without the fishing industry, there wouldn't have been a Scarborough.
On the other hand, Scarborough, once established, became the market town for an extensive area, albeit with half its hinterland given over to fishes in the sea. The resort inflated that role and still does to some extent. It is easy to forget the other sides of the town's Maritime history. As well as victualling fishing vessels from the Netherlands, and most English and Scots ports, who followed the herring here for centuries, Scarborough gave over its harbour front to a major shipbuilding industry through the 17th to the early 19th centuries. Colliers built here took the Newcastle and Sunderland coal to London and Europe. Tindall ships built at Scarborough sailed from London over the oceans of the world.
One result was that Georgians and Victorians spoke of Scarborough as a nursery of seamen¯. At any one time, hundreds of local men were in the merchant fleets. The curious may find another story worth telling, when exploring even earlier scanty records of port activity. An example comes from the port books of Stockton on Tees in 1638-39. Here are some Scarborough ships engaged in the quiet coastal traffic of long forgotten days, speaking of a world, fast changing even then.
The ship 'David'¯ of Scarborough, master William Cooper, took out four fothers of lead from Stockton, brought from the Yorkshire Dales workings which had been used since Roman times..His cargo included six chaldron of coals, perhaps from the Durham coalfield. He also carried dozens and dozens of knitted woolen stockings, some for children and some for adults. These were the speciality of north west Yorkshire. Old pictures show dales women with ever busy fingers, indoors or outdoors, from dawn to dusk.
The David sailed out on June. 28th. She returned on August 3rd with a very different cargo. Here was the emerging international trade which would become the bedrock of a maritime nation. The vessel brought two tons of iron, two lasts of tarr, one hundred of deals, and a hundred weight of flax. These were the Baltic goods, Swedish iron, soft woods to floor and door genteel homes, and the flax that sustained the part time activity of women from Yarm to Scarborough of making linen. There was more exotic Brazil wood too .Most striking were the new imports from the wider world , probably transhipped from staiths at Londo. There was a tun of vinegar, fifty pounds of West Indian ginger, hundred weights of currants, great raisins and even ten cwt of prunes The age of pudding and tart was breaking upon the nation's diet.