Vandals damage Roman stonework at Scarborough castle

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It is good for the north that the Hepworth Wakefield has reached the final four of the Museum of the Year competition, but there is less happy heritage news from Scarborough. 

Scarborough Castle [Credit: Wiki Commons]

Vandals have clambered into the town’s castle, whose position on the headland is one of the glories of both bays, and done significant damage to Roman stonework. 

The fortress is generally well capable of looking after itself, with walls up to 12ft thick and the mortar so hard in places that it has crystallised into spar. There is also a tradition of local people having a go at it; back in 1265, just over a century after the castle’s foundation by William the Fat, Earl of Albermarle, Royal troops had to take over to protect the place and its constable from constant attacks. 

It has subsequently fallen to four sieges and was damaged in 1914 when German warships shelled the town and killed 19 people. But the latest attack has concentrated on the most vulnerable part; the modest remains of the Roman watchtower and signal station which date back to 370AD. 

This was the very end of the Romans’ four centuries in Britain and they were gone within the year, but their stonework has lasted, albeit with quite a lot of modern pointing. Damage to upper layers of stone has been compounded by the wrecking of signs and stealing of metal caps from fence posts, no doubt for the flourishing trade in illegal scrap metal. 

English Heritage is also concerned about the vulnerability of archaeology in the area surrounding the Roman remains, which were built on earlier prehistoric fortifications dated back to 500BC. Part of the signal station was later used as an early Saxon chapel and by Viking invaders, led by Skarthi the Hare-lipped, who left their own traces. 

PC Alasdair McNeill of Scarborough police says that the incident happened overnight, a time when climbing the 300ft cliffs is a dangerous but not infrequent dare. He says: 

“We need to find whoever is responsible for this completely mindless act of criminal damage. It’s very sad that people feel the need to destroy something which has stood for many hundreds of years, is a landmark for the town and contributes to the culture and economy of the area. The signposts can be repaired and replaced but the Roman ruins cannot. I urge anyone who has any information to contact the police as soon as possible.” 

Peter Bleach, English Heritage’s site manager for the castle, said: “Scarborough Castle is often a target of anti-social behaviour and the latest damage is extremely disappointing. Deliberate acts of vandalism are illegal and we take this very seriously. People often climb the 300ft cliff walls to gain access during the night.” 

“This is very dangerous as the walls are 900 years old and are unstable. People risk a fatal fall whilst climbing them. Removing the fence and warning signs is also very irresponsible. Whoever did this placed themselves and the public at serious risk of death.” 

“For more than 3,000 years there has been some form of defence at Scarborough, from pre-historic settlers to a secret listening post in the Second World War. The castle has stood proud for centuries and is Scarborough’s major landmark. To see it damaged in this way is heartbreaking.” 

The attack’s other consequence could be more security, spoiling the comparatively open and trusting nature of the spectacular site. Scarborough has suffered other vandalism recently, including the flinging of yellow paint over the North Bay statue by Durham sculptor Ray Lonsdale of an old soldier resting on a bench. Based on a friend of the artist, a miner called Freddie Gilroy who was one of the first Allied soldiers to liberate Belsen concentration camp, it has the moving inscription:


“They said for king and country we should do as we were bid, They said old soldiers never die but plenty young ones did.

Maureen Robinson, a long-standing resident who gave £50,000 for Scarborough to keep the statue after it was exhibited on loan in two years ago, broke down in tears when she was told about the attack by the Scarborough Evening News. 

She says: “There is just no comprehension of the meaning behind the statue by whoever has done this.” 

Author: Martin Wainwright | Source: Guardian/UK [May 15, 2012]

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