The story of the Old Coastguard Station

Historic photo of a boat on the slipway outside the Old Coastguard Station

Nestling on the slipway at Robin Hoods Bay, the Old Coastguard Station is a building with a long and intriguing history. The structure you can see today is perhaps not exactly what you might think.

Records show that in the early 1800’s the building then on the site was a public house, later converted into 3 tenements. In March 1829, the recently established Coastguard service took over the building, originally with the aim of combatting smuggling on the Yorkshire coast. They stayed until moving to other premises in the early 1900’s.

The building once again reverted to accommodation and in 1910 is recorded as being used for holiday lets. In May 1912 Leeds and Sheffield universities hired the building which became known as the Yorkshire Universities Marine Laboratory. It was rented for £8 per annum until it was purchased for £220 in 1922. The agreement with Sheffield University ended in 1928 but Leeds University’s ownership continued.

In the 1960’s a grant from the Wellcome Trust enabled the university to demolish the old building and rebuild in a more modern style. One of the features of the purpose-built lab was an 8,000 gallon seawater tank in the basement. From the mid 1960’s to its closure in 1982, the lab was principally used as a research establishment. Read more about the marine lab here. 

The building was sold and used as a private management training centre until the late 1990’s when the National Trust bought it with money from the Neptune Coastline Campaign and bequests from benefactors.

The new Old Coastguard Station rises above the slipway in Robin Hood's Bay
Scaffolding surrounds the new Old Coastguard Station in Robin Hood's Bay
The new Old Coastguard Station rises above the slipway in Robin Hood's Bay

The structure was demolished and rebuilt with an exterior shell as true as possible to the original 1800’s design. With the aid of a grant from the North York Moors National Park Authority, it was constructed as an interpretative visitor and education centre, along with a holiday flat on the top floor. The Old Coastguard Station opened to the public in September 2000. Since then the centre’s team has welcomed over 600,000 visitors and 35,000 education group visitors.

In 2011 the ground floor exhibition room was renovated to inspire visitors to discover all aspects of life at the edge of the sea including wildlife, geology, tide and wave action as well as human history. A new rock pool tank and hands-on interactive models were installed. Today visitors can also find information about the role of the National Trust locally and other places to visit nearby. Efforts continue to keep displays up to date, reflecting an ever-changing coastline.

The centre is open year-round with free entry for everyone.