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Whitby is a town and civil parish in the Scarboroughmarker district of North Yorkshire on the north-east coast of Englandmarker. Nowadays it is a fishing port and tourist destination. It is situated from Yorkmarker, at the mouth of the River Esk and spreads up the steep sides of the narrow valley carved out by the river's course. At this point the coast curves round, so the town faces more north than east. According to the 2001 UK census, Whitby parish had a population of 13,594.

Whitby was founded under its Old English name of Streonshal in 656, when Oswy, the Christian king of Northumbria, founded Whitby Abbeymarker, under its first abbess Hilda. The Synod of Whitby was held here in. In 867, the monastery was destroyed by Viking raiders, and was only refounded in 1078. It was in this period that the town gained its current name, Whitby, (from "white settlement" in Old Norse). In the 18th century Whitby became a centre for shipbuilding and whaling, as well as trade in alum and jet.

Tourism and fishing now form the mainstay of the town's economy. There are rail and bus links to the rest of Yorkshire and the North East of England. Whitby has featured in literary works, television and cinema; most famously in Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula.


Many interesting fossils have been found in the Whitby area including entire skeletons of pterodactyls. Whitby is known for its well preserved ammonite fossils, which can be found on the seashore or purchased from stalls or shops in the town.

Three green ammonites are featured on the coat of arms of the Whitby Town Council. These ammonites are shown with a head carved on, as "snake stones", which were sold as religious souvenirs in memory of Saint Hilda of Whitby.

Early-medieval Whitby

In about 656, Oswiu or Oswy, the Christian king of Northumbriamarker, fulfilled a vow by founding a monastery there.

Faced in 655 with the mighty army of Penda, the pagan king of Merciamarker, which greatly outnumbered his own, Oswiu asked God to grant him victory, promising to consecrate his infant daughter Ælflæda to the service of God and to give land to found monasteries. Penda and most of his nobles were killed in the battle. Oswiu honoured his pledges by granting 12 small estates of 10 hides each in various places for monasteries to be built. One of them was at Streanæshealh, later known as Whitby Abbeymarker. This was the house that Ælflæda herself entered as a pupil and of which she later became abbess.

The first abbess was Hilda, a remarkable figure, later venerated as a saint. Under her influence, Whitby became a centre of learning, and the poetry of Cædmon is amongst the earliest examples of Anglo-Saxon literature. It was the leading royal nunnery of Deira, and the burial-place of its royal family. The Synod of Whitby, in 664, established the Roman date of Easter in Northumbria at the expense of the Celtic one, an important and influential decision.

In 867, Danishmarker Vikings landed west of Whitby at Raven's Hill, and moved on to attack the settlement and to destroy the monastery. It was only after the Norman Conquest of 1066 that William de Percy ordered that the monastery be refounded (1078), dedicating it to St Peter and St Hilda. Later it became Presteby (meaning the habitation of Priests in Old Norse) then Hwytby; next Whiteby, (meaning the "white settlement" in Old Norse, probably from the colour of the houses) and finally Whitby.

Late-medieval and Tudor periods

According to Langdale's Yorkshire Dictionary (1822) and Baine's Directory of the County of York (1823), even up to the reign of Elizabeth I Whitby was little more than a small fishing port. In 1540, it had consisted of only around twenty to thirty houses and had a population of about two hundred inhabitants. In that year Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, including Whitby Abbey.

At the end of the 16th century, Thomas Chaloner of York travelled to Italymarker and visited the alum works in the Papal Statesmarker. He recognised that the rock from which the alum was made was identical to that abundant in several areas in and around his Guisboroughmarker estate in North Yorkshire. Alum was a very important product at that time, used internationally, in curing leather, fixing dyed cloths and for medicinal uses. Up to this period the Vaticanmarker had maintained a virtual monopoly on the production and sale of the product.

Chaloner secretly brought some of the Pope's workmen to England to develop a thriving alum industry in Yorkshire. (It is said that this significantly lowered the international price of alum, impacting the profitability of a traditional source of revenue for the Vatican, and that Chaloner was excommunicated).

Whitby grew significantly as a port in the following years as a result of the transport of alum and coal.

Whitby Abbey and St Mary's Church

Whitby Abbey from pond

Over the centuries, the town spread both inland and onto the West Cliff, whilst the East Cliff (sometimes called the Haggerlythe) remains dominated by the ruins of Whitby Abbeymarker and St Mary's Church. The way into the interesting ruined Abbey is through the historic Banqueting House alongside. The Abbey is owned by English Heritage, which restored the Banqueting House to contain exhibitions and museum displays about the Abbey and Whitby and opened it in 2002.

The East Cliff is at quite a distance by road, the alternative being to climb the famed 199 steps known as "Caedmon's Trod".

Modern history - since 1605

Whitby, showing St Mary's Church in distance.
Whitby's twin piers

Several alum producing centres were established close to Whitby including, in 1615, one near Sandsend (now Sandsend Nessmarker) from the town. Two new industries thus arrived in the port of Whitby—the transport of alum and that of the coal used in its production.

Whitby thereby grew in size and wealth, extending its activities to include shipbuilding, using the local oak timber as raw material. Taxes on imports entering via the port raised the necessary finance to improve and extend the town's twin piers, thereby improving the harbour and permitting further increases in trade. (They are working piers, not the variety which caters elsewhere to holidaymakers.)

In 1753 the first whaling ship set sail from Whitby to Greenlandmarker. This initiated a new phase in the town's development, and by 1795 Whitby had become a major centre for the whaling industry.

George Hudson completed his railway network connecting Whitby and the towns of the East Riding with Yorkmarker in 1839. It is thought to have played a vital part in the development of Whitby as a tourism destination. George Hudson was also responsible for building or, rather, half-building the Royal Crescent. Plans to complete the project were abandoned due to insufficient funds. The Crescent still remains a popular tourist attraction.

Whitby was the site of the Rohilla disaster of 30 October 1914, when the hospital ship Rohilla was sunk (either by running aground, or hitting a mine; accounts differ) within sight of shore just off Whitby. Eighty-five people lost their lives in the disaster; most of them are buried in the churchyard at Whitby.

Also in 1914, Whitby was shelled by Germanmarker battlecruisers Von der Tann and Derfflinger, aiming for the signal post on the end of the headland. Scarboroughmarker and Hartlepoolmarker were also attacked. Whitby Abbey sustained considerable damage during the attack, which lasted only 10 minutes. The attack on Whitby was the final assault on the Yorkshire coast. The German squadron responsible for the strike was able to escape without capture despite an attempt made by the Royal Navy. The Navy reported poor visibility and signalling as a determining factor.

Present-day Whitby

Whitby and the River Esk
The modern Port of Whitby, strategically placed for shipping to Europe, with very good proximity to the Scandinavian countries, is capable of handling a wide range of cargoes, including grain, steel products, timber and potash. Vessels of up to 3,000 tonnes DWT are received on a routine basis at the Wharf, which has the capability of loading/unloading two ships simultaneously. of dock space is currently (2004) allocated for storage of all-weather cargo and a further of warehouse space is reserved for weather-critical goods storage.

The town is served by Whitby railway stationmarker which forms the terminus of the Esk Valley Linemarker from Middlesbroughmarker, formerly the northern terminus of the Whitby, Pickeringmarker and Yorkmarker line. Whitby is also served by the Yorkshire Coastliner bus line (which can take travellers to and from Leedsmarker, Tadcastermarker, Yorkmarker, Scarboroughmarker, Bridlingtonmarker, Pickeringmarker, Maltonmarker and many more towns in Yorkshiremarker) and the Arriva bus company, which runs services connecting Whitby to Scarborough and Middlesbrough.

The town was awarded "Best Seaside Resort 2006", by Which? Holiday magazine.

The town's college, Whitby Community College was granted specialist school status in September 2002, specialising in Technology.

Whitby has a fish market on the quayside which operates as need and opportunity arise. The ready supply of fresh fish has resulted in an abundance of "chippies" in the town, including the Magpie Cafemarker which Rick Stein has described as the best fish and chip shop in Britain.

Local schools

There are several schools within Whitby:

Primary schools:

St Hilda's Roman Catholic Primary School

Stakesby Community Primary School

West Cliff Primary School

Whitby, Airy Hill Community Primary School

Whitby, East Whitby Community Primary School

Secondary schools:

Eskdale School

Caedmon School

Community colleges:

Whitby Community College[25563]

Independent Schools:

Fyling Hallmarker School[25564]

Functional English Christian Language School, (School demolished early 2008 and flats now stand on the land.)

West Cliff

Jet Mourning Jewelry
West Cliff has its own landmarks — a statue of Captain James Cook, who served his apprenticeship in the town, and a whalebone arch, commemorating the once large whaling industry. There is also a new science museumWhitby Wizardmarker. The whalebone arch is the second to stand on this spot; the original (a larger version) is now preserved in Whitby Archives Heritage Centre. By the inner harbour, next to the tourist information office, there is also a statue commemorating William Scoresby, inventor of the crow's nest.

Whitby jet

The black mineraloid, jet, the fossilized remains of decaying wood,specifically that of the Monkey Puzzle Tree, is found in the cliffs around Whitby, and has been used since the Bronze Age to make beads and other jewellery. The Romans mined jet extensively, and Whitby jet was at the peak of its popularity in the mid-19th century, especially after it was favoured as mourning jewellery by Queen Victoria and the manufacture of jewellery from locally mined jet was one of Whitby's main industries.

Whitby Museummarker holds a large collection on the archaeological and social history of jet. It also displays a "Hand of Glory".

Whitby and literature

Whitby from St. Mary's Churchyard
One unusual feature of Whitby is the Dracula Museum. Part of Bram Stoker's famous novel was set in Whitby, describing Dracula's arrival in Britain on a ship washed ashore in the harbour, and how Lucy watched from the churchyard as the sun set over the nearby headland of Kettleness, but did not know how many steps she climbed to get there. Stoker's story incorporated various pieces of Whitby folklore, including the beaching of the Russianmarker ship Dmitri, which became the basis of Demeter in the book. Furthermore, it was at the public library in Whitby that Stoker discovered the name "Dracula."

The novel Caedmon's Song by Peter Robinson plays in Whitby. Whitby also features significantly in the novel Possession, by A. S. Byatt. Michel Faber's novel, The Hundred and Ninety Nine Steps is set in Whitby. Whitby is prominently featured in The Resurrectionists, by Kim Wilkins. Robin Jarvis has written The Whitby Witches, a trilogy of children's fantasy novels set in Whitby, that borrow from bits of local folklore. Paul Magrs's series of novels following the neighbouring spinsters "Brenda and Effie" — Never the Bride, Something Borrowed, Conjugal Rites — are set almost exclusively in Whitby. The 2008 anthology Fabulous Whitby edited by S. Thomason and Liz Williams is a collection of fantasy stories, all set in Whitby.

The novelist Storm Jameson (1891–1986) came from Whitby but spent most of her life in London.


Whitby Regatta occurs once a year for three days in August. Originally a local rowing competition, over the years it has expanded to include events such as a large fair stretching along the pier, police demonstrations, fireworks and military displays - including the spectacle of the Red Arrowsmarker, provided that the weather is good.

Rowing still forms a major part of the weekend and races take place over three days between three old rival clubs - Whitby Friendship ARC, Whitby Fishermen's ARC and Scarborough ARC.

Each year, on the eve of Ascension Day, the Penny Hedge ceremony is performed.

For over four decades the town has hosted the Whitby Folk Week, which currently includes around 600 different events in various venues.

Whitby also hosts the bi-annual Whitby Gothic Weekend, a festival for members of the Goth subculture.

"Whitby Now" has been, since 1991, an annual spectacular presentation of live music in the Whitby Pavilion. Originally planned by local musician Mark Liddell, the event has continued to grow in size and popularity.

Cities twinned with Whitby

See also


  1. Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, ed. J. McClure and R. Collins (Oxford University Press 1994), pp. 150-151.
  2. The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England ed. Michael Lapidge et al. (Blackwell 1999), pp.155, 472.
  3. About Whitby Community College (Official website)
  4. Whitby - Fishing
  5. Restaurant review, Daily Telegraph, 23 September 2006
  6. Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula: A Facsimile Edition by Robert Eighteen-Bisang & Elizabeth Miller (McFarland, 2008), p. 244-46.
  7. 14-15 Nov: Whitby Now, Whitby Pavilion (North Yorkshire County Council website)

Further reading

  • Malcolm Barker - Essence of Whitby (2006) ISBN 1-90508-011-5
  • Rosalin Barker - The Book Of Whitby (1990) ISBN 0 86023 462 2
  • Colin Platt - Whitby Abbey (1985) ISBN 1 85074 456 4
  • Cordelia Stamp - Whitby Pictorial Memories (2006) ISBN 1 85937 491 3
  • Colin Waters - A History of Whitby's Pubs, Inns and Taverns (1992) ISBN 0 95192 380 3
  • Colin Waters - Whitby, A Pictorial History (1992) ISBN 0 85033 848 4
  • Colin Waters - Whitby Then and Now (2004) ISBN 0 75243 301 6
  • Andrew White - A History of Whitby (2004) ISBN 1-86077-306-0

External links

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