We’ve just got back from a family holiday with our adult offspring in Whitby on the Yorkshire coast. The first time I’ve been there even though it’s not so far away and we’ve often been quite close when we’ve visited our relatives up in Sunderland.
The weather was mixed, so unlike last year’s break in Lyme Regis we didn’t have long days of warm sunshine. But we didn’t have any days when it rained all day. Although we took it relatively easy, we kept ourselves busy with fossil hunting, visiting museums, hanging around the sea front and harbour and even managed a walk along the coastal path.
The small port and resort is located at the mouth of the River Esk, which cuts through high Jurassic cliffs.
The town developed following the establishment of an Anglo Saxon monastery high up on the East Cliff in 656 by Oswy, the Christian king of Northumbria. The Synod of Whitby , which established the dominance of the Roman Church over the Celtic tradition, was held there in 664. Inevitably a settlement grew up nearby on both sides of the river.
The original Anglo Saxon monastery was destroyed between 867 and 870, probably as a result of raids by Vikings from Denmark, and the site was deserted until the foundation of a Benedictine monastery some 200 years later after the Norman Conquest. (The same story as at Lindisfarne and Montrose which we visited back in April). Originally there was a Romanesque structure which was replaced by a Gothic building which was constructed over a protracted period between the 13th and 15th Centuries. It’s in ruins today, of course, and under the stewardship of English Heritage.
Part of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was set in Whitby.
Bram Stoker …… stayed in a house on the West Cliff and was trying to decide whether it would be suitable for a family holiday. (BBC)
The Dementer, the ship carrying Dracula ran aground, its crew missing, its dead skipper lashed to the wheel was wrecked on Tate Hill Sands, below the East Cliff (his inspiration for this was the beaching of a Russian ship, the Dmitry, on the sands in 1885). In the guise of a black hound, he ran up the 199 steps up to the top of the East Cliff and the Abbey after the shipwreck. One of the novel’s characters, and Dracula’s victim, Lucy Westenra, was attacked by the Count in St Mary’s Churchyard, the Parish Church that stands in the shadow of the Abbey.
Today, industry has declined (although some shipbuilding and repairs still take place), and it is mainly a holiday resort. But the town has been quite savvy in building on it’s association with Dracula holding Goth and Steampunk weekends and other themed events.
Although it’s in an isolated position on the coast to the east of the North Yorkshire Moors, and would have been difficult to reach overland in the past, before the Industrial Revolution, communication was largely by sea and Whitby was in a good position on the main sea route along the east coast. It’s harbour was a safe haven for ships transporting goods, particularly coal, from the north east to London.
Until relatively recently it was very much an industrial town with alum quarries on nearby cliffs and shipbuilding was a major industry – it’s hard to believe that in the 18th century it was the third largest shipbuilding port in England. Not surprisingly it was a fishing port and in the mid 18th century it also became a centre for whaling.
Whitby developed as a spa town in Georgian times and tourism really took off in the mid 19th Century with the arrival of the railway. This led to development on top of the West Cliff.
Looking up to the Abbey ruins and the Parish Church on the East Cliff
The Abbey ruins from the churchyard
The Abbey shrouded in mist – better watch out for vampires!
The 199 steps up tot he Parish Church and Abbey
Looking down the steps into the narrow streets of the town.
Looking over to the West cliff from the churchyard
The whalebone arch, a monument to the town’s past as a whaling port
The monument to James Cook, who, as an apprentice seafarer, was based in the town
We stayed in an excellent three storey property – Little Whitehall.
It was a new build Georgian style house built in the grounds of a large Georgian house – Whitehall – which was originally the home of one of the towns major shipbuilders. It stood on the hill immediately above the shipyard so the owner could keep an eye on what was going on! Today the shipyard is no more and blocks of apartments have been built on the site
Another good, relaxing holiday, but, as usual, we kept ourselves busy. So plenty to write up!