History of Whitby



Home Page

James Cook


William Scoresby Snr.

Robert Elliot Pannett

Abraham Stoker

Frank Sutcliffe

Web whitby.manymore.net

Where the River Esk reaches the North Sea, after crossing the North Yorkshire Moors, the ancient seaport and the modern holiday resort of Whitby has grown to a town of 14,000 plus, inhabitants. The East side, with its narrow winding streets and Fishermen's cottages surmounted by the abbey, is perhaps more steeped in history than the relativley modern West side. The town is rightly proud of its association with famous men and its close links with the sea, which show the development and natural decline of such industries as Whaling, Shipbuilding, Sailmaking, and Ropemaking, all of which brought much prosperity to Whitby in their hey-day.

It is impossible to elaborate on the historical detail and customs of the town in so short a space, but one ceromony takes place yearly on the morning of Ascension Eve, at approximatley 9 o'clock, and dates from 1159. It is said that Norman noblemen killed a hermit who had given sanctuary to a wounded wild boar they were hunting. Dying, the hermit was said to have forgiven them, but the Abbot of Whitby ordered that, as a penance, they should erect a hedge every year on the mud of Whitby Harbour, using a penny knife, or forfeit their lands. Since then the penance has been faithfully carried out.

Of more lasting implication was the Synod of Whitby. It was in Whitby that monks representing the Celtic Church, and those accepting the rule of Rome, met in 664AD, to discuss variations in church customs, notably methods of fixing the date of Easter. The system they decided upon is the one in use today.

More than a thousand years later, when Whitby had become an important whaling centre, James Cook, (1728 - 1779) born in the village of Marton, near Middlesbrough, and formerly apprenticed to a draper in Staithes, 11 miles North, was apprenticed to a local shipping firm. He lodged with his master in Grape lane. Later, he joined the Royal Navy and it is as Captain Cook, that the world still knows him today. He charted the coast of New Zealand and the Eastern coast of Australia. He was one of the greatest surveyers, as well as one of the finest sailors and explorers of all time. He learned his craft in Whitby vessels trading in the Baltic, and two of the vessels he used on his long voyages - Resolution and Endeavour were Whitby built. A bronze statue of the famous circumnavigator was erected on the West Cliff and unveiled by Admiral Lord Beresford, on 2nd October 1912.

Two other remarkable but less well known navigators from Whitby, were William Scoresby and his son, (also called William). Their interest was primarily in Whaling but they made careful observations of Arctic phenomena and invented several nautical instruments. The father (1760-1829) pushed further through the pack-ice in 1806 than anyone before; and Scoresby Land in east Greenland, and Scoresby Sound, are named after the son.

Robert Elliot Pannett (1834 - 1920), a Whitby solicitor, spent his life in local government and in service to his fellow townspeople. After 22 years as Clerk to the District Local Board he became a County Councillor and later Alderman. He was a J.P., a Director of Whitby and North Yorkshire Building Society, Chairman of Whitby Waterworks, a life Governor of the Cottage Hospital and a supporter of many charities.

When Pannett learned that Chubb Hill Estate, then market gardens, was for sale, he bought it to give to the town. In his will he arranged for it to become a public park and the site for a building to house his collection of works of art, for which he provided an endowment. The park occupies a sloping, well-landscaped site overlooking the town and harbour, with views accross to the abbey and parish church. With the art gallery and museum, the park forms a haven for locals and visitors alike.

Abraham Stoker, was born in Dublin in 1847, the son of a civil servant, he graduated at Trinity College in 1870 and entered the Irish Civil Service as an Inspector of Petty Sessions. Through his spare time activities as theatre critic on the Dublin Mail he met the actor Sir Henry Irving and in 1878 joined him as General manager of the Irving company at the Lyceum Theatre in London. He remained in this post until Irving's death in 1905.

During a busy career Stoker found time to write a dozen books and many short stories and articles for magazines. His most successful work by far was Dracula, Published in 1897, the fruits of a life long interest in the supernatural. An instant success during Stokers lifetime, Dracula, gradually became a fascination for a worldwide public in the decades following his death in 1912.

Although only three chapters of the novel are set in Whitby, they form one of the most powerful evocations of a Victorian resort anywhere in literature - a perfect parallel of the magnificent photographs which Frank Meadow Sutcliffe took of the town during that precise period. While Stoker never visited Transylvania, he clearly knew and loved Whitby.

Today Whitby offers the visitor more than history; its situation is superb in the middle of one of Britains most delightful stretches of coast, with cliffs and bays interspersed with some quant fishing villages. The magnificent Abbey may now be a ruin, but the parish church of St Mary, dating from 1110, and reached by the famous 199 steps, is still very much part of the town.

  Home Page Contact me:

Updated 12/03/21