WHITBY: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1834.


"WHITBY, is a market town, township and sea-port, and created a parliamentary borough, by the Reform Bill, in the parish of its name, and in the liberty of Whitby strand, North Riding, 244 miles N. by W. from London, 113 n.n.e from Manchester, 48 n.n.e. from the city of York, 21 n. from Pickering, and 20 n.n.w. from Scarborough. The river Esk, which falls here into the German ocean, divides the town into two parts, nearly equal, connected by a draw-bridge, now rebuilding on an improved plan. The largest and best division of the town is on the west side, but the most ancient and interesting on the east. Here, and in part of the western division, the houses rise from the brink of the river to the margin of a steep cliff, in a crowded but picturesque form. On the summit of the east cliff stands the parish church, originally a plain Norman building, but, having been frequently altered and enlarged, now exhibits various styles of architecture. Behind this, in a more elevated and rather bleak situation, are the interesting ruins of Whitby abbey ; adjacent to which, is a mansion house of Colonel George Cholmley, lord of the manor. Between the abbey and the shore, on the highest part of the cliff, which presents a bold front towards the sea, there are traces of ancient streets and buildings. Here a Roman town is supposed to have stood, most probably the Dunum Sinus of Ptolemy, which is allowed to have been in this part of Yorkshire ; and this name, which signifies Fort Bay, or Tower Bay, corresponds with the Saxon name Streonesheale, or Streoneshalh, which, according to the venerable Bede, has the same meaning. The abbey of Streoneshalh was founded by Lady Hilda, A.D. 658, under the patronage of Oswy, King of Northumbria ; but was utterly destroyed by the Danes in 867. It was restored after the Norman conquest, about which period, or a little before, the place began to be known by its modern name, originally spelled Whytebye, or Whitebye, i.e. White village. The remains of the abbey have been much mutilated, by the hand of time, within the last fifty years, particularly in 1830, when the great central tower fell with a tremendous crash, on the day before the death of King George the Fourth. In the older parts of the town the streets are generally narrow, and the houses indifferent ; but on the western side are some handsome streets, and many elegant and stately mansions. The public buildings, in addition to those already mentioned, are few, and of recent erection. The gas house, situate in Church street, is a handsome fabric, erected in 1825 ; the town since that time being lighted with gas. The bath house, situate on the Quay, was founded in the same year. It is a large and elegant building, of three stories ; the first, containing commodious baths ; the second, an extensive subscription library ; and the third, a well stored museum. The latter, which belongs to the Whitby library and philosophical society, contains, among other things, a most valuable collection of those fossil organic remains, for which Whitby has long been celebrated. There is a neat and commodious news room in Haggers gate, which was founded in 1814. Amongst the public buildings may be mentioned the new light-house, erected at the end of the western pier of Whitby harbour, under the immediate superintendence, and from a design, of Mr. Francis Pickernell, civil engineer. It is a Grecian Doric column, springing from a rusticated basement. The base is surrounded by beautiful cast iron palisades, and the height of the whole edifice, to the top of the vane, is eighty-one feet six inches. The light room is octagonal, with a domed roof, which is surmounted with a gilded ball, and vane-staff, on which are placed the cardinal points of the compass. The ascent to the balcony and light-room is by a flight of circular stone stairs, consisting of eight-four steps, which are lighted by six loop-holes in the fluted shaft of the column. The lamps are four in number, furnished with argand burners, and the reflectors are parabolic and very powerful, placed at the height of 83 feet above the medium level of the sea, and consequently may be seen at the distance of 15 nautical miles. The foundation stone of this elegant and useful structure was laid by the late Richard Moorsom, Esq. chairman of the trustees of the Pursand harbour, on the 27th of April, 1831 ; and the building was completed in the short space of three months. On the night of the 5th of October, in the same year, it was lighted up for the first time. We cannot, in this place, omit noticing the piers of this port ; the western one, in particular, is, perhaps, without a parallel in England. From the spacious Quay, near the battery, it runs into the sea in a north-easterly direction, a thousand feet in length, thus forming one of the most delightful promenades imaginable, being rather more than one third of a mile from the commencement of the Quay to the end of the pier. The extremity is between seventy and eighty feet broad, and is finished with a parapet, in which are embrazures for mounting eight cannons. In the port an ingenious tide guage is also placed, which was constructed by Mr. Jonathan Pickernell, the grandfather of the present engineer. The new stone bridge, now in progress of erection, will consist of three arches, with a cast iron swivel bridge, for the purpose of admitting vessels into the harbour above it. It will be 172 feet in length, and 22 in breadth. The plan was furnished by the same talented engineer who designed the light-house, and the contractors are Messrs. Cravens', of the city of York. The government of the town is vested in a bench of magistrates, or justices, for the North Riding, who hold their sittings every Tuesday and Saturday at their office in Flower gate ; and the lord of the manor holds a court leet annually about Michaelmas, and a court of pleas for the recovery of small debts every third Monday ; these courts are held in the town hall, a substantial building of the Tuscan order, situate in the Market place. The Reform Bill conferred upon Whitby the privilege of sending one member to parliament : the first and present member is Aaron Chapman, Esq. The number of voters, at the election in 1832, amounted to about four hundred. The new Boundary Act (an appendage to the Reform Bill), defines the limits of the borough to comprise the several townships of Whitby, Ruswarp, and Hawsker-cum-Stainsacre, which collectively contained, at the last census in 1831, 10,399 inhabitants. The same act appoints Whitby one of the stations for receiving votes at the election of members to represent the North Riding of the county.

The wealth of Whitby is principally derived from its shipping ; from 250 to 300 vessels of various sizes belong to the port, with an aggregate tonnage of 50,000, and above 2,500 registered seamen. Few of these vessels are employed in the trade of Whitby itself; the principal part being engaged in the commerce of London, Hull, Bristol and Liverpool, and not a few in the coal trade. At one period about twenty large ships were employed in the Greenland fishery --- at present there are only two. Whitby has long been noted for ship and boat building, rope making, and canvass manufacture ; and the making of alum was formerly carried on in the vicinity to a great extent, and furnished much employment to shipping. The principal works, now, are those belonging to the Earl of Mulgrave. Some of these sources of gain having greatly declined since the termination of the French war, the inhabitants are laudably exerting themselves in endeavouring to revive and extend the trade of the port by opening a better communication with the interior, by means of a railway from Whitby to Pickering, an undertaking commenced in September, 1833.

Whitby contains eleven places of public worship ; those under the establishment are the parish church before-mentioned, which is dedicated to St. Mary ; and a chapel of ease in Baxter gate. The living of Whitby is a perpetual curacy, in the gift of the Archbishop of York, and incumbency of the Rev. James Andrew. The Rev. F.S.Pope is the curate of the chapel. There are four chapels belonging to the different denominations of methodists ; and the independents, unitarians, presbyterians, society of friends, and Roman catholics, have one chapel each. There are several charitable institutions in Whitby, amongst which, the seamen's hospital, is the most ancient, having taken its rise in the year 1676 : it is situate in Church street, and although not an architectural ornament to the town, is eminently useful in its purpose, as affording a comfortable asylum for forty-two widows of seamen. The public school-house, on the Mount, is a plain, but substantial structure, founded in 1821, containing schools for boys and girls, who are instructed on the British plan. There are other charities of minor importance, some of which are conducted by benevolent ladies ; and in Church street is a dispensary for the gratuitous relief of the sick poor. The hills near Whitby, to the south and west, are wild and moorish, but the vale of the Esk, and the dales which open into it, are fertile and pleasant, as is the country immediately adjacent to the town. The coast is bold and romantic, and in many parts of the neighbourhood the scenery is of a very picturesque character. The market is held on Saturday, and the annual fairs on the 25th of August and Martinmas day. The parish of Whitby contained, in 1821, 12,584 inhabitants, and at the census taken in 1831, the number decreased to 11,725 : at the last mentioned period the population of the township of Whitby amounted to 7,765, being fewer by 932 persons than it contained in the preceding census of 1821, and only 282 more than were returned for it in 1801."

[Transcribed by Steve Garton ©2000 from
Pigot's directory (Yorkshire section) 1834]