WHITBY: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1835.


"WHITBY, a parish in the liberty of WHITBYSTRAND, North riding of the county of YORK, comprising the sea-port and market-town of Whitby, and the townships of Aislaby, Eskdale-Side, Hawsker cum Stainsacre, Newholin cum Dunsley, Ruswarp, and Ugglesbarnby, and containing 12,331 inhabitants, of which number, 8697 are in the town of Whitby, 48 miles N.N.E. from York, and 241 N.W. from London. This place was originally called by the Saxons Streoneshalh, which Bede translates Sinus-fari, the bay of the lighthouse, or tower, probably from a tower built there by the Romans. At the time of the Conquest, either from. the colour of the houses, or from its conspicuous situation, it was called Whitteby, or the White Town, of which its present name is a contraction; and a certain portion of the town, or an appendage belonging to it, was then called Prestby, or Priests' Town. Its origin may be ascribed to the monastery founded by Oswy, Kingof. Northumberland, in fulfilment of a vow which he made in 655, prior to his encountering Penda, King of Mercia, who had invaded his dominions, and whom he defeated and killed. In fulfilment of the same vow, his daughter JSlfleda became a nun in this monastery, which was placed under the superintendence of Hilda, grand niece of Edwin, King of Northumber-. land, who, in 658, came from Hartlepool to commence this establishment, of which she was made the first abbess. A National synod, at which Oswy presided, was held here in 664, for the regulation of some minor observances in ecclesiastical affairs, about which considerable differences at that time prevailed. Under Lady Hilda, and her successor JSlfleda, the monastery became celebrated as a seat of learning, where several bishops and many eminent men received their education; and several cells, or smaller convents', were erected as appendages to the abbey, of which the principal was that of Hackness, founded, in 679, by Hilda, who died in the following year, and whose virtues subsequently obtained for her the honour of canonization. The Danes, in 867, completely destroyed the monastery, laid waste the town, and massacred the inhabitants with the most horrible barbarity; the abbot previously escaped, and is said to have carried with him the relics of St. Hilda to Glastonbury; but so complete was the devastation of these merciless invaders, that the town remained in ruins till its ancient name was lost. Towards the close' of the Saxon period, Whitby began to revive, and at the time of the Conquest had become so considerable, that the manor, including its dependencies, was valued in the Norman survey at £112, being the richest in the north-east part of the county of York. The Conqueror granted the site of the town and monastery to his nephew, Hugh, Earl of Chester, who assigned it to William de Percy, by whose assistance the monastery was rebuilt by Reinfrid, a Benedictine monk from the abbey of Eveshani, soon after 1074. William de Percy afterwards endowed it with two hundred and forty acres of land, and its revenues were subsequently augmented by the Earl of Chester, who also granted it a charter conferring many privileges. After having been plundered and greatly injured by a band of pirates, it was again restored and dedicated to St. Peter and St. Hilda, by William de Percy, who appointed his brother Serlo prior. The monastery, notwithstanding the repeated attacks of pirates, to which it was continually exposed, increased in wealth and importance; it was constfc tuted an abbey by Henry I., its privileges were greatly extended by royal charters and pontifical decrees, and it continued to nourish till the dissolution, at which period its revenue was £437. 2. 9. Tradition relates that Robin Hood and Little John paid a visit to Richard de Waterville, who was then abbot, and, to give a proof of their dexterity in archery, shot each of them an arrow from the tower of the abbey to the distance of more than a mile; and that pillars were erected by the1 abbot on the spots where the arrows fell, to commemorate the event. The enclosures are still' called Robin Hood and Little John's fields; and "about six miles from the town" is Robin Hood's bay, where that celebrated outlaw is said to have kept a small fleet, to assist his escape when pursued by an enemy. The town is situated on the shore of the German: ocean, at the mouth of the river Esk, by which it is divided into two nearly equal parts, and consists of several streets, of which the greater number are. nar-' row, and some steep; the houses are partly of stone and partly of brick, and several of the modern buildings, of both kinds, are spacious and elegant it is paved under the provisions of an act of parliament obtained in 1789, and is lighted with gas from the works of a company established in 1825. The-approaches have been greatly improved; the environs; in which are many gentlemen's seats and pleasant villas, abound with pleasing and picturesque scenery, and the view of the town derives considerable, beautyfrom the ruins of the abbey on the east bank of the river. A handsome stone building of three stories was erected by subscription on the north pier, in 18C26, of which the lower story is occupied by baths with spacious ante-rooms, dressing-rooms, and every requisite accommodation; the middle, or principal, story is occupied by the public subscription library, established in 1776; and the upper story by the museum of the Literary and Philosophical Society, instituted hi 1823. The museum contains an extensive collection of petrifactions and fossil organic remains, which abound in the rocks of the vicinity, especially in the alum rock. The fossils form a rich variety of plants; shells, and fishes, including some animals of the larger size, among which are the ichthyosaurus, or- lizard fish, and. the plesiosaurus. The finest specimen in the collection, and perhaps the noblest fossil in the wbrldj is the great crocodile found in the alum rock neat Whitby, in 1824; it is nearly entire, and, when alive, must have measured eighteen feet in length. There are also several varieties of the ammonitae, or snake stones, which are found here in, great abundance, and are fabled tohave been snakes deprived of their heads, and petrified by St. Hilda; three white snakes on a blue shield were the ancient arms of the abbots of Whitby. A botanic garden was established on the east side of Green-lane, in 1812, but not meeting with a sufficient degree of support, it has fallen' into decay. A handsome news-room was erected by subscription, in Haggersgate, in 1814, and a tradesmen's news-room was also established on the opposite side of the river. A commodious theatre was built by subscription in 1784, but it was destroyed by fire in 1823, and has. not been since rebuilt. Assemblies are held in a handsome room forming part of the Angel Inn. The origin of the commercial prosperity and consequent importance ofWhitby may be attributed to the discovery of the alum mines in the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth. Early in the seventeenth century these mines were worked, and very soon became the source of an extensive trade, of which the necessary supply of coal requisite for conducting the works formed an additional branch; ship-building was introduced about thirty years after, and great improvements were made in the harbour by removing rocks and other' obstructions. In 1632 the Burgess pier was constructed, principally through the exertions of Sir Hugh Cholmeley, under whose sanction, a subscription of £500 was raised for promoting the work, and the town began to assume a considerable degree of maritime importance. An act of parliament was obtained in 1702, imposing certain dues for the improvement of the piers and harbour, which, being in force only for a limited time, was, on its expiration, renewed from time to time, with certain modifications, till 1827, when it was made perpetual. The duties collected under the authority of this act consist of a halfpenny per chaldron (Newcastle measure) on all coal shipped at that port and at Suriderland, with their dependencies, and of some trifling payments on coal, grain, salt, and other commodities delivered in the harbour. By these means the piers and the harbour have been very greatly improved; the former, with the exception of those at Ramsgate, are perhaps the finest in England. The West pier is six hundred and twenty yards in length, and terminates with a circular head, which has been principally rebuilt during the last seasonj and oh which it is contemplated to erect a lighthouse, seventy feet high. The east pier, which is two hundred and fifteen yards long, is also terminated with a substantial circular head, and there are two inner piers to break the force of the waves in stormy weatherj the Burgess pier, one hundred and five, and the Fish pier, sixty-five, yards in length. The drawbridge, which crosses the river Esk, was completed in 1767, at an expense of £3000, and will allow vessels of six hundred tons' burden to pass into the inner harbour, which is capable of receiving a large fleet, and affords secure shelter in stormy weather; adjoining the inner harbour are spacious dock-yards, and commodious dry docks for the building and repairing of ships. Ship-building was carried on here to a very considerable extent in the time of the late war, during which the extensive demand for transports was a source of great emolument to the shipbuilders and owners; but the return of peace, an alteration in the navigation laws, and other causes, have occasioned the decline of this trade, and of aU the branches connected with it. During that period seven large dock-yards were in active operation, and "ship-building was the principal trade of the town; at present only four of them are partially employed, and the prosperity of the town and the amount of its population have consequently decreased. During the last three years, twentysix ships have been built and registered here, exclusively of several which have been registered at otherports; the larger vessels belonging to the port are employed in the foreign trade, and' the smaller coastwise, especially in the coal trade. The Greenland and Davis' Straits fisheries, which formerly were of great benefit to the town, ' and, in 1819, employed twelve large ships, at present employ only one; and the manufacture of alum, which once constituted a principal branch of the trade, has also very much declined; several of the works have been discontinued, and those which are still carried on are not in full operation. The works at Kettleness were totally destroyed, in December, 1829, by the falling of the rock under which they were situated, but. are now being rebuilt. The export trade in alum to France, Holland, and other parts of the continent, was formerly very considerable, but it has long been extinct, and the principal part of the. alum now manufactured is sent coastwise to London, Hull, and other towns.. The sailcloth manufactured at Whitby is in great repute, but the quantity, though still considerable, is, from the decline of the port, much diminished. The fishery on the coast, which formed originally the principal employment of the inhabitants, was very much injured by the late war, which afforded more ad? vantageous opportunities for the employment of capital and labour.; The fish generally taken are cod, ling, halibut, and haddocks; salmon and salmon-trout have been very scarce for several years, though at one time they were plentiful in the Esk, and were a considerable article of trade; salmon-trout has been lately taken on the coast by a particular method of fishing, and some- times in considerable quantities. Oats, butter, and bacon, were formerly sent to London in great cargoes, but this trade also has been much reduced within the last twenty years. The foreign exports are inconsiderable: the principal imports are timber from British America and timber, wooden wares, hemp, and flax, from' the Baltic. The principal article sent coastwise is freestone, of which great quantities are procured, for the erection of "different public works in various parts of the kingdom, from the quarries at Aislaby, about three miles from the town; the chief articles brought coastwise are groceries, salt, and coal. The number of vessels belonging to the port is two hundred and fiftynine, being an aggregate burden of forty-one thousand nine hundred and fifty-three tons: four hundred and twenty-nine vessels entered inwards, and two hundred and ten "cleared outwards, during the year ending January 5th, 1831. The depth of water in the harbour in common neap tides is about ten feet, and in spring tides from fifteen to sixteen feet, and sometimes more. The great swell occasioned by tempestuous weather renders the harbour difficult of access, and many disastrous accidents had occurred before it attained its present state of security. In November, 1710, the shipping was greatly damaged by a violent storm, in which it suffered injury to the amount of £40,000; and in the night of the 24th of. December, 1787, a newly erected quay, on which was a range of houses, eighty feet above the level of the sea, from the insecurity of the foundation, suddenly fell, involving the greater number of them in one common ruin, leav- ing one hundred and ninety-six families, who had been forewarned of their danger in time to escape, destitute of a home. The custom-house is a commodious building in Sandgate; a small office for the governor of the pilots has been erected on the pier; and there are four marine associations for mutual insurance. Whitby is a station for the preventive coast guard; and regular trading vessels to and from London, Hull, and Newcastle, sail from two wharfs in Church-street. The market, granted by Henry VI., is held on Saturday; and there are fairs on the 25th of August and on Martinmas-day; the former was granted,-in 1168, by Henry II., to the abbot, but they are both inconsiderable. The town is under the superintendence of the magistrates of the North riding, who meet every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. A court for the recovery of small debts, every third Monday, and a court leet, annually at. Michaelmas, are held in the town hall, a substantial building of the Tuscan order, situated in the market-place, and erected, in 1788, by Nathaniel Cholmeley, Esq. During what was called the equal representation of the people, in the time of the Commonwealth, Whitby was summoned to send members to parliament, but it does not appear to have ever exercised that privilege under a monarchy. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the archdeaconry of Cleveland, and diocese of York, endowed with £50 per annum and £200 private benefaction, and £1500 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Archbishop of York. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, is supposed to have been built by William de Percy; but it has undergone so much alteration that little of the original structure remains. It is situated on the summit, and near the verge, of a high cliff, and is approached by one hundred and ninety-one stone steps; six hundred new sittings, of which three hundred are free, kave been recently added, partly by a grant of £300 from the Incorporated Society for enlarging churches and chapels. In the western division of the town is a neat chapel of ease, erected in 1778. There are two places of worship forWesleyan Methodists, and one each for the Society of Friends, Independents, Presbyterians, Primitive Methodists, Unitarians, and Roman Catholics. The Lancasterian schools are in a large handsome building in Cliff-lane, which will contain five hundred children; it is divided into separate schools for boys and girls. The dispensary was established in 1786. The Seamen's hospital, erected in 1676, affords a comfortable asylum to forty-two seamen's widows and their children: there are numerous small benefactions and donations applied annually to the relief of the poor, and several societies for administering to their wants, principally formed by the ladies. The remains of Whitby abbey, which stand a small distance from the church, on a cliff two hundred feet above the level of the sea, present one of the most interesting ruins in the country, and consist of the choir, or eastern part of the church; the north transept, which is nearly entire j and considerable portions of the north wall of the nave, and of the western wall, or front, of the building; the beauty of these ruins has been much impaired by the fall of the central tower, one hundred and four feet high, on the 25th of June, 1830, occasioned by one of the four massive clustered columns by which it was supported having given way. About half a mile west of the pier is a chalybeate spring, celebrated formerly, when baths existed near the spotj but the latter have been demolished, and the formeV has fallen into disuse. The neighbourhood abounds with petrifactions, which have been frequently investigated by learned naturalists and other scientific enquirers, and are particularly described in Young's "Geological Survey of the Yorkshire Coast." Some lands near Whitby are still held by the tenure formerly called Horngarth, thought to be that now called the Penny Hedge: this service, which is supposed to have been originally intended for the repairs of the quays and piers of the harbour, at that time constructed of wood, with stones thrown in between, is still continued-by a family of the name of Herbert j it consists in the erection of a small hedge of stake and yether in the harbour, on the eve of Ascension-day."

"AISLABY, (or AYSLEYBY,) a chapelry in that part of the parish of WHITBY, which is in the eastern division of the liberty of LANGBAURGH, North riding of the county of YORK, 3 miles W.S.W. from Whitby, containing 253 inhabitants. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the archdeaconry of Cleveland, and diocese of York, endowed with £200 private benefaction, and £800 royal bounty, and in the patronage of Mrs. Boulby."

"DUNSLEY, a township, joint with Newholm, in the parish of WHITBY, liberty of WHITBY-STRAND, North riding of the county of YORK, 3 miles W. from Whitby, containing 259 inhabitants. From this place a Roman road, now called Wade's causeway, runs for many miles over the moors to York; it is paved with flints, and has been traced twelve feet wide and three high, with a defaced milliary on it."

"ESKDALESIDE, a chapelry in the parish of WHITBY, liberty of WHITBY-STRAND, North riding of the county of YORK, 5 miles S.W. from Whitby, containing 395 inhabitants. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the archdeaconry of Cleveland, and diocese of York, endowed with £24. 13. 4. per annum and £1400 private benefaction, £800 royal bounty, and £1800 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Rev. William Walker. The old chapel being ruinous, a new and very elegant one on a different site was built, in 1767, at the expense of Robert Bower, Esq., Tabitha, his wife, and Mrs. Gertrude Burdett, her sister; they likewise built the parsonage-house, and endowed the living. The ancient chapel is said to have been erected more than five hundred years before, by Roger, abbot of Whitby. Eskdale-side is situated on the river Esk, and composes one side of a fine valley; the ground rises gradually from the river, the higher land forming part of some of the highest moors in Yorkshire. There are large quarries of freestone, besides an abundance of alum rock, which was once extensively worked; there are also numerous springs, most of them containing alum and iron.r In the reign of John a small priory was founded at this place."

"HAWSKER, a township, joint with Stainsiker, in the parish of WHITBY, liberty of WHITBY-STRAND, North riding of the county of YORK, 3 miles S.E. from Whitby, containing 634 inhabitants."

"NEWHOLM, a township, joint with Dunsley, in the parish of WHITBY, liberty of WHITBY-STRAND, North riding of the county of YORK, 2 miles W. from Whitby, containing, with Dunsley, 259 inhabitants."

"RUSWARP, a township in the parish of WHITBY, liberty of WHITBY-STRAND, North riding of the county of YORK, 1 mile S.S.W. from Whitby, containing 1918 inhabitants. There is a handsome suspension bridge across the river Esk."

"STAINSIKER, or STAINSACRE, a township, joint with Hawsker, in the parish of WHITBY, liberty of WHITBY-STRAND, North riding of the county of YORK, 1 mile S.E. from Whitby. The population is returned with Hawsker."

"UGGLEBARNBY, a chapelry in the parish of WHITBY, liberty of WHITBY-STRAND, North riding of the county of YORK, 4 miles S.S.W. from Whitby, containing 428 inhabitants. The living is; a perpetual curacy, in the archdeaconry of Cleveland, and diocese of York, endowed with £1000 royal bounty, and in the patronage of the Archbishop of York. The chapel Was built in 1137, by Nicholas, abbot of Whitby."

[Transcribed by Mel Lockie © from
Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England 1835]