Whitby

Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd

“This is my ninth year at Whitby and the place loses none of its charm for me.” 

– James Russell Lowell 1889

The coastal town of Whitby is situated on the North East Coast of Yorkshire. It can be found at the mouth of the River Esk and on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors National Park.

Currently, it has a population of around 14,000 people. The town offers a bit of everything for both its residents and thousands of yearly visitors.

There’s lots of things to do in this coastal town. It’s part port, part seaside resort, and part historical destination.

Its current economy is mainly based around fishing. The town also takes advantage of how popular it is and has many tourist attractions that have been developed for visitors.

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Thebridge over the harbour has existed in different forms since Medieval times. Picture credit: Kaz Jones (IFY community)
The bridge over the harbour has existed in different forms since Medieval times. Picture credit: Kaz Jones (IFY community)

Whitby Swing Bridge

The town is divided into East and West by an electrical bridge called Whitby Swing Bridge which spans the river. In 1908 this was rebuilt and now swings open to allow boats to sail beneath it.

Since 1351, this location has been used as a crossing point. Before the bridge was built, people used other means of crossing it.

Originally, the bridge was built as a simple wooden one to allow people to cross the river. Since then, it was rebuilt as a drawbridge and the swing bridge we use today.

Whitby Harbour

Whitby Harbour covers 80 acres of land. It’s used for catching sea food such as cod, haddock, lobsters, and crabs.

On the quayside is the fish market. This provides a ready supply to the town’s many restaurants and cafes.

During the summer, salmon can also be found in the River Esk. Fleets have to have a special licence in order to legally catch them.

In 1988, Whitby marina opened. As a result, this has benefitted the coastal town and has further increased its commercial development.

Whitby’s proximity to mainland Europe has enabled it to also act as a small trading port. It’s main caroges consist of grain, timber, steel, and potash.

Landmarks in Whitby

Whitby is a historic seaside town with tourists travelling from all over the world to visit. Due to its history, there are many landmarks which are a must see when visiting the area.

St Mary’s Church & Whitby Abbey

The coastal town has a number of prominent landmarks. These include St Mary’s Church and the ruins of Whitby Abbey where both are situated high up on the East Cliff.

Both attractions are accessible by road or up 199 steps on foot. The church originates from the 12th Century and still has its original box pews.

Whitby Whalebone Arch

The famous Whitby whalebones and Abbey in the background. Picture credit: Wendy Kenniwell (IFY Community)
The famous Whitby whalebones and Abbey in the background. Picture credit: Wendy Kenniwell (IFY Community)

Another landmark is the whalebone arch on the West Cliff. This is often pictured on many Whitby postcards and was built to commemorate the whaling industry.

The original set was a gift from a Norwegian shipping company. They were given to mark the town’s whaling past in 1963.

In 2002, they were replaced with the current ones from Whitby’s twin town, Barrow in Alaska. The originals became weathered by the Yorkshire coast climate.

Both of these whales were legally killed.

Captain Cook Statue & Museum

Close by, there is a statue of the famous explorer Captain Cook. He served his apprenticeship at Whitby and was born in the nearby village of Marton.

Captain Cook also has his own museum. This celebrates his time in the town before commanding three voyages to Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii during the 1770’s to map these islands for the first time.

North Yorkshire Moors National Park

Just outside of Whitby is the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. The area was given this status in 1952 and contains some of the largest expanses of heather in the UK.

Heartbeat, the popular 60’s police drama, was filmed here between 1992 to 2010. Whitby was often being used as the setting for storylines which involved criminals attempting to leave the country by sea.

Tourism in Whitby

Whitby is often described as a seaside resort. With it’s large sandy beaches, amusement arcades, and beach huts along its cliffs there’s no wonder.

Whitby Boat Trips

Sea trips from the harbour are extremely popular with tourists. They provide a picturesque experience where passengers can see a new view of the town.

There are a number of journeys for visitors to choose from. These include a 20 minute trip outside of the harbour to trips that will take you to Scarborough.

Whitby Jet

Another smaller industry which is unique to this area is the mining of Whitby Jet. This is a black mineral which was very popular in the late 19th Century.

Whitby Jet was worn by Queen Victoria as mourning jewellery after the death of Prince Albert. Today it is still mined to create jewellery for tourists at specialised gift shops.

Travelling In & Out of Whitby

Whitby has no large major routes which connect it with the rest of Yorkshire. This is due to the coastal towns geographical position.

However, the town is served by the A171 coastal road from Scarborough to Guisborough. Whitby is also connected across the moors with Pickering thanks to the A169.

Whitby is serviced by the Coastliner bus service. This runs from Leeds to Whitby via York.

The North Yorkshire Moors Heritage Railway which runs from Pickering to Whitby closed in 1966. However, seven years later it reopened as a popular tourist attraction.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula & Whitby Goth Weekend

Whitby is partly used as the setting for a famous horror novel. This is “Dracula” by Bram Stoker which was published in 1897.

The town’s association with this piece of literature has been widely accepted by the locals. As a result, the Whitby Goth Weekend runs bi-annually in April and October.

This famous weekend has been a feature of the town since 1994. It’s one of the largest Goth events in the world and contributes an estimated £1.1m to the town’s economy.

There are several gothic themed events held during the weekend. These include markets, night clubs, and a football match between the Goths and local side Stokomotiv Whitby.

Much of the Goth weekend is based around the town’s nightclubs and entertainment venues. The largest of these is the Pavillion Theatre which was built in 1878 and overlooks the sea.

The Pavillion Theatre hosts a range of events throughout the year. These include conferences, plays, stand up shows, tea dances, and its very own cinema.

Other pubs are also at the centre of the goth festival. The most popular being The Little Angel and The Elsinore which is where the festival originally started.

Participants who are younger also have their favoured places. These are RAW and The Rifle Club.

Whitby Folklore

Whitby has a very colourful history that is still learnt today through its museum and landmarks. As a result, there are many folklore stories which have been passed down through generations.

Penny Hedge

Another tradition unique to Whitby is the Penny Hedge which takes place in May on the eve of Ascension Day. This tradition dates back to mediaeval times.

It involves a short hedge of sticks being made from a cheap “penny” knife and put on the beach. The hedge must survive three tides in order to be successful.

It’s said that three landowners were hunting a boar over 800 years ago. The boar escaped and found shelter in a chapel that was cared for by the local hermit.

After suffering injuries from hunting dogs, the boar didn’t survive. This led the landowners to become angry and in turn injured the hermit with their hunting weapons.

As a result, the hermit searched for help and was rushed to Whitby. Before he died, the hermit declared that he would only forgive the landowners if they agreed to carry out the Penny Hedge.

If they didn’t agree, they would have lost their hands and possibly been executed. It was said that if the hedge didn’t survive three tides, the landowners would lose some of their land.

Hand of Glory

The mummified hand of glory can be found in the Whitby Museum. It was said to have aided thieves by giving them powers whilst they stole.

Thieves would cut off the right hand of a felon and then preserve and pickle it. In return, the thief would then be granted powers.

One of these powers is that the light from a candle would only shine for the holder and keep others in darkness. Another is that people would fall into a coma until the light had been extinguished.

It has also been said that the candle wouldn’t light if people were awake. Also, locks within the vicinity of the hand would automatically open.

Mulgrave Woods

Mulgrave Woods is a beautiful area that is a great place to explore. However, people are warned not to disturb Jeanie Biggersdale.

It’s said that Jeanie is a hag or fairy that lives in Hob’s Cave. People have to be careful not to disturb her or risk her casting a curse on them.

The Submerged Bells

Between 1536 and 1541, religious buildings were destroyed under Henry VIII’s rule. His men were ordered to obtain the valuables for him to sell.

Whitby Abbey was one of the many buildings left to ruin. The bells were removed and the plan was to transport them to London and sell them.

Townsfolk wished with all their might for the bells not to leave Whitby. In the end, their wish was granted.

The ship that was meant to transport them had sunk. It’s said that the bells can be heard just off of Black Nab in the North Sea.

Education in Whitby

In total, there are 134 elementary schools, secondary schools, and education centres. There are also around 7,000 members of staff teaching in these educational facilities.

Whitby College is the town’s sole place for higher education. More uniquely, it’s the home to a Fishing Training School for both new entrants and experienced practitioners in the industry.

Sports in Whitby

The seaside town has its own sporting traditions. The Whitby Regatta is held each August and is a competition between three rowing clubs: Whitby Fishermen, Whitby ARC, and Scarborough ARC.

Since it first started, the event has expanded. It now includes a fair, air display, and fireworks.

Whitby also has its own semi-professional football team called Whitby Town F.C. They were formed in 1892 and currently play at the Turnbull Ground.

Whitby is one of the most famous coastal towns and has something for everyone. It ranges from dramatic scenery, quaint buildings, and a pleasant environment full of history, entertainment, and mystery.

Whitby History

Whitby Abbey marks the beginning of Whitby's history as a centre of learning. Picture credit: Joanne Carter (IFY Community)
Whitby Abbey marks the beginning of Whitby’s history as a centre of learning. Picture credit: Joanne Carter (IFY Community)

The earliest recorded settlement within the location of Whitby was in 656 AD. Back then it was known as Streonshal.

A year later after being recorded, the first Whitby Abbey was built by King Oswy of Northumbria. It was established as a monastery and a centre of learning for both men and women.

200 years later, the first abbey was destroyed by the Vikings. The ruins were left derelict until it was rebuilt by landowner William De Percy after the Norman invasion.

William De Percy also built St Mary’s Church. This stands proudly next to the abbey and helped to establish the small fishing port of Whitebi meaning “White settlement” in old Norse.

The abbey was destroyed again under the reign of Henry VIII. Despite this, the ports continued to grow after the discovery of the mineral alum which is used in the purification of water.

In the 18th Century, Whitby also became an important centre for shipbuilding. For a time, it was the third largest in the UK after London and Newcastle.

In 1839, a train link was created which connected York and Pickering. As a result, this further increased trade traffic to Whitby.

However, iron ships were invented which increased competition. Newer ports in Teesside led to the decline of Whitby as a ship building town.

In 1914, Whitby along with Scarborough and Hartlepool were bombed by German boats. This inflicted further damage to the abbey ruin which was used as an important landmark for sailors.

During the same year, the hospital ship called The Rohilla also sank off the coast of Whitby. Many of the ship’s victims were buried in St Mary’s churchyard.

Throughout the 20th Century, the port turned its attention back to its roots in fishing. The seaside town also made use of its beach, cliffs, and abbey to attract tourists to the town.

This helped to transform Whitby into the beautiful and diverse place that we know today. There’s something for both visitors and residents alike.

Whitby Trivia

Oswy the King of Northumbria founded the first abbey under Abbess Hilda.

In 664 the Synod of Whitby was held in the Abbey. Among other things, it was this synod that decided the way Easter is calculated. We still use this method today.

Bram Stoker’s book “Dracula” is said to be inspired by Whitby.

Captain Cook learnt how to sail in Whitby.

Fossils can be found along the coastline of Whitby.