Whitby

ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, West Cliff, Panoramic view from cliff-top park, towards the harbor [Ask for #270.537.]


Whitby viewed from West Cliff, a cliff-top park. [Ask for #270.537.]

“A modern jet workshop is much smaller than the ones the Victorians used, what with modern tools.” Hal Redvers-Jones, Whitby’s leading jet artisan, is standing in front of his own work area, so compact that it barely seems able to hold him. He should know. His tiny shop-gallery-museum, the Whitby Jet Heritage Centre, contains an 1867 workshop discovered walled into an abandoned attic in one of this Yorkshire fishing town’s many tightly packed cottages. He displays it intact and complete, under an undisturbed patina of dust, a considerable amount of machinery and room for carving, polishing, and mounting this local gemstone of the purest black found in thin, unpredictable layers in the sea cliffs that flank Whitby’s wide harbor.

ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Whitby Jet Heritage Centre, Hal Redvers-Jones, jet craftsman and jewelry restorer, proprietor of the centre, stands beside his workbench [Ask for #270.194.]


Hal Redvers-Jones, jet craftsman and jewelry restorer, proprietor of the Whitby Jet Heritage Centre, stands beside his workbench. [Ask for #270.194.]
ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Whitby Jet Heritage Centre, A Victorian-era jet workshop, found in an attic, is displayed [Ask for #270.196.]


Whitby Jet Heritage Centre. A Victorian-era jet workshop found boarded up in an attic, is displayed. [Ask for #270.196.]
ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Whitby Jet Heritage Centre, Entrance to preserved and restored jet workshop [Ask for #270.192.]


Entrance to the Whitby Jet Heritage Centre, a preserved and restored jet workshop from the Victorian era. [Ask for #270.192.]

The Jet Heritage Centre sits 200 yards up cobbled, pedestrians-only Church Street, one of several such shopping districts on both sides of Whitby’s busy harbor. It’s jammed with stores, pubs, and tea-shops; tiny cobbled passages called “yards”, often stepped and too narrow to walk three abreast, lead off to more shops and cottages. Beyond the Jet Centre, Church Street continues to broad cliff-views of the harbor mouth. But just behind the centre, a paved flight of nearly two hundred steps lead up the first break in the cliff to the town’s church and ruined abbey.

ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Town Center, Harbor view down Arguments Yard, one of many tiny passageways leading off Church Street, a pedestrianized shopping district carrying the Cleveland Way [Ask for #270.199.]


Harbor view down Arguments Yard in Whitby, one of many tiny passageways leading off Church Street, a pedestrianized shopping district carrying the Cleveland Way. [Ask for #270.199.]
ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Abbey Steps, Steps leading to the abbey start at Church St., a historic, pedestrianized shopping lane; the Cleveland Way goes here. [Ask for #270.191.]


Steps leading to Whitby Abbey start at Church Street. [Ask for #270.191.]

Whitby Abbey, a stunning 13th century Gothic monastery, dominates the town from atop its grassy headland. Its unroofed remains, although scant, are impressive. While its nave has been reduced to a few column bases and its outbuildings are nowhere in sight, its presbytery, where its high alter once stood, remains at full height, golden stone and pointed arches contrasting with the closely-mowed grass. Its ruins were more extensive into quite recent times; its massive central tower collapsed in 1830, and a German U-boat bombardment finished off its nave and main entrance in 1914. The abbey is visible from virtually all directions from several miles outside town, Whitby’s most prominent landmark.

ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Whitby Abbey (EH), 11th c. monastery, viewed over meadow [Ask for #270.137.]


ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Whitby Abbey (EH), 11th c. monastery, viewed over meadow [Ask for #270.137.]
ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Whitby Abbey (EH), Ruinous 11th c. monastery, nave view [Ask for #270.138.]


Whitby Abbey. [Ask for #270.138.]

The abbey you see today is not the first on the site, or even the second. Its immediate predecessor was built right after the Conquest, and can be spotted (by the sharp-eyed) in the occasional bit of roundness characteristic of the Norman period. Its original ancestor, founded in the mid-7th century by St. Hilda, has a special place in history. At that time Northumberland, Britain’s most important English kingdom and the location of Whitby, was split between Celtic Christianity (brought by Irish monks from the north) and Roman Christianity (courtesy Roman missionaries, who had entered from the south). It was here in 664 that Northumberland’s king sat in judgement as the leaders of each of the two traditions made their case, Colman of Lindesfarne for the Irish and St. Wilfred for the Romans. He chose the Roman tradition, and ultimately all the British kingdoms (Irish and Welsh as well as English) followed Northumbria’s lead. So it’s a pity that no actual buildings or artifacts survive from it, all destroyed by Vikings and a two hundred year abandonment. Its specific site is unknown, and may well have fallen into the sea as the cliffs collapsed over the centuries.

ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Whitby Abbey (EH), Ruinous 11th c. monastery [Ask for #270.144.]


Whitby Abbey. [Ask for #270.144.]
ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Whitby Abbey (EH), Ruinous 11th c. monastery, nave view [Ask for #270.139.]


Whitby Abbey. [Ask for #270.139.]
ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Whitby Abbey (EH), Ruinous 11th c. monastery [Ask for #270.145.]


Whitby Abbey. [Ask for #270.145.]

The town you see today dates from those Vikings; the Northumbrian settlement clung to the abbey, gaining a false sense of safety from its cliff-ringed headland. The Viking settlers of the late 9th century moved down the cliff to build tightly around the sheltered, deep-water harborage cut into the cliffs by the River Esk. This set the pattern still seen today, of narrow, stone-cobbled lanes crowded chock-a-block with two and three-story cottages, with even narrower “yards” leading off at right angles. These areas are surprisingly extensive — not just the two hundred yards and 199 steps of Church Street on the abbey side of the harbor, but double that length along Pier Street on the west side, with comparable lengths of walkers-only cobblestones on Sandgate, Baxtergate, Flowergate, and Cliff Street. It’s quite a maze, and can reduce the hardiest shopper into a state of happy exhaustion. Thank goodness for the plentiful pubs.

ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Abbey Steps, Paved footpath leads from top of steps down to harbor, between buildings and meadow; harbor view. [Ask for #270.148.]


Abbey Steps, a paved footpath leading from the cliff-top Abbey down to harbor, here running between buildings and meadow with the harbor visible in the background. [Ask for #270.148.]
ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Abbey Steps, Steps to the abbey start at Church Street, a pedestrianized historic shopping district on the harbor's east side; The Cleveland Way runs this way [Ask for #270.184.]


Steps to the abbey start at Church Street, a pedestrianized historic shopping district on the harbor's east side. [Ask for #270.184.]
ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Town Center, Fishermen's cottages line narrow Church Street, as sea cliffs loom behind [Ask for #270.189.]


Fishermen's cottages line narrow Church Street, as sea cliffs loom behind. [Ask for #270.189.]

A walk down a particularly short and obscure cobbled lane, Grape Street, leads to Whitby’s other major historic site, the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. Here a modest front conceals a side-facing merchant’s house of the late 17th century — the place where the noted explorer and circum-navigator spent his apprenticeship and learned to sail. Cook, a farm lad, had originally been apprenticed to a grocer in the small harbor town of Straithes nine miles north of Whitby. Here he discovered that a land-based life was not for him, and arranged an apprenticeship with a Whitby coal merchant. Although now nearly 20 and far too old to go to sea, he nevertheless applied himself to learning the trade of a sea captain — and succeeded, captaining merchant ships then transferring to the Royal Navy for the Seven Years War, where he earned a reputation as a navigator and cartographer. Most important, however, was his long experience with coal transports — for that is what the Royal Navy chose for an explorer’s ship, meant to map the Pacific and circumnavigate the globe. Captain Cook died in 1779, at age 50, during his third such journey, in a violent dispute with Hawaiians (who nevertheless gave him a chief’s funeral and returned his bones to his crew).

ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Town Center, Captain Cook Museum on Grape Lane, a pedestrian-only shopping street [Ask for #270.176.]


Captain Cook Museum on Grape Lane in Whitby's town center. [Ask for #270.176.]
ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Town Center, Captain Cook Museum interior; dining room, furnished in period [Ask for #270.178.]


The dining room of the Captain Cook Museum. [Ask for #270.178.]

Nothing says “sea town” quite so much as this lovely little museum. It maintains the look it had when Cook visited it in his later years, for he maintained a friendship with his old master. It’s an elegant but unpretentious home of a prosperous merchant, featuring the distinguished proportions and decor of a Georgian town house; it’s only hint of purpose is the way it faces, its back to the town, its front resolutely towards the harbor. The museum explains that, in Cook’s boyhood, it would have looked quite different; the elegant courtyard you see today was once a slip for off-loading merchant ships directly into the house, which contained (at that time) ample warehouse space. Other exhibits deal with Cook’s explorations, including a fine model of his coal-bark turned explorer, and all the men and equipment (to scale) packed into its cavernous hold.

ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Town Center, Captain Cook Museum interior; model of Cook's ship, with its entire contents displayed to scale [Ask for #270.179.]


Captain Cook Museum interior; model of Cook's ship, with its entire contents displayed to scale. [Ask for #270.179.]

A old sea town deserves a fine view from a sea cliff. Whitby’s West Cliff, signposted off the A174, has sweeping views from more than a half-mile of park-topped cliffs, 130 feet above the sea and harbor. The cliffs here are steeply pitched and grass-covered, with footpaths leading down. At the base is a half-mile of sand beach, lined by a paved promenade and brightly colored huts. Uphill, Georgian townhouses group around a circular park, reflecting more aristocratic neighborhoods in far-away Bath. At its far eastern end the old town terraces up the gorge-side, and stepped sidewalks and a lane drop plunge down into the warren of cobbled streets. And across the harbor, the fine old abbey guards its charge.

ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, West Cliff, View from cliff-top park, towards the harbor and the abbey, with Abbey Steps running uphill at the center. [Ask for #270.173.]


View from West Cliff, a cliff-top park, towards the harbor and the abbey. [Ask for #270.173.]
ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, West Pier, Houses bunch beneath cliffs at the mouth of the harbor; people climb the Abbey Steps to Whitby Abbey [Ask for #270.162.]


Houses bunch beneath cliffs at the mouth of Whitby harbor. [Ask for #270.162.]
ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, Town Center, View over harbor towards the abbey [Ask for #270.155.]


View over Whitby's harbor towards the abbey. [Ask for #270.155.]
ENG: Yorkshire & Humberside Region, North Yorkshire, North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby, West Pier, Abbey headlands and cliffs, viewed from West Pier [Ask for #270.166.]


Abbey headlands and cliffs, viewed from Whitby's West Pier. [Ask for #270.166.]
Article by Jim Hargan
Originally published in British Heritage, January 2013
Jim's Brit
Travel + History
Contact Jim at:   jim@JimsBrit.com
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