Saturday, 19 April 2014


The old town and the East Cliff
Sandgate on the east side of the town leads us through the older part of Whitby to the old Market Place. Here most of the shops are given over to the tourist industry and several Jet shops.

Jet is a mineraloid deriving from fossilized wood of the Monkey Puzzle tree which is only found in the Whitby area. This black coal like mineral has been fashioned into jewellery since Roman times and became fashionable when Queen Victoria wore it when she was in mourning 
following the death of Prince Albert.
A Victorian jet workshop can be visited at the end of Church Street where a carver can be seen carving jet using modern tools.

Although the Market Place dates to 1640, the old Town Hall and Market, a Grade 11* listed building, was built in 1872.


The end of Sandgate leads to a pier and a small sandy beach, where the lifeboat can be seen close up.
There has been a lifeboat at Whitby since 1802.


Henry Freeman lifeboat cox 1877-1899

Church Street is a charming old street which runs across the top of the Market Place to a dead end and steps leading up the church. Here the old fishermen's cottages line both sides of the street, overlooking the river and also
climbing up the Cliffside.

Many alleyways lead to the river side and into yards often name after a family
where more cottages are situated.


Blackburn's Yard

 One can only speculate !


At the end of Church Street we reach the 199 steps up to the Parish Church, but the street continues as Henrietta Street to a dead end.

Here we find Fortunes Kipper House which was founded in 1872
and still going strong.

At the side of the steps, the heavily cobbled Church Lane leads up to the Abbey on the cliff top. Not a road for vehicles it is known as the Donkey Path.

The church stairs were mentioned in 1370, and were described in 1717 as wooden stairs. Most of the older Whitby folk wanted their coffin to be carried up the steps and there are still resting places at various intervals on the climb.

At the top of the steps is Caedman's Cross, 20 feet high. Caedmon was an illiterate herdsman at the Abbey in the 7th century who heard words in a dream and wrote his Song of Creation, the first poem known in our literature. He went on to write songs and poetry and is regarded as the first English poet.

The gravestones in the churchyard on this exposed cliff top are badly worn by wind and rain. One particular gravestone which bears a skull and crossbones is popularly regarded as 'Dracula's Grave'. It is well known that Bram Stoker wrote part of the Dracula story in Whitby. The story goes that Count Dracula, in the shape of a black dog, was on a ship which was wrecked off Whitby in a storm.
Dracula still in the form of a dog, managed to get ashore and ran up the 199 steps where he transformed back to himself. The townspeople captured him and with a stake through his heart he was put into the grave.

A more credible grave is to be found close to the outer wall of the church beneath the fine staircase leading to the Cholmley Pew.
It is the Huntrodd’s Memorial 1600 – 1680. The inscription tells us : ‘ Here lie the bodies of Francis Huntrodds and Mary his wife who were born on the same day of the week, month and year (viz) Septr ye 19th 1600, marry’d on the day of their birth and after having had 12 children born to them died aged 80 years on the same day of the year they were born, Septr ye 19th 1680 the one not above five hours before ye other.’ ‘Husband and wife that did twelve children bear, dy’d the same day; alike both aged were. Bout 80 years they liv’d, five hours did part, (Ev’n on the marriage day) each tender heart, so fit a match, surely could never be, both, in their lives, and in their deaths agree.’ Fact is indeed stranger than fiction.

The Grade 1 listed parish church of St Mary is one of the most unusual churches in the country. This 12th century church on the windswept heights of the east cliff is reached by the unique 199 stone steps. The church itself has been variously altered and extended over the years and is still lit by candlelight and heated by a huge stove. The galleries, boxed pews and the three decker pulpit, with its old ear trumpets provided for a former vicar’s wife, present a fascinating picture and the Jacobean Cholmley Pew is quite unique. This all powerful family, Lords of the Manor in the 17th century had a social status which had to be recognised and their curious gallery was built across a very fine Norman arch in front of the chancel, the most conspicuous spot in the church. This gallery, which rises on slim pillars that look like sugar twists, was built between 1600 and 1625 and has a separate entrance from outside the church in the form of a covered stairway. There is much of interest in this church which has been likened to the between decks on a ship.




A monastery for men and women was founded at Streonshal, the former name for Whitby, in AD 657 by King Oswy of Northumbria. The first abbess was Hilda, a Royal Princess who was later venerated as a saint. It is said that the site was infested by snakes and Hilda threw them down the cliff, turning them into stone.
She is depicted standing on snakes, in a carving on Caedmon's Cross.
On the cliff edge the otline of a face can be seen and some say that it is the face of Abbess Hilda herself.
Ammonites are abundant on the foreshore below the cliff and they are referred to as Hildoceras.
  It was at The Synod of Whitby in AD 664 that the date for the
Christian date of Easter was set.
The site was laid waste in the late 9th century before the present building was built and it in turn was destroyed by Henry V111 in 1540 leaving the impressive ruin seen today.
The ruined Abbey church was further damaged in 1914 when this part of the east coast was shelled by German ships in WW2.

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