steeped in history, lies twenty miles north of Scarborough. Its importance
rests on the venue of the River Esk as a haven for shipping. For Whitby
provides the only natural harbour between the Tees and the Humber. The
town dates back to Roman times, when a signal station is believed to have
been built here. But its history really began just over 1300 years ago,
with the founding of the original abbey by King Oswy of Northumberland.
The most prominent feature of Whitby is the Abbey, whose gaunt ruins stand
above the old town. Itís cared for by English Heritage, although little
remains of the monastic site today. Part of the church still stands as
a vivid monument to the Benedictine monks whose community was finally
closed down by Henry VIII in 1539. The first monastery was laid waste
by Viking raiders in the 9th century, and then rebuilt shortly after the
Norman Conquest. Further extensive damage to the Abbey was recorded in
1914 when German surface raiders slipped across the North Sea and bombarded
the towns of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool.
Another famous Whitby landmark is the 199 steps that connect the parish
church on the cliff top to the town below. These Ďchurch stairsí were
first mentioned over six hundred years ago, and in 1717 were still wooden.
Itís a good climb from he Church Street below to the church itself, and
there are still resting places at regular intervals Ė no doubt the pallbearers
would have particularly appreciated these when a funeral was underway.
The old town of Whitby huddles at the foot of the church stairs. The houses
back up the cliff, with narrow alleyways leading down to the harbour.
Beyond Church Street, in Grape Lane, can be found the Captain Cook museum.
In 1746 the house belonged to Captain John Walker, a ship owner whose
vessels carried coal from the Tyne to the Thames. It was in this year
that he took on an apprentice, the 17-year-old James Cook. Captain Cook,
was of course killed during a violent quarrel on the beach at Kealakekue
Bay, following the theft of a boat from "The Discovery".
Surveying the whole of Whitby is Captain Cook himself. His monument on
the West Cliff, was unveiled in 1923. Nearby is the famous whalebone arch.
Whaling was an important industry in Whitby during the late 18th and early
19th centuries. In 1786 for example, 20 whaling ships left Whitby for
the whaling waters of Greenland. They returned with barrels packed with
blubber, where it was rendered down to oil making a fearful stench.
Whitby is featured on our 55-minute video Picture Postcard Yorkshire,
and can be purchased on line. Click here to
find out more.
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