Whitby – North Yorkshire

Whitby is best known for its Jet jewellery, wonderful fish, Captain Cook, Whitby Abbey, Dracula and the North York Moors Railway. But where does the name come from?

Whitby was originally called Sinus Fari by the Brigantes who were a Celtic tribe controlling large sections of Northern England but by 71 AD they had been conquered by the Romans. In 657 AD Whitby became known as Streonshalh when the then Christian King of Northumbria, Oswy founded a monastery and Abbey there. The Vikings arrived in 867 AD destroying the monastery and renaming the settlement Whitby from the old Norse for White Settlement.

Whitby today is a traditional maritime town and historic port in North Yorkshire, where the River Esk meets the sea. It is located in the North York Moors National Park, designated in 1952 and on the Heritage coast, designated in 1979. There have been recorded settlements here since the Saxon period but the erection of the Abbey in 657 AD marked the birth of the town.

During the medieval period, Whitby was a place of major religious significance, it was one of the earliest and most important centres of Christianity in England. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1540 Whitby remained a small fishing community of approximately 200 people until the Elizabethan period when Alum was discovered and mining began, the port then grew in maritime and commercial significance.

In the mid 18th-19th century, there were bustling shipyards, roperys and sail yards in Whitby and ships such as HMS Bark Endeavour, Resolution and Adventure were built there. But by the mid the 19th century the shipbuilding and whaling industries were in decline and it was hoped that the railway would help to regenerate the town. A new development began to grow on the West side of the river designed with tourism in mind including a promenade, bandstand and luxury hotels. It is still a busy working environment with a fishing fleet, pleasure boats, shipbuilding works, dry dock and of course the lifeboat which was one of the earliest to be established in 1802.

A Short History of Whitby Abbey

Whitby Abbey was founded by Hilda in 657 AD. It was a double monastery of Benedictine Monks and nuns run in the Celtic or Ionan tradition. Probably the most significant event in the church’s history was held at the Abbey in 664 AD, The Synod of Whitby. The most eminent clergymen of the Christian Church were summoned to settle the dispute over which tradition, Ionan or Roman would be followed and how the date for Easter should be calculated. The result was that the Celtic church adopted the Roman calendar, calculation of Easter and the monastic tonsure or shaving of the head.

Also at this time Whitby Abbey was home to the great Saxon poet and father of English sacred song Caedmon, whose 7th-century poem, The Song of Creation is the earliest known poem in English. In present-day Whitby at the top of the 199 steps is the Caedmon memorial cross, a 19th century memorial to the poet.

However, In 867 AD Whitby fell to Viking attack and the Saxon monastery was abandoned and destroyed. When the Normans arrived in 1078 the Benedictine monastery was re-founded under orders from William de Percy and the current ruins are the remains of the Abbey which was begun around 1220. In December 1539 the monastery was dissolved and destroyed following the Second Suppression Act of Henry VIII. Whitby Abbey was further damaged in 1914 when the west front was hit by shells from a German warship.

Dracula in Whitby

Also at the top of the 199 steps is the church of St. Mary’s. In 1890 the Irish Author Bram Stoker stayed in the Royal Hotel in Whitby and it is said that the churchyard and the town was his inspiration. The book was published in 1897 and Tate Hill beach is where the Russian boat Demeter runs aground and Dracula in the form of a dog comes ashore.

Read more about Whitby at http://www.localhistories.org/whitby.html