Whitby – A Small Town with a Big History

For those of you who enjoy the comical antics of teenage detective Lawrence Pinkley, you will know that his crime-busting adventures are largely based around Whitby. Whitby is a small fishing town on the north east coast of England. Here’s some other interesting facts about it:

Whitby is a maritime town and historical port located in North Yorkshire, where the River Esk meets the sea. In 647 A.D. the town was formed when the Abbey was erected, but the current name wasn’t given until 200 years later when the Vikings conquered the area, and is an Old Norse term which means White Settlement. Whitby is located at one end of the very popular 18 mile heritage railway and, despite fluctuations in its history, is now a thriving village with a current population of approximately 13,500 people.

shutterstock_323941019As a result of the town’s Abbey, Whitby became one of the earliest and most important Christian centres in England. In 1540, when Henry VIII ordered the Suppression of the Monasteries it dwindled down to a small fishing village of about 200 persons. It remained this way until the Elizabethan period when Alum was discovered in the area. Mining began and once again the port grew and expanded. Between the years of 1753 and 1833 Whitby was the 6th largest port in Britain and the capital of the whaling industry.

In the 1800s jet, which is the fossilized remains of Monkey Puzzle Trees that sank during the Jurassic period, began resurfacing due to erosion of the shale cliffs. Queen Victoria wore Whitby jet as part of her mourning dress, resulting in the overwhelming popularity of the fossil and its use in jewellery. In 1808, the town’s first jet shop opened and by 1851 the demand had become enough for the industry to employ over 200 miners and 1500 other workers. By 1870, this demand dwindled due to the fact that the country started importing cheaper jet from Spain.

shutterstock_183097385In addition to its influence on popular jewellery, Whitby has been a part of the development of one of the most famous horror stories of all time. Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, stayed at the Royal Hotel in Whitby in 1890. After he published his most famous book, in 1897, he gave the credit to the town’s churchyard as his main inspiration, and several of the scenes in the book take place in the village.

Another person who was greatly influenced by the coastal town was Captain James Cook, famous for his cartography and exploration. Captain Cook moved to Whitby in 1746, at the age of 18, in order to become an apprentice to John and Henry Walker. The brothers housed and supported him throughout his apprenticeship in their home on Grape Lane, which is now the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. After three years he joined their trade ships and then made many voyages himself, including three notable ones to the Pacific. For these journeys he used the ships the HMS Bark Endeavour and HMS Resolution which were both built in Whitby by Thomas Fishburn to be used to as coal transporters.


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