Whitby – Interesting Facts About a Small Town

Readers of my Lawrence Pinkley detective books will know that they are set in a small seaside town on the north east coast of England called Whitby. But what else is it famous for?

Located in Northeast England, Whitby is one of the country’s most visited seacoast towns. It is also known as ‘The Halloween Town’ of Great Britain, and has many ghost walks and stories. Other aspects of its interesting heritage date back many centuries. This includes the story of the arrival of St. Hilda in the 6th century, to build her monastery. The town’s folklore says that the headland was covered in snakes, and the brave saint drove them to the cliffs’ edge by thumping her staff into the soil. The terrified reptiles then fell off the cliffs to their deaths, turning to stone in mid-air. When they landed on the rocks below, their stone heads are reported to have broken off.  There are many fossils that can still be found along the town’s beach, which look like the coils of headless snakes.

Other interesting facts about Whitby include:

The Penny Hedge Ceremony

This annual tradition began with a hunting expedition in 1159, where three men had been tracking a wild boar. The animal took refuge behind the doors of a hermitage at Eskdale, and the monk present subsequently refused the hounds entry. The men attacked the monk, whose dying words promised forgiveness if they (and their descendants) served a penance. The Abbot of Whitby, ordered the murderers to construct a short hedge from stakes woven together on the shore of Whitby, using a knife of ‘a penny price.’ The structure should be able to withstand three tides, and the ceremony continues each year, on the eve of Ascension Day.

The Whalebone Arch

Whitby’s role in the whaling industry was commemorated with the erection of The Whalebone Arch on West Cliff in 1853. The original structure was moved to the Whitby Archives Heritage Centre to be preserved and a new one, which was a gift from Alaska, put in the same position in 2003.

The Dracula Museum

The novel, Dracula, written by Bram (Abraham) Stoker includes many scenes set in the small town.  The story tells of Dracula’s ship washing ashore into the Whitby harbour. This is an adaptation of local folklore about the Russian ship, Dmitri, which became Dracula’s ship, Demeter. The explanation of other events in the novel, can be found at The Dracula Museum, which was opened to celebrate the relationship between the town, the character and the author.

Captain Cook

One of the world’s most well-known explorers, Captain Cook, set sail from Whitby on his ship the HMS Endeavour. Even though Cook did not live in the town, he grew up nearby and spent a significant amount of time there during the ship’s construction. It was built by Thomas Fishburn in 1764, and became the vessel which the legendary cartographer took on his well documented journey to Botany Bay.

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