The lovely old town of Whitby lies to the north of Scarborough. It is part of Scarborough Borough and has a population of some 13,000. It lies on the River Esk where the river enters the North Sea through the steep cliffs and forms a substantial harbour. The town is separated into two halves with the old town on the east side of the river and the newer part on the west.
The whalebone arch on the West Cliff reminds us of the whaling industry for which Whitby was once the leading port. William Scoresby Snr was one of the pioneers of the industry and is said to have captured more whales than any other man. It was he who devised what is known as the crow's nest, the lookout on the mast head.
The history of Whitby is essentially a maritime one. Once a thriving whaling and shipbuilding port it is now given over more to the leisure industry but retains a small fishing fleet and just one shipbuilder
A swing bridge divides the town into two distinct parts with the older East Cliff on one side and the newer West Cliff on the other. The bridge dates to 1909 and carried the main A171 road through Whitby until a by-pass bridge
was built in 1980.
The present bridge, controlled by traffic lights, opens in two parts to allow shipping through, on the hour and the half hour. It replaced a variety of bridges - there was a toll bridge here as early as 1351.
The entrance to the harbour is protected by substantial breakwater piers
Alongside is a nice sandy beach nestling beneath the west cliff
and stretching for several miles to Sandsend.
A curious custom is maintained every year on the eve of Ascension Day (38 days after Easter) on the harbour side along Church Street when the Penny Hedge ceremony is re-enacted. The story unfolds in the year 1159 when the Lord of Ugglebarnby (William de Bruce) and Lord of Sneaton (Ralph de Percy) together with another nobleman were enjoying a day’s boar hunting in the forest around Eskdaleside owned by Whitby Abbey. Pursuing a wounded boar into a cave they found their way barred by a monk who lived there, and in the excitement and confusion one of the huntsmen struck the hermit a fatal blow. On his deathbed the monk suggested that his attackers be spared on condition that they and their heirs perform a penance by erecting a hedge in Whitby Harbour henceforth every year. Using a penny knife they were to cut a specified number of hazel boughs in the wood, ten yedders, ten stakes and ten stout stowers, which they would then bear on their backs to the harbour. There on the shore at the ebb tide they would erect the said hedge, strong enough to withstand three tides. Should this ceremony not be performed as demanded then all their lands and property would be forfeited to the Abbey. This strange ceremony is still meticulously re-enacted when at the appointed hour of 9am, two men weave the yedders. stakes and stowers into a short fence – the Penny Hedge. On completion of their task the senior man gives several blasts on a sheep horn and calls out the expiatory words three time, “Out on ye,” to complete the ceremony.
Immediately right on the east side of the swing bridge is Grape Lane.
where a house dating to 1688 overlooking the harbour is now The Captain Cook Museum. James Cook (1728-1779) was born at Marton and when his father moved to Great Ayton his employer paid for young James' schooling. When the boy left school he went to Staithes to work in a shop, but his heart was in seafaring and he soon obtained an apprenticeship with Whitby ship owners
John & Henry Walker, who were Quakers, and lived in the house in Grape Lane. Cook lodged with them and served a 3 years apprenticeship during which time he studied hard and whilst stlll a teenager he joined the Royal Navy. His potential was soon realized and the rest is history.
Captain Cook sailed in Whitby built boats on his voyages of discovery.