Interesting Whitby Trivia
Whitby is steeped in fantastic history, and if you're anything like me you might find it interesting to see a brief breakdown of some of this history. So, I have put together a little list for you to peak your interest in what Whitby's past has to offer...
On 3rd February 1940 the first German aircraft to crash on English soil came down on a farm just outside Whitby.
Born just outside Middlesborough Captain Cook is known around the world for being the person to chart the coast of New Zealand and Eastern Australia. He moved to Whitby and became a trainee with a local shipping firm. He learned his craft in Whitby vessels trading to the Baltic, and two of the ships he used for his long and perilous voyages (Resolution & Endeavour) were built in Whitby.
Francis Meadow Sutcliffe was born in Leeds but lived out most of his life in Whitby. He is renowned for being a pioneering photographic artist. He had a business on Skinner Street where he made a living as a portrait photographer. He made a name for himself photographing the locals that he knew so well. His most famous photograph was taken in 1886 and was called 'Water Rats'. It was a rather controversial photo because it featured naked children playing in a boat, but the image is not erotic. He was trying to show how photography could approach art but he was excommunicated by his local clergy for displaying it as they thought it would 'corrupt' the opposite sex. Edward VII who was Prince of Wales at the time later purchased a copy of the picture.
Bram Stoker is most famously known for his book 'Dracula' and it is said that he got the inspiration for the book whilst on holiday in Whitby. There is a place he used to sit overlooking the Abbey and there is a bench now in that location dedicated to Bram Stoker where visitors can enjoy the same view that gave him the inspiration for such a wonderful, timeless classic. Some people believe Dracula is actually buried in St Mary's grave yard... do you?
Whitby Abbey was first founded in AD657 by King Oswy of Northumbria. It later became one of the most important religious centres in the Anglo-Saxon world under the formidable Abbess Hild. In the year 664 the synod of Whitby adopted the Roman calculation of Easter and made it a Christian festival.
The famous 199 steps were originally constructed from painted wood and there were lots of differing opinions as to the actual amount of steps. In 1774 the wooden steps were renovated and replaced with stone. It was also at this time that a tablet was inscribed declaring that there is actually 199 steps. The people of Whitby were carried up the steps in their coffins to be laid to rest in St Mary's Church and the flat areas on the steps were where the pall-bearers used to rest on the way up.
In 1159 three local hunters were sentenced for the murder of a local hermit. It's believed that the hunters were chasing a wild boar when it entered a hermits home. The hermit denied the hunters entry so rather than let him stand in the way of their prey they killed him. As the hermit lay dying the Abbot of Whitby was sent for and in front of the Abbot the hermit forgave the hunters on one condition. He wanted the hunters to carry out a ritual every year on the eve of Ascension Day to which they agreed so as to avoid execution. This ritual still exists today... basically the men have to weave a short hedge out of hazel stakes which is then planted on the shores of the harbour's east side and it has to stay intact and upright for three tides. If it fails the men would lose some of their land. If you go to the East side of the harbour at low tide you are likely to still see a Penny Hedge planted in the mud there.