Whitby Facts and Whitby Fiction!
Do you love Whitby and wonder about all the stories the town has to tell? Do you struggle to tell your facts from your fiction?
Here at the Riviera Guesthouse, we are so grateful to our guests who have visited us this year so far who have a fascination with Whitby.
It has been a busy time, and after a very tricky 18-months, we still feel blessed at having our own family-run business and also for living in Whitby on the Yorkshire Coast.
When we hear our guests talking about our stunning seaside town, we always feel that little swell of pride!
We also enjoy hearing about Whitby from those who don’t have the huge privilege of living here, too.
We have had all sorts of feedback this summertime, and on the back of this, we’ve compiled our own list of fascinating facts about Whitby, the bustling and historic coastal port.
Whitby’s 199 Steps Don’t Exist
Well of course, this famous flight of stone steps does exist but there have been numerous discussions as to how many steps you can actaully count!
There are mentions of the steps as far back as the 14th century.
The original steps were made of wood and were replaced with Sneaton Stone in the 1770s.
Some say you can’t count the final step as a step, therefore making it a total of 198 … others believe 200 is the correct number if you include the very bottom step in your calculations.
Today, eagle-eyed visitors will spot the Roman numerals which are placed on every tenth step. Therefore you don’t need to count them unless you have enough breath to do so!
Whitby was Bombed in the Great War
A sobering fact to be sure, the Bombardment of Whitby during World War One, also known as the Great War, is often overshadowed by the attacks on nearby Scarborough and Hartlepool.
At the start of the Great War, in December 1914, the German Navy attacked our neighbouring towns with a shocking loss of life.
Whitby, like Scarborough and Hartlepool, was undefended and the battlecruisers fired 50 founds at the signal station just after 9am on 16th December.
The German ships escaped back into the North Sea.
This sad event occurred in the very early stages of the war, which was then fought on the Western Front, the Eastern Front and in parts of the Middle East.
Whitby is Famous for Jet
And not the aeroplane variety! Whitby jet as it has become known is the stunning, black gemstone that can be seen in some of Whitby’s gorgeous jewellery stores.
As one of just a handful of natural, organic gemstones in the world, Whitby jet has its origins with the Monkey Puzzle tree as jet is actually fossilised wood dating back millions of years.
When Queen Victoria helped make it popular following the early death of her husband, Prince Albert, the jet industry thrived along the Yorkshire Coast.
Whitby is Famous for Its Ghosts
Most towns have their resident ghosts, yet Whitby seems to have more than most.
The ghost of St Hilda is rumoured to roam the Abbey and is mentioned in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Another famous ghost is that of Constance de Beverley, a nun who dared to break her vows of chastity and who was bricked up alive inside the Abbey walls. If you listen carefully, you can hear her pleas to be released.
Other ghostly presences include that of the Barguest Hound, said to roam the streets and only those close to death can hear its growl. Spooky!
Even scarier is the Barguest Coach, which pulls up to the graves of sailors in St Mary’s Churchyard led by a team of headless horses.
The passengers are the skeletons of other dead sailors, gathering up the corpses of the recently deceased …
Whitby and Count Dracula
You can’t think of Whitby without thinking of the world’s most famous vampire, Count Dracula.
Author Bram Stoker stayed in the town (in fact, just around the corner from the Riviera!) while researching his novel.
Whitby gets numerous mentions, with perhaps the most famous landmark being the 199 Steps.
Whitby has Connections to One of the World’s Best-Known Explorers
We once overheard someone saying they thought Captain Cook was a fictional character.
While of course this isn’t true, it is fair to say his life included visiting some of the most remote places on the globe.
He sailed during the 1700s, when many parts of the world were then unchartered.
He undertook three voyages which included Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland and even South Georgia, made famous by another explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton.
Captain Cook died in 1779.
You can find out more about Captain Cook in the Memorial Museum in Grape Lane.
Whitby was Once a Whaling Port
With our need to look after our oceans so prominent today, it is difficult to understand that Whitby’s prosperity once relied heavily upon whaling.
For nearly 100 years, between 1750 and 1840, over 50 whaling ships operated from Whitby Harbour.
The blubber was made into oil while other parts of the whale were used to make corsets.
Today, with our knowledge of the oceans and without knowledge of the fine balance of Mother Nature, we find it hard to understand the need for whaling at all.
Yet the industry was of its time and following other technological advances, there was no need for whale blubber anymore and the whaling industry slowly came to an end.
Whitby Has Its Own ‘Tale of Terror’
The town has connections to the explorer Sir John Franklin whose ill-fated Arctic 1845 to 1848 expedition has, until recently, remained cloaked in mystery as to how it ended.
While there are still some unknown parts of the story, today as we discover shipwrecks, human remains and graves, we can piece together what happened.
What many folks don’t know is that one of Whitby’s men, Thomas Blanky, served on this doomed voyage.
He was an ice master and was one of the country’s most experienced veterans. He also became a publican in Whitby before moving to Liverpool.
And the TV series, The Terror is currently showing on BBC i-Player – strictly over-18s only!
Whitby is Famous for Its Smuggling
Hardly a surprise! Whitby, Robin Hoods Bay and other villages along the coast were rife with contraband goods being secretly brought ashore.
Hidden passages and secret tunnels form only part of the story.
The ghost stories for Whitby are famous can sometimes be traced back to smugglers spreading scary stories, therefore putting off those who heard them from visiting the churchyard and other parts of the town.
Sometimes smugglers would hide their bounty in graves and they didn’t want the goods to be discovered …
The Old Smuggler pub in Baxtergate dates back to the early 15thcentury and has a long history of smuggling.
Smugglers would use this pub to deliver their untaxed goods which included liquid refreshments such as rum.
Whitby’s Female Skipper
In the male-dominated fishing industry, women’s roles were often just as important as that of their male counterparts yet were based onshore and until recently formed a hidden history of seafaring.
Not so for Dora Walker, whose life before she took the waves was pretty incredible even by today’s standards!
She was one of the first women to hold a driving licence and was one of the first women to go up in an aeroplane.
She also worked in a Belgian hospital during the Great War.
Local skipper Bobby Harland took Dora on, training her up and as another first, Dora had her own boat Good Faith built … it was the first powered coble (a type of fishing boat) in the town.
She fished during the Second World War, a revolver in her belt, before retiring and her long, eventful life ended aged 90 years of age in 1980.
Whitby is Famous for Its Pioneering Female Author
In the time of the Brontes, and after the time when Jane Austen was putting quill to paper, Mary Linskill was quietly working away in Whitby.
A milliner by trade (hat maker), she wrote four novels including Between the Heather and the Northern Sea; The Haven under the Hill and In Exchange for a Soulin the 1880s.
She passed away aged just 50.
Whitby was Once Home to the Dinosaurs
Well, that might be stretching it a bit!
However, the stretch of coast including Whitby is famous for its fossil hunting.
There has even been a full dinosaur skeleton discovered along the Whitby coastline.
Always ensure you take care when fossil hunting, checking the tides and keeping an eye out for rockfalls and landslips.
Whitby is a Favourite Location with the Film Industry
From Tom Cruise to Daniel Day Lewis, Whitby and its surrounding locations attract film crews time and again.
Recent filmic visitations include The Phantom Thread, The Runaways, Bridgerton and more.
When the Harry Potter franchise filmed on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, its stars were often seen in Whitby and Scarborough.
And Finally ….
So, there we have it! Thirteen facts about Whitby! Some you might have known already. Others you might have been surprised to learn.
One fact remains constant though … Whitby is just a wonderful place in which to live and work. We also love to have our family time in the town, enjoying the beaches, the ice creams, the sunrises and sunsets just like our lovely visitors do too.
If you have any facts, you would like us to add to the list, then please get in touch with us!
Until next time …