Tuesday 21 May 2024


The story of this old and atmospheric public house has already been covered in my good friend Richard Locker's excellent article (The Prospect of Whitby 2010), and this post can be seen as a follow up to his research.

Recently, on a visit to London, my daughter Charlotte and I made our way to Wapping to have a pre-booked lunch at this extraordinary watering hole. Stepping from the train and walking through streets of brick faced, characterless dockland buildings, it's easy to think you've taken the wrong road until, after rounding a bend, the Prospect of Whitby is suddenly in front of you solid and permanent. Although dwarfed by the surrounding buildings, it stands out as a psychogeographical link to London's past.

The Prospect, with Pelican Stairs down the right hand side

Before going inside we explored the alleyway down the side of the pub which opens onto the river. Known as Pelican Stairs, this narrow passage ends in steps first rising, and then descending onto a secret beach. Both of us commented on the resemblance to Tate Hill sands at Whitby and the feeling of being on a sheltered, protected shoreline. The Thames here is tidal, and by the time we left after our meal and a few drinks, the sand had been completely covered by lapping waves. 

The 'Tate Hill beach' effect

The beer was excellent and the food was perfect, and not as expensive as you might suppose, but this really isn't an advert for the establishment, it's an advert for the atmosphere. Apparently the painter J.M.W. Turner would stay here under an assumed name to sample the delights of Wapping. Turner's private life is notoriously shrouded in mystery, and the reasons for his visits to dubious dockland pubs can only be guessed at. He made sketches of the river from his vantage point on the Prospect's balcony, although the skyline has changed dramatically since then and is now dominated by the monolithic skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.

The gallows looking over to Canary Wharf

The vicinity of Execution Dock, a grisly place at which for 400 years pirates, smugglers and mutineers were dispatched, is commemorated by a gallows set up on the beach at the back of the pub. The top of the gibbet can just about be reached at arm's length from the pub balcony, and people have placed coins on the wooden beam. An offering of sorts to the ghosts of those sentenced to death by the Admiralty that still haunt the river?

A stunning 3D recreation of The Prospect of Whitby can be explored here: 3D Model by Artfletch


More information:

Historic England

Pelican Stairs

Execution Dock

Wednesday 21 September 2022


 After the blinding success of last year's LEVITATION Festival in Whitby, once more the cream of the UK's electronic music diaspora will be homing in on Flowergate Hall around bonfire night for a couple of days of patching cables, twiddling knobs and making LEDs flash.

Colin of the Castles in Space label has arranged a stellar cast of artists to fill the room with coordinated clouds of throbs and bleeps summoning up analogue dreams and digital ghosts. Once again it's all going to be held together by Bob Fischer's stabilising presence as compère. Expect mind altering music and a raffle.

I'm especially looking forward to a performance by Whitby's Band of Cloud (David Owen and Rebecca Denniff) mesmerising everyone. They run the venue too!

Here are some fairly low quality pictures of LEVITATION 2021...

Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan

Simon James

Concretism and Derek Batey

Field Lines Cartographer

Bob Fischer

The New Obsolescents
If you want my personal recommendations of places to eat, drink and buy stuff, here's a helpful interactive map. On top of this Whitby is full of good charity shops, history and folklore. You can't go wrong.

See you in November!

Tuesday 20 September 2022


Since the sad demise of the TQN-aut label, my CURSUS album is now free to download!


Sunday 27 December 2020


The Whitby Gladiator (photo by John Sewell)

The Borghese Gladiator is a Hellenistic sculpture which is currently on display in the Louvre, Paris. It was created in Ephesus about 100BC and is signed on the pedestal by Agasias, son of Dositheus. It was found in the ruins of Nero’s seaside palace in the area now known as Anzio, south of Rome, sometime before 1611 during excavations instigated by Cardinal Scipione Borghese .

Misnamed a gladiator (it is considered to actually be a swordsman engaging with a mounted opponent) it was widely copied by sculptors in the eighteenth century. It also appears in many works of pictorial art, such as Joseph Wright of Derby’s Three Persons Viewing the Gladiator by Candlelight (1765).

Three Persons Viewing the Gladiator by Candlelight (1765)

Evidence from maps and documents suggests that a sculpture of the Borghese Gladiator stood on a stone plinth in the centre of the cobbled courtyard at the front of the north range of Whitby Abbey House. The house is currently a visitor centre for the abbey.

Whitby Abbey was the property of the Cholmley family from 1539 to 1857 and they resided in the abbot’s lodgings, south west of the abbey church. The north range of the house was built between 1671 and 1674 by the fourth baronet Sir Hugh Cholmley (1632 – 89).

When Leeds antiquarian Ralph Thoresby visited in 1682 he described the hall as being built ‘of freestone, with large courts and walks with iron grates, and a curious statue in solid brass as large as life in the midst of the square.’

In His 1779 History of Whitby Lionel Charlton says of Sir Hugh ‘He built up all the N. side of the Mansion-house at Whitby, in the complete manner wherein it still remains with the statue of a gladiator on the N. side thereof.’

 Hubert Le Sueur's Gladiator, Windsor 

When the area was excavated between 1998 and 2002 the remains of an almost complete cobbled yard were uncovered in front of the north range. At the centre of the yard was a masonry feature suggesting a plinth. Also set in the east wall midway along its length is a pedestal of local stone, the setting of which, in relation to the surrounding stonework of the wall itself, suggests that this was not its intended location.

The statue that now stands at the centre of the courtyard was made by Rupert Harris Conservation Ltd. and commissioned by English Heritage. It was cast from the 17th century copy by Hubert Le Sueur (1580 – 1658), which is on display at Windsor. A stone pedestal was also created by York masons based on the one set in the east wall of the courtyard. The Whitby Gladiator was unveiled in 2009.

Recreation - Rupert Harris Conservation Ltd.

Sources and further reading: 

Saturday 5 September 2020


Iron Henry is an album released in 2007 concerning Whitby Museum. It's as much about the cabinets as the exhibits within, and it captures that feeling of being surrounded by strange and ancient artifacts. It has the gleam of polished brass and the ornate fuctionality of victorian invention. It contains objects of arcane folklore that have spells and legends woven through them.

It was Gareth S. Brown's first solo release since leaving the band Hood, and I asked him about the origins of this extraordinary album...


Gareth S. Brown: I'd had other solo releases doing noise stuff before Hood split up. I'd been doing this project for a few years before the split though, so I always thought of it as more of a side project.

Popwatch: Is Hood officially no more, or is it just temporarily inactive?

GSB: I think it's technically still a hiatus with Hood, although I can't imagine in a million years that we'll ever do anything together again. Most of us are still close (in fact I'm going to Chris Adams' stag do this very evening) but we have very different lives now.

PW: Are you sometimes involved with The Declining Winter?

GSB: That's right. I sort of occupy a 'general utility man' role for Richard Adams' musical endeavours. I play in Memory Drawings too, which is his other thing with American dulicmer player Joel. I'm occasionally roped in to play on recordings but by and large it's a question of helping to make those things work in a live context. 




PW: Did you first visit Whitby Museum as a child, because the memories in the music seem very vivid?

GSB: I did, but I actually have very few memories of it from childhood. I grew up just outside Leeds, so Whitby was often the first choice for trips to the seaside. As an adult I started going back over reasonably regularly and when I 'rediscovered' the museum I wasn't even sure I'd ever been there before, until I went in and was hit with that sense of familiarity. I can now picture myself there as a child, but it's one of those spaces that brings that sort of child-like wonder out, so it's possible some of my memories are products of my imagination.

PW: I think the sense of wonder is apparent in Iron Henry. Some of the instruments even sound like toys. Little bells etc.

GSB: Yeah. That's partly because I have a real love of toy instruments. I had quite a few as a child and definitely used to spend a lot of quality time with the pots and pans in the kitchen. I think there's something about the lack of range or the lack of options with toy instruments that helps to bring out more creative solutions - a river flows fastest at its narrowest point etc.Partly though, I must admit, it's a pragmattic response to the fact that sythesised or sampled versions of toy instruments tend to sound way better than the aproximaitons of 'proper' instruments do.

PW: Yes. I think that sadly a lot of musicians lose that sense of playfulness and become kind of wedded to a mature mindset.The tunes reference the cabinets in the museum specifically don't they? I remember the one with the coral in. I'm from Sheffield and I loved Whitby as a kid, particularly the rocks, the rockpools and the museum.

There's a track about the Sea Bishop, for instance. What a strange object that is?

GSB: Yeah. Some of them reference actual exhibits at the museum and some of them are imagined exhibits. So, for example, I don't recall there being any 'Frozen Charlottes' there (which, in case you didn't know are little dolls people used to put in christmas puddings), but the Sea Bishop, The Tempest Prognosticator, and the Hand of Glory are all jewels in Whitby Museum's crown.

Yes, the sea bishop is very strange isn't it? I've read of examples in other collections too. I just love the idea of a conspiracy of pranking sailors bringing these things back to shore. Of course it's difficult to say whether they were actually ever received as genuine or whether it was a joke everyone was in on.

PW: It's like the snake's heads they used to carve on ammonites to sell to hapless visitors, claiming them to be fossilized snakes.

GSB: I suppose that one has a whole local myth around it doesn't it? Isn't there a story about St Hilda hurling snakes off the cliff? Seems totally unreasonable, but I imagine she would have been under a lot of stress?




PW:I wanted to ask you who the Iron Henry in question is? Is it the servant from the Grimm's fairy tale of The Frog Prince?

GSB: That's right. I'm struggling to remember what the specific significance was, or even if there was one. I enjoy the incongruousness of the character in connection to the rest of the fairy tale though. Obviously in most retellings Iron Henry is entirely absent. If you read the Grimm version it sort of seems like it's probably an amalgamation of two entirely separate folk tales.

PW: From what I've read, he had iron bands round his heart. Not a medical treatment approved of these days.

'The next morning a splendid coach arrived drawn by eight horses with feathers and glistening gold harnesses. The prince’s Faithful Henry accompanied them. He had been so distressed when he had learned his master had been turned into a frog that he had ordered three iron bands to be wrapped around his heart to keep it from bursting from grief.'  From The Frog Prince by The Brothers Grimm.




PW: The composition is a bit like systems music, layers of repeated motifs. This makes it sound dually modern and yet also like an automaton's playing sometimes. I really like that approach.

GSB: I'm very drawn to that approach too. Often when I performed that stuff and other things from the same project live I'd get people telling me (not in an unkind way), how much it would be improved by being played by some sort of chamber ensemble, but that mechanical aspect, the idea of setting something off going and then just leaving it, and adding more stuff on the top that you can also just set off and leave, was always really central for me. Again there's a clear link with toy instruments. The whole project was quite consciously influenced by things like Reich and early Glass.

PW: Audiences tend to have a band that plays every note in real time mentally fixed as a default setting I think, but making the mechanical repetition obvious is part of Iron Henry's charm. The way it sounds like a machine, a machine from the age of the Tempest Prognosticator.

GSB: That's very kind of you. It's a funny balance with the live/non-live thing. On the one hand I think you're right that the default setting is the band that plays every note. On the other hand, the norm for maybe more dance-based electronic projects is still the laptop set, and often with very little of a live aspect to it.

I kind of felt like I was stuck in a bit of a grey zone between the two, where people would perhaps associate me more closely with the former whilst I had a technical set-up more closely associated with the latter. I would tend to play sets that were half pre-recorded, but with stuff played live over the top. I'm not sure anyone (including me) was ever truly satisfied with it.




GSB: I've been discussing the possibility of releasing the majority of my unreleased recordings with a cassette label, so we'll see where that goes.

PW: Sounds very interesting, except I don't have a cassette player. I should get one. lots of good stuff gets released on that format these days.

GSB: Yeah, I'm slightly worried that cassettes are only for hipsters nowadays, but it's true that there's a lot of good stuff coming out. I'm pretty free and easy with CDRs and MP3s though, and it's hard to make a case that someone without a cassette player not buying a cassette is a missed sale. Maybe the thing to do would be to release a tape with a download code.

PW: I remember the culture of passing tapes around in Whitby in the 80s. Local bands you could play in the car, until the tape all got chewed up and you had to hang it from a tree. Remember all that tape hanging from branches?

GSB: I was pretty immersed in the noise and improv tape scene in the late nineties. I do miss it a bit. Cassettes sound great.

PW: They did, and indeed still do, but the hipsterness might wear off. Mind you some CDRs I've had for a while are unplayable now. The digital info on them has vanished.

GSB: I agree. I have a number of commerically pressed CDs about which the same is true. I'm pretty sure CDs were just a big con.

PW: Vinyl seems to be the one.

GSB: Always.

The Declining Winter

Memory Drawings

Saturday 24 November 2018


'A mystical item is made from the hand of a dead thief that grants the user the ability to steal from anyone. But finally the spell is broken and the owner of the hand seeks revenge'.

This story, which begins in Yorkshire in 1824, features the Hand of Glory and it's associated rhyme. It was pencilled and inked (rather idiosyncratically) by Matt Fox and appeared in the American comic Chilling Tales #13 published in 1952.

Click on the images to enlarge them.


Sunday 29 October 2017



Click on the pictures for larger versions.

Unusually for a town on the east coast of England, Whitby faces north and looks out to sea. In Midsummer the sun rises from and sets in the sea. Whitbyites know the hill overlooking the town from the west as Skelder. The A171 moor road to Guisborough passes over its summit and, when traveling home across the moors, that is the point at which one re-enters familiar local territory. The entire Whitby district suddenly opens out below. To go 'up Skelder' or 'down Skelder' is a phrase familiar to Whitby ears. The charismatic presence of the ruined abbey on the headland under which the town nestles means many residents and tourists hardly give Skelder a second glance but the hill looms ever-present like a monumental flattened ziggurat.

Skelder, August 2016. Looking west from Green Lane allotments, Whitby
As with all three steep routes in and out of the town, surrounded as we are by high heather moorland on one side and the North Sea on the other, the road over Skelder can become hazardous in winter fog, sleet, ice and snow. In the distant past, the difficult terrain meant land travel was minimal in winter and the roads were only made suitable for horse-drawn coaches by the eighteenth century. In blizzard conditions the coast road through East Cleveland is more likely to be taken for an essential journey north. Before relatively recent road improvements, even this route involved a convoluted path and the negotiation of a mile of beach before ascending Lythe Bank and the high snow-blown fields towards Mickleby. The road south to York via Blue Bank was equally daunting. As a consequence, Whitby had to be self-sufficient for a few months of the year. Access to the sea helped - the Whitby district resembled an island in Orkney as much as it did a typical English east coast seaport.

Nowadays, on sunny mornings Skelder often wears a glinting necklace of bumper-to-bumper tourist traffic, snaking slowly downhill. By evening streams of red tail lights crawl back up and over it. However, even now a dusting of snow can reduce traffic. A resident returning home across the moors sees the welcome landscape of the abbey and the red-roofed town huddled far below in isolation on the sea's edge. Like an astronaut getting misty-eyed from seeing the 'blue marble' that is Earth - from Skelder one's friends, family and foes can be imagined going about their business in Skelder's shadow.

It brings to mind the description of the view that greeted Grendel, the monster from the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, Beowulf, as he skulked high on the moor's edge, looking down malevolently on Heorot.

Text from Seamus Heaney's Beowulf:
A New Translation. Painting by me, (oil) 2017.
When viewed from the East Side of the Esk, particularly on Whitby Abbey Headland, the hill of Skelder looks like a massive ancient round war shield lying flat on the moors. That similarity was evidently noticed centuries ago, Skelder is Old Norse for shield - skjoldur. There is a street named Skeldergate in York - a 'shield-maker's street', or perhaps simply 'shield street' - deriving from 'skjoldur' and 'gata' for street. It is as if Whitby's shield-hill has been left there by a mythical giant, like North Yorkshire's own enormous flying troubleshooter, Wade.

Looking east towards Whitby Abbey
from on top of Swarth Howe. October 2017.

Skelder's peak, topped by an ancient burial mound known as Swarth Howe, or Swarthoue, is the' boss' of the shield. 'Swart' is Old English/Old Norse, meaning black/dark/infamous. The related word, swarth, means rind/skin/grassy outer coverings. The name could be simply describing the large bowl-shaped grassy mound. A 'howe' is a local Anglo-Scandinavian dialect word for burial mound, derived from the Old Norse, haugr. Prehistoric standing stones and rock art are also found in the vicinity. The northern margins of the North York Moors are dotted with Bronze Age tumuli, houses of the ancestors close to the sky - watching over the living in the dales below. This hill, being the highest point on northern margin of the Esk valley at 264m, is the prime spot for an ancient burial of importance.

Clearly, Skelder's gigantic size and shield-like shape would make it a key landmark familiar to ancient townspeople and passing seafarers. When viewed from Whitby, Swarth Howe, the boss, appears to sit on a landscaped terrace, or platform, similar to Danby Beacon. Seen from Skelder Road, west of Newholm, this stepped summit, facing Whitby Abbey, looks remarkably symmetrical, although the forest and gorse hides a lot of the land's contours. Skelder is a 'node' (thanks Gavin) that dominates the Whitby area's skyline and is visible through 360 degrees from land and sea. Photographs rarely do justice to its weighty presence in the landscape, the lens seems to diminish it. Skelder is a shield but sometimes an unpredictable and inconvenient obstacle. Long before GPS and weather forecasting, it was consulted before journeys - a prognosticator. Clouds brush across it and the sun sets behind it in winter. Snow lingers long after the sea salt air has thawed the town a few miles further downhill.

Skelder from St Mary's Churchyard, East Cliff.

Originally published on 13:06:17 in the blog


Goth has transcended a musical style to become a part of everyday leisure and popular culture. The music’s cultural terrain has been extensively mapped in the first decade of this century. In this paper we examine the phenomenon of the Whitby Goth Weekend, a modern Goth music festival, which has contributed to (and has been altered by) the heritage tourism marketing of Whitby as the holiday resort of Dracula.

Professor Karl Spracklen (Leeds Metropolitan University, UK) and Beverley Spracklen (Independent Scholar) address the dilution of Goth culture and the nature of 'performance tourism'.

In their own words:

We will examine marketing literature and websites that sell Whitby as a spooky town, and suggest that this strategy has driven the success of the Goth festival. We will explore the development of the festival and the politics of its ownership, and its increasing visibility as a mainstream tourist destination for those who want to dress up for the weekend.

Download the full paper and read it by a flickering candle.
PDF of the full paper

Friday 23 June 2017


Stronger Than The Sun was a television drama written by Stephen Poliakoff and directed by Michael Apted. It aired as part of the Play For Today strand in 1977, a series that was never shy of courting controversy. Dealing with the nuclear industry and its possible consequences, the play certainly asked some pertinent questions about safety and personal responsibility.

Waiting at the bandstand
A walk on the pier
Kate (Francesca Annis) and Alan (Tom Bell) work at a fictional nuclear facility called Caversbridge. Although the precise location is never fully revealed, it's somewhere  near Whitby. After finding out that a radioactive leak has occurred and is being covered up, Kate steals a small amount of plutonium to highlight security weaknesses  in the system. When she takes it to pressure groups and the press they won't touch it with a bargepole.

The phone box
When will she finish that bloody call?
When Alan discovers that Kate has been carrying a capsule of plutonium around in her handbag, he alerts the authorities who enter her flat in West Terrace. Dressed in full anti-radiation suits they take her out to a waiting ambulance as local residents look on.

Almost all the outdoor action takes place in Whitby. There are some great shots of the town including motor bikes circling round the bandstand, a walk along the pier and the phone box on St. Ann's Staith in front of Whitby Fish Selling Company.  The culminating scene of police cars pulling into West Terrace is quite extraordinary.

Buying a paper
At the station
It was Poliakoff's first television film before he went on to achieve great success in the medium writing and directing many award winning dramas. Francesca Annis gives an extraordinary performance as the intelligent, well-meaning but naive Kate. The late Tom Bell plays her concerned and less impulsive lover whose attempt to save her from herself proves too little too late.

The end

Wednesday 7 June 2017


William Gervase Beckett

There were two elections in Whitby in close succession in 1905 and 1906. The first was a Parliamentary by-election on 1 June 1905. Two candidates contested the seat. The Conservatives selected William Gervase Beckett, the 39 year old younger brother of the previous MP Ernest Beckett. The reason for the by-election was that Ernest succeeded to Baron Grimthorpe on the death of his uncle on April 29th 1905 and vacated the seat.

The candidate standing against him was Noel Edward Buxton, a 36 year old Liberal with an interest in temperance reform. Unfortunately he fell foul of the Temperance League because of his supposed brewery interests. Despite the Temperance League traditionally supporting the Liberals, they threatened to withdraw their support unless another less controversial candidate was put forward.

Noel Edward Buxton
Despite this, and with a 79% turn out, Buxton won by 445 votes. He described the result as "a great victory for truth, for the cause of the working man and for liberty throughout the world". The following year in January a General Election took place and the result was reversed with Beckett taking the seat, but only by 71 votes.

This post was prompted by seeing an intriguing drawing of the fish quay at Whitby in Pannett Park gallery. It is by marine artist and member of the Staithes group Joseph Richard Bagshawe (1870-1909). The title added by the gallery says 'Parliamentary Election 1905 - 1906' which doesn't make it clear exactly which election it depicts.

The people of the town certainly weren't shy about showing their allegiances at the time with endorsements for both candidates appearing in the sketch. Most prominent is the 'VOTE FOR BECKETT' lettering on the shed roof and on the passing boat. The 'VOTE FOR BUXTON' sign is less clear and right on the other side of the harbour. Whether this represents Bagshawe's own political bias is open to interpretation.

Click on the picture to enlarge it.

T.B & R Jordan’s Staithes Group of Artists Exhibition runs until 18th June 2017. This is in addition to the permanent Staithes Group display which is a fixture at the gallery.