Thursday, 28 July 2016


Louis Tracy (1863 - 1928) was a newspaper journalist and a very prolific author. He was reputedly born in Liverpool (although that is disputed by Steve Holland in his Bear Alley blog) but lived a significant part of his life in Whitby. The census records for 1901 show that his son, Thomas resided at 23 Skinner Street, Whitby. Tracy himself gave his address in 1911 as Fairlawn, Whitby, Yorkshire.

He often collaborated with M. P. Shiel, author of The Purple Cloud, with whom he sometimes shared the pseudonyms Gordon Holmes and Robert Fraser.

Tracy became a volunteer member of the Coast Guard, and in his book The Pillar of Light an exciting shipwreck takes place. It is clear that Tracy used his real life experiences in Whitby's Coast Guard to inform the thrilling description of the storm, wreck and rescue.

The Shiel scholar John D. Squires has written a long article on Louis Tracy here. In August 2012 Mr Squires promised to furnish me with material about Tracy's life in Whitby, but he sadly died in November of that same year before any correspondence could take place. His message to me read:

I have info on Tracy's life in Whitby, including an (unfortunately) poor quality image of his home showing shell damage from the German cruiser raid. If you want to use on your blog, contact me.

This moving obituary to Tracy appeared in the October 1928 edition of The Bookman, the literary magazine.

I heard with great regret of the death of Mr. Louis Tracy, an able and successful novelist; whose books have enjoyed considerable popularity for the last thirty years. His first novel, The Final War, was published in 1896, and the strenuous work he undertook during that War when it came (for since it was a cold war to end war, one hopes it was the final one), broke down his health and hastened his end. 

He was turned fifty in 1914, but promptly took a hand in forming the Whitby Branch of the North Riding Volunteer Reserve, and in 1915 was made sub-commander of the regiment. He wrote much on the War, went lecturing on it in America in 1916, and in 1917 joined the Headquarters Staff of the British Mission in the U.S.A., and later was temporarily attached to the Foreign Office. For these and other war services he was made a C.B.E. in 1920. 

For six years most of his literary work was suspended, and at fifty eight he had to take up the dropped threads and begin again, and did not find the way easy after that interval, but wrote thirteen more novels in the last seven years, and regained his public, though he could not regain the strength he had lost. By a strange coincidence he died on August 13th, leaving unfinished a story called The Fatal Thirteen, of which he had written only thirteen pages.

A comprehensive bibliography of Tracy's work
Bear Alley
John D. Squires

Friday, 22 July 2016



Excellent day on the rocks at Runswick. I arrived at about an hour before low water. There was a persistent breeze rippling the surfaces of the pools, which always makes it tricky to photograph into the water, but the threatened rain never materialised.

Sheltering under stones there were several 'berried' crabs carrying their clutch of eggs against their abdomens. If you find one with a smooth, yellow-brown, soft lump under the body which doesn't look at all like berries, it is the parasitic barnacle Sacculina carcini or one of it's relatives. These barnacles do not have the hard plates that surround their rock dwelling cousins. They are just a soft lump of tissue which extends itself into the crab's tissues.

A female crab with her eggs held under her abdomen 
Sponges are among the simplest of animals. They do not have seperate tissues and organs and if forced through a tight mesh, the broken pieces will reform again after a short period of time into many small sponges. Oscarella lobularis is a beautiful encrusting sponge, and this one was found beneath a large stone in one of the rock gulleys. 

Oscarella lobularis alongside another sponge Hymeniacidon perleve

Oscarella lobularis (detail)

Under the same large stone as the sponges was this beautiful brittle-star Ophiothrix fragilis. The species can be identified by its large radial shields which are triangular in shape and extend up to ⅔ of the central disc's radius. Brittle-stars are Echinoderms, and like their starfish relatives exhibit five-fold symmetry.

They are often found alongside sponges and other sessile organisms. As their name suggests, they break very easily and it is best not to handle them. Far better to photograph them and then carefully return the stone back to its original position.

 The brittle-star Ophiothrix fragilis
These two fuzzy blobs are colonies of  the ascidian Botrylloides leachii. Known as sea squirts, these tiny creatures form colonies in which individuals are clothed within a common mass of tough, jelly-like material called a test.

The larval stage of sea squirts is tadpole-like and has a notochord (a flexible, rod-like structure) and a dorsal nerve cord. These characteristics are essentially the first stages of vertebrate evolution, so although sea squirts look nothing like fish, birds, mammals, or indeed us, they are in fact our very distant relatives.

Two colonies of Botrylloides leachii

Friday, 17 July 2015


Grindelia stricta is the scientific name of coastal gumweed, sometimes called the Oregon gum plant. It gets its name from the Latvian botanist David Hieronymus Grindel (1776 - 1836).

In order to deter predators the buds produce a blob of sticky goo, hence the name gumweed. Apparently this was used as a skin ointment, amongst other things, by the coastal natives of California, the plant's natural home.

Bizarrely Whitby's west cliff is the only place in the United Kingdom where the coastal gum plant grows. It can be found very easily on the cliffs right in the busiest parts of the town. Up the Khyber Pass for instance, there are plenty of plants just at the bottom of the steps up to the whalebone arch.

This time of year (July) is a good time to look for Grindelia as the buds are particularly nice and gummyIt has increased greatly since first being recorded here in 1977.

Sunday, 8 February 2015


Chalk philosophy from an unknown author. Whitby Spa.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014


The Snap-dragon fly from Lewis Carol's third chapter of Through The Looking Glass, illustrated by John Tenniel. Its body is made of plum-pudding, its wings of holly-leaves, and its head is a raisin burning in brandy...it lives on frumenty and mince-pie.

'In the matter of the Christmas feasting there is nothing so distinctive of it as in the making of the frumety. He is no Yorkshireman who does not know what furmety or frumety is. It is one of our institutions. As regularly as Christmas comes round preparations are made for the manufacture of this Yorkshire dish.'
Rev. M.C.F. Morris from Yorkshire Folk Talk 1892

A 17th century recipe for frumety
The traditional method of making frumety (or frumenty, furmenty, formtiy, however you spell it, all versions are based on the Latin frumentum meaning grain) was a time consuming labour. If a household had no wheat of their own, the tradition was to beg some from neighbouring farms on St Thomas' Day (December 21st).

The wheat should be soaked in water for a day then put in a bag and beaten to get the hullins, the outer coats of the wheat grains, to seperate. Often this was done by thrashing the bag with a flail. Then the whole lot was put into water. The hullins would float to the surface and the pure wheat could be extracted.
After being put in an oven to cree for two or three hours, milk was added and the pan was put over the fire to boil. Sugar was added together with nutmeg and any other spices and flavourings according to people's tastes and fancies.

The dish was originally eaten on Christmas Eve together with cheese, gingerbread and yule cakes. These were cakes of currants, citron and other tasty ingredients. Each person had one to eat with the frumety.

Easier recipes for frumety can be found without too much trouble on the web that generally don't involve setting about a sack of wheat on the kitchen floor with a flail.

Recipe 1
Recipe 2
Recipe 3

Monday, 22 December 2014


In the 1800s Whitby gingerbread was famous throughout the country with a reputation equal to that of York Muffins. Made from a stiff dough flavoured with coriander, peel and black treacle, it was consumed traditionally at Christmas. It was also recommended for new mothers, often together with cheese. In later versions of the recipe golden syrup replaced the treacle. A fruited gingerbread was also available which included raisins, sultanas and currants in the mix.

A confectioner advertising gingerbread
Young estimated the amount sold in Whitby in one year to be around 12 tons. It was said that between September and December alone 5 tons were produced. It was dispatched far and wide in tea chests, often to ship's captains in distant lands whose crews longed for a taste of home.
Ditchburn's, who had a shop on Church Street, made Whitby gingerbread from 1868 until 1952. Beilby and Edwards' shop on St. Ann's Staith was right next door to Foster and Wright's confectioners. Both emporiums produced the spicy treat, so competition must have been fervent. Sometimes this traditional gingerbread is confused with peppercakes. These however were seasoned with Jamaican pepper.

Whilst the plain type was traditionaly made in a hoop and then decorated on top, the fruited variety was pressed into wooden moulds. These had patterns or pictures cut into them, often by skilled jet workers. Fourteen moulds are on display in Whitby Museum. They date from the 17th to the early 18th centuries and show such things as ladies and gentlemen in their finery, Whitby's coat of arms with its three ammonites and other delicately carved motifs.

Gingerbread moulds in Whitby Museum
Ellizabeth Botham's, craft bakers since 1865, still produce the delicacy today. This is their description of the product.

Original Whitby Gingerbread is a block gingerbread peculiar to the town and has been made here for many hundreds of years. It is quite unlike any other Gingerbread available as it is baked to a firm loaf with a texture between a bread and a biscuit. It is not a cake or a biscuit as many people would imagine.

This high quality product is delicious sliced thinly, buttered and eaten with a farmhouse cheese, such as Wensleydale or Coverdale and is also delightful with preserve.

Without doubt, a perfect speciality to be eaten on a crisp winter's day in front of a glowing fire.

Link: Botham's Whitby Gingerbread

Monday, 17 November 2014


This bronze age circle of stones on the edge of Harwood Dale forest looks particularly brooding in the gloom of a November afternoon beneath a sky of gathering rain. Of the original 24 stones, 15 remain. They are set in a low earth bank and the circle has a diameter of around 8 metres.

The three centre stones form part of a burial cist. One of the flat stones that originally formed a wall of the cist can be seen behind these three set edgewise into the earth. Four of the stones which formed the lid were marked with cup and ring designs and now reside in the safety of Scarborough Museum.

In his Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology of North-East Yorkshire (1993) D. A. Spratt records six cup and ring stones from this site now in Scarborough Museum, given by Mr John Tissiman in 1852.
The area around the circle was originally dotted with a number of sepulchral cairns, many of which have now been cleared or incorporated into drystone walls. The first OS map of the area shows around 100 of these to the west and south of the monument, making it part of a much larger assemblage of prehistoric remains.

For more information, folklore and much better photographs see Richard Locker's Liminal Whitby article on The Druid Stones.

Saturday, 14 June 2014


The Cleveland dyke is an intrusion of dark, hard rock which runs in a more or less straight line from the valley of the Tees near Eaglescliffe station for 31 miles as far as Fylingdales Moor near Robin Hood's Bay. The dyke consists of whinstone, an igneous rocks formed by the solidification of molten material. It supposedly gets its name from the sound it makes when hit by a hammer.

The dyke has been dated to 26 million years old, meaning it was formed in the Miocene period geologically speaking. Whinstone has been mined near Beck Hole since the early 1800s. Its usage was mainly as roadstone, although some was also utilised for building work. The dyke is between 30 to 40 feet wide, extremely deep and bounded by about 3 to 6 feet of metamorphosed sedimentary rocks, in this case sandstone transformed by heat into what the miners called 'China rock' because of its white appearance.

Driving along toward Beck Hole from the Goathland turn off of the A169, the huge scar of the whinstone quarries in the dyke can be seen to the right of the road. Hidden away to the left in the heather is a small, ruined building and beside it is a tunnel. This is the entrance to an adit which leads 1770 feet and meets the dyke deep beneath the moors, at which point the mine workings are around 140 feet below the quarry floor. The mine was known as Sil

The entrance to the adit, dated 1940
When operating, this tunnel was laid with a 42" gauge track on which the mined stone was transported from the workings to a crushing plant above Goathland station. The track was graded so that normally the trucks would run by themselves downhill. The empty trucks were hauled back into the mine by horses. The mechanical crusher at Goathland was powered by a steam engine for most of its working lifetime.

The crushing plant above Goathland station
Under the window of the ruined mine offices the motto 'LEAD THOU ME ON' can be seen carved into the stone. The date 1899 can also be found nearby. However, the entrance to the tunnel is dated 1940. The mystery of the discrepancy between these two dates can be solved by a quick glance around the site. A round bomb crater, now filled with water, shows that damage was caused here. During wartime lights were set on the moors to draw enemy attention away from the large centres of industry at Teesside. This may well be the reason for the bomb crater.

The miner's motto 'LEAD THOU ME ON'
The ruined mine offices and the bomb crater
 The mine had ceased working by 1951, although interest in it from cavers and industrial archaeology enthusiasts has increased. It seems in the early 1990s it was possible to enter the mine, but now it is stoved in about 5m from the entrance. York Caving Club have recently applied to work on the adit to make it accessible once again, indeed a vertical access shaft has already been created and capped off by a locked lid.

The photograph below shows the mine in 1920. You can just pick out three miners and the railway track coming out of the tunnel. It gives some idea of scale.

The source for most of this article was Peter Wainright's excellent booklet The Mines and Miners of Goathland, Beckhole and Greenend. Peter goes into details of mine ownership, the fates of individual miners and anecdotes and newspaper reports concerning Sil Howe. It can be purchased from Whitby Bookshop.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


At the time of the Domesday Book the village of Hinderwell near Whitby was known as Hildrewell, clearly invoking the name of St. Hilda, Abbess of Whitby Abbey (c. 614 -680). Since then the name has been variously spelled as Ildrewell and in the twelfth century Hilderwell and Hylderwell.
It is said that a well sprung up beside the saint as she prayed for water, but it is more likely that Hinderwell was one of her retreats chosen because of the clear, fresh water springing from the ground there. It may even have been a minor place of pilgrimage as Hope (1893) suggests that the monks would stop here on their journeys from Kirkham to Whitby, which would have meant them taking a rather long way round. The water is said to have healing properties, especially beneficial for eye complaints apparently.

The well can be found in the churchyard of St Hilda's down a slope furnished with stone steps set into the grassy bank. There is also a magnificent yew tree close by and many interesting graves of ship owners and local families, although a good proportion of the stones have been rendered illegible by weathering.

The pump shown in the photograph above was installed before 1900. In 1912 it was dismantled and the well was restored by Hilda Gertrude Montgomery Palmer (1884 - 1946) of Grinkle Park. It is now a sandstone structure approximately a metre and a half in height with the crystal clear water flowing from a chamber behind through a small inlet and into a stone font. A plaque commemorates the restoration.

Key to people in the photograph:
1. Mrs Lizzie Hodgson at the pump
2. Another unrelated Mrs Lizzie Hodgson
3. Mr John Gray carrying two pails on a yoke
4. Mrs Hannah Trattles of Gate House
5. Bob Billam
6. Joe Dawson
7. Annie Lyth
8. Mabel Wheatherill

The key to the people in the photograph of the old pump is from Round and About The North Yorkshire Moors Vol II by Tom Scott Burns and Martin Rigg

Saturday, 9 February 2013


William Henry Bateson and his wife Anna Aiken Bateson came on holiday to Robin Hood's Bay in August 1861. They left their comfortable home in Cambridge, where William was Master of St John's College, for the bracing air and sea spray of the North Yorkshire coastline. Anna was heavily pregnant at the time and went in to labour rather earlier than expected. She gave birth to a baby boy that the couple also called William. He was destined to change the face of science forever.

William Bateson was described as a vague and aimless boy at Rugby school, he nevertheless attained first class honours in the natural science tripos at Cambridge. He recieved his B.A. in 1883. He was very poorly trained in mathematics and physics but an outstanding classicist, however zoology and morphology, the study of the structure and form of living things, would interest him and occupy his mind for the rest of his life.

In May 1900 he read the largely forgotten 1866 work of the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel, who discovered the basic principles of heredity through experiments in his garden . This led Bateson to wholeheartedly espouse Mendel's views and he proved that they held for animals as well as plants.

Although an ardent evolutionist Bateson was an opponent of Darwinism and could not see how gradual change could lead to the abundance and variety of life on Earth. He made no bones about rubbing his peers up the wrong way, and as Richrd Ingrams points out "he always showed the awkward, unbending traits of the true type, indulging in splendidly intemperate rows and still exciting scientists' angst, demonstrating that his Yorkshire genes were in proper working order".

Bateson was the first person to coin the word 'genetics' for the study of  how the individual features and behavior of living things are passed on through their genes. Indeed he founded the Journal of Genetics in 1910 alongside R. C. Punnett.

William Bateson died in 1926. His word genetics has been passed down through the generations.