Saturday 30 May 2009


It seems that around the end of the 17th century the piers were in a similar poor state of repair as they are today. Robert Tate Gaskin, author of The Old Seaport of Whitby (1909), writes, "On the 8th of December 1696 a petition from Whitby was presented to the House of Commons and read. It set forth that Whitby Harbour was one of the most commodious in the north of England, being capable of receiving 500 sail of ships." He goes on to quote from the House of Commons journals, " ..the ancient piers being much decayed the mouth of the harbour being almost choked up, and in danger of being quite stopped up unless the piers be repaired."

A bill was eventually carried by Royal Assent on May 6, 1702 amid protest and initial refusals of help. Duties were imposed by the Trustees of the town (Gideon Meggison, Ralph Boyes and Henry Linskill) upon shipping using the port, a tax towards the upkeep and reconstruction of the harbour. This period coincided with an upturn in prosperity in the town due to the increase in whaling and the coastal collier trade between the Tyne and the Thames. Colliers needed a safe haven between the Tees and the Humber in the event of storms and this would have been a strong case in Whitby’s favour regarding funding for new harbour works.

Young writes, in his History of Whitby (1816), "The act of 1812 particularily authorises the repairing of the east pier, which is now enlarging on the outside, in the same durable form as the west pier, to the breadth of 15 yards. This pier, which is about 215 yards long forms the grand barrier to protect our town from the fury of the German ocean, which often breaks over it with great violence."

The west pier was almost wholly rebuilt by Mr Francis Pickernell, the engineer of the Harbour Trustees. It was completed on Christmas Eve, 1814, being built with stone from nearby Aislaby Quarry. Pickernell also designed the west pier lighthouse with its fluted Grecian column. This was completed in just 11 weeks in October 1831. The Acts passed to finance all this work were eventually repealed by 1861, considerably longer than the initial period of 9 years agreed in 1702. In the words of George Young this building activity resulted in, "..an admirable piece of workmanship, which may vie with any pier in the kingdom, either for strength or beauty." Francis Pickernell died in September 1871. By this time Whitby possessed much of the fine stone built harbour we see today.

The harbour entrance was once the 'front door' of Whitby, the sea for centuries being the town's main means of communication with the outside world. The imposing aspect of our piers and lighthouses is best appreciated when approaching from the sea.

C. Corner

Tuesday 26 May 2009


Hempsyke is described in the Eskdaleside-with-Ugglebarnby Geographical and Historical Information from the year 1890 as 'an estate near Littlebeck, the property and occasional residence of Henry Harrison Allen, Esq. The house is a neat structure, with verandah in front, erected in 1883-4. Three hundred different kinds of wood, it is said, appear in the floors, walls and ceilings.'

This picture of the fountain featuring the carved head of a lion, from whose mouth the water from a natural spring flows, was taken on Sunday, May 24th 2009. Although not clear in the picture, carved in the stone above the lion's head is the word 'HEMPSYKE'.

Below this are three plaques.

Man made the trough
The water God bestows
Then praise his name
From whom the blessing flows

John Allan
Hempsyke 1856

Weary stranger here you see
An emblem of true charity
Richly my bounty I bestow
Made by a kindly hand to flow
And I have fresh supplies from heaven
For every cup of water given

John Allan
Hempsyke 1858

According to legend, one day in 1864 a passing tramp refreshed himself at the font, possibly using a metal cup attached to a chain to prevent theft, that was often a feature of these roadside oases. He called at the house and arranged for the following plaque to be erected by way of thanks:

The stream is pure as if from heaven it ran
And while I praise the Lord I'll thank the man

Tramp 1864

To find the fountain from Whitby, go through Ruswarp over the bridge. Carry on past Sneaton and take the next turning on the right signposted Littlebeck 2, Sleights 2. Don't turn off towards Ugglebarnby though, follow the lane on in the Littlebeck direction. The font is set in the wall directly by the roadside on the left hand side.

OS map reference NZ8805
Click on the photo of the fountain for a fully detailed instant enlargement

Monday 25 May 2009


This picture of a rainbow was taken here in Whitby in mid May over Rose Avenue. The weather had been intermittently showery with quite bright sunny periods punctuating the rain.

The sky within the arc of the rainbow is quite clearly lighter than the sky above the rainbow. This is due to a phenomenon of light refraction through water droplets. The dark sky, especially if it occurs between two rainbows is known as Alexander's Dark Band after Alexander of Afrodisias who first recognised the effect.

It was well known to painters and countryfolk. This painting of 1794 by Joseph Wright of Derby clearly shows the phenomenon. A tribute to the artist's keen observation.

Friday 22 May 2009


If you walk along the beach anywhere from Whitby to Sandsend, you may notice a whitish residue at the high tide line. It looks like some sort of scum that's been washed up by the sea. In actual fact it's made up of millions of tiny crustaceans' bodies. The same thing is being reported from Redcar and Saltburn too.
They look like the sandhoppers you normally find on seaweed left high and dry up the beach that jump away as soon as you disturb them, and they are related, but in fact they're hyperiid amphipods, probably of the genus Themisto. Nobody as far as I know has categorically identified them yet though.

These creatures are not normally found on beaches. They live in huge swarms in the open sea, generally in mid water feeding on tiny crutaceans called copepods. As part of the zooplankton amphipods are an important food source for many fish, equivalent to krill.

Interestingly there was another mass stranding of amphipods in 1966, which was also a year when Ray's Bream occurred on the North East coast. Maybe the two things are linked. Possibly the bream are following the swarms of amphipods into northern waters. Of course the real reason for these odd occurences is not known, but the sheer amount of these tiny washed up bodies is quite spectacular.

Stay tuned for more news on this riveting topic as it occurs. I mean you wouldn't want to miss any further dead shrimp related developments would you?

Saturday 16 May 2009


This beautiful silver fish is a Ray's Bream (Brama brama). The picture was taken on the beach at Whitby near the old North Beach Cafe on January 28th this year.

Having seen a perfect specimen the evening before, but not having a camera on me, I decided to make sure I had one the next afternoon.

I could see two crows eagerly pecking away at something on the tideline. They hadn't done too much damage to the body, but they obviously like eyeballs for tea.

This winter Ray's Bream were washed up all along the North East coast right up as far as Scotland. They're normally found off the Atlantic coast of Portugal, Spain and North West Africa, although occasionally they appear in Southern British waters.

It's unlikely to be due to climate change, as every so often this species has an eruption year. 1967 to 1968 was an example. They sweep up around the west of Ireland and into the North Sea. No one seems to know why these fish, normally found in mid water, become stranded as often as they do.

Just to show you how big they are, here's a picture of a man with a moustache holding one. By the expression on his face, its obviously just said something disparaging about his wife.

Wednesday 13 May 2009


This is a picture of my Bush DAB digital radio that sits on the kitchen windowsill.
What's going on? Suddenly digital radio is available in Whitby. I used to scan the airwaves every now and then, and there was never a digital signal. I was able to listen to Middlesbrough lose to Newcastle and effectively slip out of the Premiership in crystal clear detail, instead of the usual battle with impending sheets of sonic static that you get with normal radio. I swear you could hear Gareth Southgate's tears hitting the turf.

Digital radio in Whitby? They'll be building an out of town supermarket before you can say Jack Robinson.

Monday 11 May 2009


I'm looking forward with great anticipation to this gig, not least because its for The Mission To Seamen. We need that place. Bands have practiced there since time immemorial and sometimes you can find a CD you've been looking for for ages at one of their numerous table top sales.

It helps homeless people and supports the fishing industry, as well as being a meeting place used by many diverse groups. In short The Mission to Seamen is a resource worth keeping.

As well as The Forefathers (check out the new tunes they've put up) and The DTs, two well established bands, The John Does are going to be on. I've so far managed to miss them several times due to arriving late at gigs. This time I'm determined to catch them relentlessly pulsating in a trancelike way.

Here's a taster...


Nice poster too.

STOP PRESS: The Forefathers have a new drummer called Phil Cochran (possibly with a different spelling. I've used the Eddie Cochran spelling there to keep things a bit Rock and a bit Roll) who'll be making his debut at The Rezz. Phil plays guitar as well, and the band have been rehearsing acoustic stuff together too. It'd be good to see a bit of that sometime.

Of course their original drummer Alan Boyes will be in action with The John Does, so its a perfect chance to contrast and compare.

ANOTHER EXTRA STOP PRESS: I have been reliably informed that Steve Scott of The Forefathers is in fact the John Does' drummer. If this is indeed the case, It means this blog has already fallen victim to inaccuracy after only two posts.

Sorry, three posts.

C'mon Everybody!

Sunday 10 May 2009


Last week I was on holiday sitting in this little wooden chalet on The Isle of Wight watching a tiny television suspended from a bracket high up on the wall, when that Victor Meldrew bloke suddenly appeared driving a Morris Traveller across the North Yorkshire moors.

The programme was Britain's Best Drives, and Richard Wilson, the slightly befuddled yet charming actor, drove from Scarborough to Whitby via Dalby Forest, Goathland and (very briefly) Grosmont before arriving at The Historic Seaport we call home.

When the old crock (that's the car, not the actor) finally gave up the ghost trying to ferry a carload of goths up Green Lane, a fellow with a huge mohican and enormous boots took over in the driver's seat and managed to get the engine fired up again. Up they went to visit an atmospherically misty Abbey. I thought to myself, what other town in England could this happen in?

I'd been thinking for some time about how to make Whitby Popwatch a bit more interesting. Being limited to the local music scene kind of tied it down a bit. Interesting as it is from a musical standpoint, Whitby is still a very small town, and inevitably repetition and familiarity became a problem.

So OUT ON YE! has a much more personal and open approach to Whitby's hidden depths. Loads of music of course, especially the original and quirky stuff, but plenty of miscellaneous flotsam and jetsam too. A sort of cabinet of curiosities covering a cavalcade of interesting topics.

The old POPWATCH posts won't be deleted, they're still archived here, so feel free to dip in. As always any contributions will be gladly received.

And its all down to seeing Tania and her mates getting into a car with Victor Meldrew on a tiny television on the Isle of Wight. Who'd have thunk it?

Click here to see the entire programme.