Tuesday 7 December 2010

0°↓ 06:12:2010

Photographs by Chris Corner


Sunday 5 December 2010


Text and photos by RICHARD LOCKER

Take the Upgang road, leading past the West Cliff Station. After proceeding half a mile the first roadway, which narrows into a lane, is called ‘Love Lane’. It is a pleasant walk in dry weather, but generally dirty after a fall of rain. Immediately on emerging from the road, the Wishing Chair will be seen in front, being a rudely cut chair of stone. The popular belief is that those who, closing their eyes and divulging it to no one, ‘wish’ for any reasonable desire to be fulfilled, the same is sure to be gratified.

Excerpt taken from Horne’s Guide To Whitby (1904)

It has been over one hundred years since the Wishing Chair appeared in the Horne’s Guide To Whitby, but it is still possible to follow the exact route that the book describes and find this strange curiosity situated on the outskirts of town.

When seen in it’s current setting the stone chair seems at odds with it’s environment. Surrounded by the symbols of the modern world the chair seems lost as it is slowly encroached upon by various forms of ill conceived street furniture and the ubiquitous suburban convenience stores and petrol stations. But the stone remains resolute as it has for centuries, and the fact that it has survived this long makes it appear more than capable of lasting at least a few more centuries, hopefully relatively undisturbed.

Sunday 28 November 2010


Photos and video RICHARD LOCKER
Text from The Environment Agency Document 'Esk and Coastal Streams CFMP 43

The river sits within a steeply sided valley, with relatively narrow floodplains. Between Castleton and Lealholm, the River Esk flows within a 200-300m wide floodplain at the bottom of a steeply cut valley.

Downstream of Lealholm, the river valley narrows and the river is contained within narrow floodplains and gorges down to Sleights. From Sleights to Whitby, the floodplain progressively widens to a typical width of around 300m.

The topography of the Esk catchment is a significant factor in the magnitude and rate of catchment runoff. The steepness of the valley sides causes the rapid and sharply peaked floods characteristic of the Esk. The narrow river corridor with narrow floodplains means there is little attenuation of floods as they move through the valley.

Sunday 21 November 2010


Birdsong recorded from the edge of Dalby Forest one misty morning in September.

The chief chorister is a robin, although there are lots of contributions from other feathered singers and squawkers, and even a brief spell of bellowing from a huge bull who was making his voice heard from a nearby field.

Gill Catton posted this analysis on the Wild About Britain bird forum...

As well as the robin's gorgeous atmospheric singing there are two crows contact calling and a wren alarm calling (the rattling) which becomes two birds alarm calling. Obviously something's upset them. A great spotted woodpecker with a 'chip' call (01:10). Goldcrests with seeep seeep call (might be a treecreeper - they have a similar contact call). Then a wood pigeon comes in and a robin's alarm call can be heard (the tic tic itc call).

At 4:36 lots of swallow alarm calls.

Coal tit calls.(05:50 and just before). Then a chaffinch call (06:08) - some early on too but this one is clearest.

At least 2 if not 3 territorial robins.

Tuesday 9 November 2010



Footpath to Ruswarp

The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard first coined the phrase ’Desire Lines’ in his 1958 book 'The Poetics of Space'. Expressed as 'a term in landscape architecture used to describe a path that isn’t designed but is rather worn away by people finding the shortest distance between two points'.

New Bridge, west side

It is considered that the perfect desire line is a well worn path that either runs parallel with an existing footpath or one that diverges from the said path only to intercept it later, usually shortening the length of the journey. It could be said that each one of the paths represents a subconscious desire to rally against the strictures of conformity and the town planners bludgeoning slide rule or maybe it’s the simple fact that it’s the most natural and obvious route from point A to point B.

New Bridge, east side

I have vague recollections that as a child I was seemingly able to navigate the whole town using these secretive and endless dusty highways, never actually having to set foot on tarmac or concrete at all. But it appears that over the years the majority of these paths have gradually vanished, either through dereliction of use or as sometimes occurs, the local authority has actually taken heed of the lumpenproletariat’s wilfulness, and turned the paths into legitimate rights of way, although it has to be said that these apparently random acts of assimilation do go some way to ruining the enigma of what these dusty old dirt tracks actually represent.

Two former desire lines, now public footpaths

Sunday 31 October 2010



During the 1730s the Excise or Preventative Men were the scourge of the thriving smuggling trade around Whitby. In its position of isolation on one of the main roads into town, Saltersgate Inn, with an ex-sea captain as landlord, was the ideal place in which to conduct this nefarious business with relative immunity.

With an eagle eyed-lookout surveying the countryside for customs officials, alarm was usually raised in plenty of time to give the locals ample opportunity to hide the contraband and secrete the evidence of crime securely away. By the time the officers of law burst into the hostelry, to all intents and purposes it was a normal working pub. The landlord was serving ale, two men were deeply engaged in a game of cards, a dog slept by the fire and a drunk was mumbling to himself sprawled over a table in a corner. No one was ever caught.

One night, after the usual unsuccessful raid, the Excise Men hatched a plan to catch the reprobates red handed. One of them stayed behind and hid in a nearby farm outbuilding until the cogs and wheels of the secret trade began turning again inside the alehouse. Freezing cold and windswept, after an hour or so he stealthily crept to the entrance. Gathering all his moral fibre together he kicked open the door, brandished his gun at the throng and shouted "I am arresting you in the name of the King!"

Seemingly it was all over for the crew of felons caught squarely in the act. But unbeknown to the officer, one of the locals had nipped outside to answer a call of nature. He saw the Excise Man in the doorway on his return, and quickly felled him with a judiciously swung barstool to the head.

The Excise Man was stone dead. After debating the issue of how to cover up this murder of an official of the King, a plan was devised which involved burying his body beneath the fireplace. The slabs were lifted and the corpse was incarcerated beneath the hearth of Saltersgate Inn. The fire was always kept burning to make sure it was impossible to carry out a search there.

When the landlord died thirty years later it had become a tradition for the fire to always remain lit day and night. Legend decreed that if the fire ever went out the vengeful ghost of the Excise Man would haunt the inn and wreak rack and ruin on the pub.

Now, due to renovation work, the fire has indeed been extinguished. Unfortunately the money ran out and the inn is now a semi derelict shell, a sad phantom of its former self. Does the blame fall on economic circumstances, or possibly the malevolent spirit of the Excise Man returning from the dead to punish the living?

Search me !

Monday 25 October 2010



In Whitby, upon the Eve of All Saints, it was customary for young suitors to practice strange divinations. The medium for one peculiar process of love prognostication was the nut. Couples would throw two hazelnuts into the fire. If they burned quietly together, then a harmonious marriage lay ahead. Exploding, popping nuts that ricochet around the room upon all hallows eve were considered an inauspicious omen.

Saturday 23 October 2010



The spells were in vain, the hag returned
To the green in sorrowful mood
Crying that witches have no power,
Where there is a rowan-tree wood.

From The Old Ballad of Laidley Wood

From the secluded back lanes and woods of the English countryside to the cities' municipal parks, the European Rowan Tree (Sorbus aucuparia) is a common sight throughout the British Isles. In fact it is such a familiar part of the landscape that it almost becomes inconspicuous, when compared to it’s grander cousins like the English Oak and the Sycamore. But the truth is that the humble Rowan tree has a remarkable story to tell.

The tree itself is referred to in numerous mythologies throughout history, the ancient Greeks believed the tree was created from the blood and feathers of an eagle sent to aid Hebe in her battle to regain the chalice of ambrosia. The Rowan that appears in Celtic mythology is often associated with druidic rituals, where as the Norse myths relate to the Rowan as been the creator of woman. The tree also constantly recurs in literature from the ancient sagas and poems of the Irish right through to contemporary stories like J R R Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings.

During the 16th century the emergence of a more puritanical Christian church forced the last residual enclaves of paganism to the periphery of society, where anyone that was deemed a follower of the old order was branded a practitioner of witchcraft and subjected to trails, torture and invariably executions. This meant that thousands of innocent people across the whole of Europe were put to death, simply because they put their faith in nature and an ancient knowledge that had been passed down through the generations.

What is testament to the iconic power of the Rowan tree that it was able to survive these events, but it was with a certain amount of irony that the defining symbol of paganism had to suffer the indignity of been turned into the very object that was need to protect a person from the supposed malevolent forces of magic. It seemed on an intuitive level there was still an awareness of the tree’s importance, but the old, true meaning had become distorted through this new indoctrination of the people.

The following extract is taken from ‘Forty Years In A Moorland Parish’ written by the Reverend Canon Atkinson in 1891, and is an account of the ritualised preparation and use of the Rowan as a charm against witchcraft.

To be effectual, the requisite piece of rowan tree,- for many were wanted; one for the upper sill of the house door, one for the corresponding position as to stable, cow byre and the other domiciles of the various stock, one for personal use, one for the head of the bed, one for the house place etc, etc, - must not only be cut on St. Helen’s day, but, in order to be quite fully efficacious, they must be cut with a household knife: they must be cut, moreover, from a tree which not only the cutter had never seen before, but of the very existence of which she must have no previous knowledge or suspicion; and that, on the tree having been found in this blindfold sort of way, and the requisite bough or boughs having been severed and secured, they must be carried home by any way save that by which the obtainer of them had gone forth on his quest.

It would appear that the remoteness of the surrounding moorland had a significant influence on these archaic rituals enduring far into 19th century. In places like Danby, Lealholm and Castleton the people still considered witches and witchcraft to be such a serious threat to their homes and livestock that ‘Witch Wood‘ was considered to be the only effective means of keeping these malign creatures at bay. In fact so prolific were these enchantresses that many of the villagers could name and identify them as well as where they were perceived to live.




Ruswarp Hall

The name Bussel (Bushell) has been recorded in the Whitby Strand Records since AD1200. They were a prosperous family with strong connections to the sea. During the reign of James I their success as merchants enabled the building of Ruswarp Hall by Nicholas Bushell, who already owned Bagdale Hall which he'd bought from the Conyer family in 1595.
Nicholas Bushell married Dorothy, the daughter of Sir Henry Cholmley of Rooksby. On May 17th, 1609 a son named Browne Bushell was born. The question over his exact birthplace still remains, although it seems more likely he first saw the light of day in Bagdale, Whitby rather than Ruswarp Hall.
In 1633 Captain Browne Bushell married the daughter of Cromwell's Chief of Staff, Thomas Fairfax, who owned alum works at Dunsley. The couple made Bagdale their marital home.

Bagdale Old Hall
The English Civil War regularly saw men change allegience from the Parliamentarians to the Royalists (and indeed vice versa) at the drop of a hat, often depending on who had the upper hand at the time. Browne Bushell however was in a class of his own.
He was serving in the garrison under Hugh Cholmley in 1643, concerned with holding Scarborough Castle for Parliament. However Cholmley suddenly decided to hand the castle over to the Queen in March of that year, thus turning his back on Cromwell. Before doing so, he sent Bushell away on an errand to Hull, but he was captured and imprisoned by his cousin John Hotham, the Govenor of the city. He was held for two days, and only released after promising to recapture Scarborough Castle again for the Roundheads.
Bushell arrived back at the castle to find Cholmley had gone to York where the Queen was staying for a time. The soldiers at Scarborough were very dissatisfied and angry with the manner of Cholmley's feeble surrender, so Bushell and his brother Henry had little trouble in retaking the castle for Parliament in a totally bloodless coup.
Browne Bushell in Scarborough Art Gallery
It wasn't long before Browne Bushell fancied a change and started negotiations with the Royalists. He handed the castle back to them in due course. On April 19th, 1645 Sir Thomas Fairfax, his own father-in-law had him taken to London to be court-martialed.
Somehow Browne Bushell managed to convince his accusers of his wholehearted support for the Parliamentarian cause, because he was given the command of a fine ship under Admiral Sir William Batten. He couldn't stick with it though, and in 1648 he and several other ships captains delivered their vessels to the Prince of Wales.
...............Two men duly apprehended the turncoat, getting a reward of £20 for their troubles, and he was thrown in prison. On March 29th, 1651, with Cromwell having displaced Charles I, Bushell was condemned and executed having spent the final three years of his treacherous life in prison.
............. In 1916 two dismembered paintings were found in the box room at Bagdale Old Hall. They were duly sent to London for restoration and returned to the hall in something akin to their former glory. They were portraits made directly onto wooden panels, probably by some unknown itinerant italian artist. One was of Browne Bushell aged 24, the other depicted Dorothy, his bride aged 19. They were dated 1633. Each sitter is wearing a betrothal ring on a chain round their necks.........................
Some would say the turncoat Bushell has never left the hall. His ghost has been seen on more than one occasion among the upper rooms. Some say he is fated to return every year on the anniversary of his execution. Maybe the footfalls people hear outside their rooms, as if someone is passing in the dead of night, are those of the wretched Browne Bushell. It seems even after his spirit is meant to have left this mortal realm, he still can't decide which side to be on.




Under the cliffs at Whitby, when the great tides landward flow,
Under the cliffs at Whitby, when the great winds landward blow,
When the long billows heavily roll o’er the harbour bar,
And the blue waves flash to silver ‘mid the seaweeds on the Scar,
When the low thunder of the surf calls down the hollow shore,
And ‘mid the caves of Kettleness the baffled breakers roar.
Under the cliffs at Whitby, whoso will stand alone
Where, in the shadow of the Nab, the eddies swirl and moan,
When, to the pulses of the deep, the flood-tide rising swells,
Will hear, amid it’s monotone, the clash of hidden bells.

Up from the heart of the ocean the mellow music peals,
Where the sunlight makes it’s golden path, and the sea-mew flits and wheels,
For many a chequered century, untired by flying time,
The bells, no human fingers touch, have rung their hidden chime.
Since the gallant ship that brought them, for the abbey on the height,
Struck and foundered in the offing, with her sacred goal in sight.

And the man who dares on Hallowe’en on the Black Nab to watch,
Till the rose-light on St. Hilda’s shrine the midnight moonbeams catch,
And calls his sweetheart by her name, as, o’er the sleeping seas,
The echo of the buried bells comes floating on the breeze,
‘Ere another moon on Hallowe’en her eerie rays has shed,
Will hear his wedding peal ring out from the church-tower on the Head.

S K Phillips

A rare recording of the sunken chime

The poem by Miss S K Phillips is just one version of an old Whitby legend concerning the loss of the Abbey bell. Another more likely story tells of Henry VIII’s men removing the bells during the Dissolution in 1539 and placing them on a ship bound for London. But it is said that as the vessel left the safety of the harbour, it foundered in the open sea and sank without trace, probably due to the weight of the bells on board.

The final and more commonly known version is the tale of a villainous sea captain who put to shore at Whitby one night and stole the bells from the Abbey‘s tower. With the heavy load eventually on board, the ship made good it’s escape, but once at sea the captain found that he was unable steer his vessel. The combined force of wind and waves together with the weight of the bells rendered his ship uncontrollable and it was dashed upon the rocks at the Black Nab.



There has only ever been one witch post found outside the North Yorkshire Moors, and that was from Rawtenstall in Lancashire. They were always made of oak and built into the structure of the house as a support for the smokehood above the inglenook fireplace.
The posts were carved at the top with varying degrees of complexity, but all the designs included at least one X shaped cross. Often there were one or more rolls fashioned beneath it. A witch post from from Postgate Farm, Glaisdale has the date 1664 carved into it, together with the letters EPIB.

Witch posts: 1 From Danby. 2 From an old house near Scarborough. 3 Postgate Farm, Glaisdale. 4. In Stang End at the Rydale Folk Museum. 5 Low Bell End, Rosedale. 6 Gillamoor. 7 Quarry Farm, Glaisdale.

There is one on display in Whitby Museum from East End Cottage, Egton. An example of one performing its supporting role by the fireside can be seen in The Rydale Folk Museum at Hutton-le-Hole. The whole of the Stang End house at Danby was painstakingly transplanted there complete with the mysterious and cryptic witch post.
No folk tradition exists to cast light on their actual meaning, and it is only during the twentieth century that they have become known as witch posts. It was assumed that the carvings provided the household with protection against dark forces in those days of superstition and dread. Some suggest the X is a solar symbol, as widely used in the Bronze and Iron Ages.

The witch post in Whitby Museum

In earlier times they were often referred to as priest posts. Some claim travelling priests on blessing a house, would make a mark to confirm their holy work. The famous priest Nicholas Postgate was working in this area at the time. One idea is that they indicate a room where Catholic Mass could be safely performed.
The posts remain as relics of a lost tradition, their meaning and their secret symbolism a reminder of how the moors are laced with mysteries that still remain out of reach to our modern consciousness.

Tuesday 5 October 2010


Exclusive Out on Ye! footage of a mysterious sea beast sighted off Whitby.

Thursday 23 September 2010


With Summer giving way to Autumn, even a short walk in any forest or wood can turn up any number of interesting fungi. They live in the earth all year round as a network of fibres called a mycelium, completely out of sight keeping quietly to themselves. However, when they need to reproduce, large fruiting bodies appear above ground and begin to develop spores. These are the mushrooms and toadstools we're so familiar with.

Here are a few found in Dalby Forest during a damp day in mid September.

Sulphur Tuft
Hypholona fasiculare
Fairly common in the forest, growing on the stumps of all kinds of trees. The smooth young caps are a beautiful sulphur yellow. Older caps are darker at the centre with a paler margin. Not poisonous, but horribly bitter with a taste like quinine.

The Sickener
Russula emetica
As the name suggests, if eaten the acrid flesh of this fungus can make the unfortunate victim extremely sick. The cherry red cap is shiny and somewhat sticky when wet and is easily broken if handled. The thin skin is quite peelable and often damaged. Found under conifers, frequently in a bed of moss.
Clustered Tough Shank
Collybia confluens
The slender, hollow stems of the Clustered Tough Shank are darker than the caps and covered with a fine grey-white down. They grow in dense clumps with many stems arising from the same base, giving the characteristic clustered appearance. Usually in beech leaf litter but also associated with other broad leaved trees.
Click on the individual pictures to enlarge them for a better fungus viewing experience.

Saturday 18 September 2010


Irishman Patrick Castlehowe's marriage to Mary Bonas, the daughter of a Lealholm paper mill worker, is recorded in the Danby Church Registry. Soon after the wedding the couple moved to Ireland for a period of time, during which their son John was born. The year was 1792.
When he was two or three years old, the family moved back to Lealholm. At twelve years old John went to work in Lincolnshire as a gentleman's servant. After a couple of years he was back in Lealholm and gained employment in the 'mystery and trade' of a journeyman mason, a career he pursued for the rest of his working life.
John became known for his skill as a poet and songwriter, often with a hatful of scraps of paper on which he jotted ideas as they came to him. He was fond of music, particularly the fiddle and the flute. Due to the phonetic spelling often found in old records, his name became Castilo from his father's original Castlehowe.
His first book of poems entitled 'The Bard of the Dales - Poems by John Castillo' was very popular, with its easy to follow simple rhyming and its portrayal of local events and characters. Many of the pieces were written in local dialect. Around 1819 he converted from his father's Catholicism to Methodism, which was becoming increasingly popular in the dales.
This lost him many friends and had an effect on his poetical output. His general outlook on life became increasingly puritanical, indeed Castillo became a successful and original local preacher among the Wesleyans for several years.
In later life John moved to Pickering and died on April 16th, 1845 aged 53. He is buried in the Wesleyan Burial Ground there.
Castillo's old house is now Poet's Cottage Shrub Nursery, Lealholm.
His most famous dialect poem 'Awd Isaac' is thought to be about Isaac Hobb who lived near Glaisdale Church.


Wednesday 15 September 2010



The Zillessen's guest house, Robin Hood's Bay

In 1970 a new family moved to Robin Hood’s Bay. Quietly assuming the role of guest house proprietor, Mr Zillessen settled down to enjoy semi-retirement and the gentle life the village offered. But this seemingly ordinary man harboured a secret, one which would have been known to millions of movie fans. He was in fact one of the brave prisoners responsible for organising the mass breakout at Stalag Luft III during the Second World War, an event immortalised in the 1963 movie The Great Escape.

Marcel Zillessen was born in Northampton in 1917 to a German father and Irish mother. His father, a successful businessman, would eventually relocate his family north to the small village of Eldwick, a move which enabled him to spend more time managing the family’s textile business in the nearby city of Bradford.

As a young man Marcel was given the position of Sales Director within the family business. To further his son’s education his father decided to send him to Berlin where he would study at the city’s university. It was during his stay in Berlin that Marcel became fluent in Berlinese, the language of the city’s high society. He would also witness first hand the rise of Hitler and National Socialism, an event that was to have a consolidating effect on the young man’s mind.

At the outbreak of war Marcel was approached by the British government with the intention of recruiting him as a spy, but Marcel declined claiming that subterfuge seemed to devious and that he wanted to confront the enemy ’face to face’.

Finally he opted to join the RAF where he became a Hurricane fighter pilot for number six squadron. Responsible for flying ’tank busting’ raids against Rommel’s Afrika Korps, Marcel was involved in numerous sorties, until eventually his luck ran out. On 6th April 1943 he was shot down and captured near Wadi Akarit in Tunisia.

A watch tower at Stalag Luft III

After been interrogated in Italy Marcel was transferred to the prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III in Sangen, Germany. Upon his arrival he was indoctrinated into the camp’s ideology of the ‘duty of escape‘. The escape executive committee instantly saw the potential in Zillessen and put him to work liaising with the camp authority. The fact that he was know to have spent some time in the upper echelons of German society meant that the German officers in the camp tasked him with writing long, eloquent love letters home to their wives and girlfriends.

Once ingratiated with the camp authority Marcel set about procuring pens, ink and stationary, which were then put to use forging the necessary documents and passports needed for a successful escape.

The escape took place on the night of the 24th March 1944. In all two hundred men gathered in hut 104 and prepared themselves for the breakout.
This is Marcel Zillessen’s account of the occasion.

"Everything went wrong that night, there was an air raid and all the lights went out in the tunnel, and then a Major got stuck and it took ages to get him out.

I cannot describe what it was like when it finally broke. The German were absolutely livid, there were dogs rushing around the camp and guards were pouring in from all over the place.

There was still 150 PoWs left in the hut at the time we heard shots being fired. People came pouring down the tunnel telling everybody, ‘it’s all over‘.

Once I realised that the escape had broken I just leapt out of the hut. I ran as fast as I could and jumped through the window into my own room."

An ariel photograph of Stalag Luft III. The exit of one of the escape tunnels can be seen as a light area outside the perimeter fence indicated by an arrow.

Of the 76 men that escaped that night, only 3 managed to make it back to the UK, 23 were re-captured and returned to camp and the rest, fifty men in all, were executed by the Gestapo.

After the war Marcel returned to the family business in Bradford. In 1951 he married his Bradford born wife Lyn. Later moving to Darlington, Co Durham he became involved in the wool trade. Whilst in the North-East Marcel also set up a chain of fast food outlets using the Zillessen name.

After leading this extraordinary life Marcel finally settled in Robin Hood’s Bay where he unassumingly spent the next thirty years of his life quietly running a guest house. Marcel Zillessen died on the 8th January 1999 aged 81.

Henley The Scrounger, James Garner's character in the 1963 film The Great Escape was based on Marcel Zillessen.



The Great Escape: Tunnel To Freedom

Wednesday 1 September 2010


In 1889 this magnificent working model of jetworkers was made by George Wood. A penny placed in the slot set the wheels spinning and the foreman's head would turn periodically as if to keep an eye on his employees. They wore clothes cleverly fashioned from real fabric, and it is said that their faces were caricatures of actual Whitby jetworkers.

The heads were carved from clay pipes and all wear hats as was the custom of the day. There are eight figures, each performing a different task involved in the preparation of jet jewellery.

Each worker has a caption detailing the nature of his job. The foreman is Chopping Out the raw jet, then the rest of the team are labelled as Turning, Brushing, Rougeing (which involved using red iron oxide), Polishing, Milling and Grinding.

When first completed the model was displayed in the window of the Whitby Gazette office in Bridge Street. An advertisement of August 1909 reads 'Visitors wishing to see the various stages in the manufacture of jet ornaments should see the large automatic penny-in-the-slot model outside the premises of J. H. Hodgman, 151, Church Street.'

Later it was moved to the shop of Elisha Walker at 97, Church Street, which is situated at the bottom of Blackburn's Yard. In her book Whitby Jet Through The Years, Mabel McMillan, recalls as a child fetching the key from the shop on a Saturday morning and unlocking the door in the machine, removing the cocoa tin in which the pennies were collected and carefully counting the week's takings.

George Wood's superb model is now on display at Whitby Museum in Pannett Park.

Wednesday 25 August 2010




This is not what I meant:
Stucco arches, the banked rocks sunning in rows,
Bald eyes or petrified eggs,
Grownups coffined in stockings and jackets,
Lard-pale, sipping the thin
Air like a medicine.

The stopped horse on his chromium pole
Stares through us; his hooves chew the breeze.
Your shirt of crisp linen
Bloats like a spinnaker. Hat brims
Deflect the watery dazzle; the people idle
As if in hospital.

I can smell the salt, all right.
At our feet, the weed-moustachioed sea
Exhibits its glaucous silks,
Bowing and truckling like an old-school oriental.
You're no happier than I about it.
A policeman points out a vacant cliff

Green as a pool table, where cabbage butterflies
Peel off to sea as gulls do,
And we picnic in the death-stench of a hawthorn.
The waves pulse like hearts.
Beached under the spumy blooms, we lie
Sea-sick and fever-dry.

Sylvia Plath

The American poet and authoress Sylvia Plath visited Whitby with her husband Ted Hughes in the August of 1960. The following passage is taken from the biography ‘Sylvia Plath - A Literary Life’ by Linda Wagner-Martin :-

As if Plath was charting the reason for her unease, her depression and illness, she writes about a brief trip she and Ted, with Frieda, took with Ted’s cousin Vicky to the beach.
‘Whitsun’ recounts the disappointment of the holiday in Whitby; the poem opens, ‘This is not what I meant.’ Picnicking ’in the death stench of a Hawthorn,’ she notes that her spouse is ‘no happier than I about it.’ The poem concludes with the image of two vacationers lying together ’seasick and fever dry.’
Plath’s description in a letter to her mother reinforces the mood of the poem: ’There is something depressingly mucky about English sea side resorts. Of course, the weather is hardly ever sheer fair, so most people are in woollen suits and coats and tinted plastic raincoats. The sand is muddy and dirty. The working class is also dirty, strewing candy paper, gum and cigarette wrappers.’
In contrast to her assessment of their holiday, she lamented in the following paragraph, ’My favourite beach in the world is Nauset, and my heart aches for it. I don’t know, but there is something clean about New England sand, no matter how crowded.’

Plath’s visit also inspired her to write a short story - using an idea that was sketched out in her ’Letters Home’ - entitled ’The Perfect Place’, also known as ‘The Lucky Stone‘ the piece would eventually appear an issue of the magazine ’My Weekly’ on the 28th October 1961.

It was said the ’The Perfect Place’ was one of the last short stories, if not the last story, Plath completed prior to writing ’The Bell Jar’. The similarities between the two works are so strong, that the story - it’s characters, episodes and themes - appear to be a blueprint for the novel. - Peter K Steinberg


Wednesday 28 July 2010


The Church of St. John the Evangelist stands at the bottom of Brunswick Street, Whitby. Built in 1848-50 in Early English style as a chapel of ease for St. Mary's. It later became a district church within the parish of Whitby.

Either side of the entrance to the church which opens onto Brunswick Street, in a pair of gables, high up and slightly set back, can be seen two unusual windows. Their shape is known variously as the vesica piscis or mandorla. It is highly symbolically significant .

The vesica piscis (literally 'fish bladder') is derived from the intersection of two circles signifying the overlap between the divine and the worldly. Turned on its side it becomes the Christian fish symbol or Ichthus often seen emblazoned on modern cars.

An alternative name for the vesica piscis is the mandorla, the Italian word for almond. In a pre-christian ancient Turkish legend the god Attis was born to a virgin mother named Nana. She conceived by placing an almond between her breasts. The nut or seed is a clear indicator of the potential for new life, and the shape also suggests the female genitalia.

In art it is known as an aureole. A kind of halo encompassing the whole body. Many depictions of Christ show him within a mandorla, showing simultaneously the fact that he bridges the gap between the earthly and the heavenly, and that he was the fruit of a virgin womb.

As with so many buildings in Whitby, there's a lot more to enjoy if you cast your eyes heavenwards.