Saturday 20 March 2010


The whaling ships that sailed to the Arctic from Whitby would take polar bears as well as whales. These could be sold to zoos and fairs for a tidy price. Frequently a mother and cub would be encountered by the crew in the desolate landscape of the northern ice field.

This story is of a polar bear captured by the most famous of 18th century whaling captains, William Scoresby senior of Whitby.

It seems a member of Scoresby's valliant crew came upon a female bear and her cub and carried out the usual protocol. It was customary to dispatch the mother with a well aimed shot. Often the cub would be more puzzled and frightened than vicious. It was swiftly trussed up and taken back to the ship.

Usually the cub would be kept in a barrel with bars over the front for the entire voyage. Maybe a fish would be tossed in every now and again, occasionally the hapless animal would be doused with a bucket of sea water.

Scoresby however fastened this particular bear to a point on the deck. With a regime of painful taps to the bear's black nose and rewards of whale meat for good behaviour, the good captain was able to lead the cub round the deck on a rope leash. By the end of the season he considered it tame.

Unfortunately, once the ship was back in Whitby, the unfamiliar noises and smells of the port confused the bear. It reared up on its hind legs, broke free of its tethering and ran off through the town, disappearing into the alleyways and yards.

Eventually a posse of angry men surrounded the bear in Cockmill Wood. With weapons at the ready, they were quite prepared to kill the beast if need be.

Much to everyone's surprise, Captain Scoresby added to his reputation by pushing his way through the rabble before anyone was injured. He walked up to the cub which proceeded to lick his hand with its long black tongue, welcoming back its master. He tied a length of rope around its neck and led it peacefully away, much to the relief of the assembled townsfolk.

Soon afterwards the bear was taken to London's Tower Zoo where it eventually died.

No animals were harmed in the production of this featurette.

Saturday 6 March 2010


In Domesday Book the manor of Lid, now called Lythe, was held by someone called Nigel. There is no mention of a place of worship until 1100, when Nigel's son is recorded as making a grant of the church at Lythe to Nostel Priory, near Wakefield. In 1154 Robert, Priest of Lythe, is mentioned in an ancient document. These are the earliest written records of the Church.

1910 was the last time St. Oswald's Church was restored. Built into the walls and buttresses of the old church, many ancient carved stones were discovered which helped to shed light on the distant origins of worship at the site.

Examination of these precious finds showed that two of the stones were Anglo-Saxon, dating back to the 7th or 8th centuries. These may indicate the existence of a stone church at Lythe prior to the Viking invasion and contemporaneous with Streoshalh, the abbey of St. Hilda destroyed by the Vikings, which they renamed Whitby.

The majority of the stones are Anglo-Scandinavian, of late 9th to early 10th century origin. They are all funeral monuments, or fragments thereof. A striking crosshead is noteworthy because the face at the centre of the cross has no halo and therefore may not necessarily depict Christ.

A long heavy 'hogback' gravestone was found to show a previously unknown carving once it was cleaned of moss and lichen. A simple figure thought to represent the norse god Tyr is depicted being attacked by two wild animals, possibly wolves. He's become known as the Gingerbread Man, for obvious reasons.

There is also a collection of later stones from the Norman church. The old walls on the North and East sides of the church were probably their work. A large stone coffin also stands in the aisle of the church as part of the permanent exhibition.

A selection of stones are on permanent display and the church is open daily. Many more are stored in the crypt and can be viewed by special arrangement.