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.


Watch the wall…..while the gentlemen go by. (Rudyard Kipling)

Yesterday se’nnight The Fawn, smuggling lugger, with a thousand ankers of rum, brandy and geneva, to the amount of 6000 gallons, was taken and sent into Whitby, by the Eagle cutter, Captain George Whitegead, in the service of the revenue of that port; with the assistance of the Mermaid, Captain Carr. The Fawn is a fine clinch built vessel of 90 tonnes built at Flushing four months since, mounting six four pounders and six swivels. Her crew consisted of twenty two men. The Whitby Times, 31st August 1790

Britain’s varied coastline has a long history of accommodating the enigmatic figure of the smuggler and his illicit trade. History shows that the golden age of smuggling began in the 18th century and continued on into the early part of the 19th century. The probable cause of this proliferation was the introduction of a new tax called excise, which combined with the already existing customs tax was used by consecutive governments as a means to fund the spiralling costs of Britain’s wars in Europe.

Hidden away in the remote recesses of the North Yorkshire coastline, Whitby with it’s cosseted natural harbour and dark labyrinthine network of Ghauts, Ginnels and Yards seemed perfectly placed to play an active part in these acts of ’free trade’. And with rumours of an underground tunnel system existing beneath the town, the profiteers would easily have been able to secure their ill gotten gains safely, away from the prying eyes of the government’s ’Preventative Men’.

The romantic image of the smuggler as free spirited opportunist belong solely within the confines novels and fictionalised accounts. The truth of the matter was that at sometime or other the majority of the population found in sea side towns up and down the country, would have been involved in or at least benefited from this illegal trade. From the fishermen who used their boats to ferry the cargo to shore to the farm labourer who would then lug the smuggled items inland.

In Whitby, when a cart laden with smuggled kegs crossed the moors, it was usual to have one keg at the back of the cart ’ with a quill in it’, and passers-by were cordially invited to sample the contents of the keg, a convenient method of persuading them to keep their mouths shut. When the cart approached it’s final destination, the quill was withdrawn and the keg properly spiked. Extract taken from ‘Whitby Lore and Legend’ By Shaw Jeffrey

Even the men sent to stop these illicit actives could find themselves embroiled in the trade:-

Captain Harold Hutchinson of the Dragoon Guards based in Guisborough was called out to attend what turned out to be a riot of a battle on Whitby’s quayside in the late 1700’s. The Dragoons after quelling the disturbance ended up being ordered to stay in Whitby for three years, enforcing the law as much as they could.

Captain Hutchinson was quickly made Customs Officer, and, as the story goes, managed to avail himself of certain items of contraband before they were spirited away for ’trade’. Such was the extent of his dealings; he amassed not inconsiderable wealth and was able to afford to build a fine dwelling in Skinner Street which became know as 'Harold Mansion'. It is said that success breeds success. Captain Hutchinson knew how to manipulate such a virtue.

As time went on, he turned his mansion into a bordello that was frequently patronised by visiting seamen, servicing a trade that built wealth on wealth for the Captain. Extract taken from the BBC North Yorkshire website

The bordello

It also seems that the people of Whitby had no problem with dispelling the myth of the archetypal smuggler as the following extract shows:-

We are told that during the absence of the men folk at the whale fishery their women kept the home kegs running, and they showed considerable ingenuity in their methods. It was usual for them to fasten a stout leather belt round their waists, under their garments and ’ next their shifts’, and to this belt were hung, all round, bladders of gin or brandy. Extract taken from Whitby Lore and Legend’ By Shaw Jeffrey

In all, the sea port of Whitby during the 18th century was a busy and successful centre of trade, and it seems quite possible that the illegal trafficking of goods played no small part in the town's prosperity, as it was something that any able seafarer could easily turn his hand to with what seemed a very good chance of success.

Text and photographs by RICHARD LOCKER

Sunday 25 July 2010


The view of Whitby from the West Cliff, looking east across the harbour towards the Abbey, must be one of the most well-known and iconic images of the town. One that is reproduced on countless postcards and tea towels. Erosion has been relentlessly nibbling away at the Yorkshire coastline ever since the ice retreated from our shores after the last glacial period.

The image, below, is an impression of how I imagine Whitby might have appeared in the 1070s, just after William the Conqueror's devastating "Harrying of the North" in the winter of 1069-70, but before the restoration of the Abbey by the repentant Norman soldier-turned-monk, Reinfrid.

The Domesday survey was undertaken by the Norman Conquerors to provide proof of rights to land and obligations to tax and military service. It would establish who held what. Whitby's estimated taxable value at the time of the Domesday survey of 1085-86 was 60 shillings. In the years before 1066 Whitby was a thriving town with a taxable value of £112.

The Harrying was an attempt to subdue the rebellious Anglo-Scandinavian population once and for all, essentially an early application of "scorched earth" that King William was said to have regretted on his deathbed. Their intent was to leave the Anglo-Danish insurgents with no means of support, shelter, tools, crops or livestock, thus preparing the way for complete Norman control of the whole of England.

The Domesday entries, describing post-Conquest Yorkshire, make grim reading and are evidence of the effectiveness of the Norman tactics. Nearly all the familiar old villages in the Whitby area are described as "waste", a term meaning no one was productively working the land. Fields lay fallow and churches fell into disrepair. Whitby had a small surviving population and held on to existence but was still described as "almost all waste" in the Domesday Book.

The 11th and 12th century chronicler, Oderic Vitalis, wrote:

"The King stopped at nothing to hunt his enemies. He cut down many people and destroyed homes and land. Nowhere else had he shown such cruelty.
To his shame, William made no effort to control his fury, punishing the innocent with the guilty. He ordered that crops and herds, tools and food be burned to ashes. More than 100,000 people perished of hunger. I have often praised William in this book, but I can say nothing good about this brutal slaughter. God will punish him."

The amount of coastal erosion that has occurred since the building of the East Pier in the 18th century was used as a guide to roughly estimate how much land has been lost in 940 years. When the East Pier was built there was no gap between the Haggerlythe and the pier.

Recent archaeological work on the Abbey Headland has shown that Anglian Whitby was a much larger settlement than previously thought, with houses and workshops covering the entire headland at various times. It is believed the settlement extended far beyond the present cliff edge. Whitby might once have had a Roman signal station like the ones at Filey, Scarborough, Ravenscar, Goldsborough and Huntcliffe. The site of the signal station at Whitby has never been found and has probably fallen into the sea many centuries ago.

Whitby, July 2010

Whitby in the 1070s

C. Corner

Tuesday 20 July 2010


This large stone lies in sand at the foot of the cliff at Kettleness. All along its spine it has carvings of South Seas style faces. When, why and by whom remains a mystery.

The colour and exposure of the images has been altered to bring out the characteristics of the carvings.

Monday 19 July 2010


The eggs of Aeolidia papillosa
Last summer I was surprised to discover the eggs of the Common Grey Sea Slug (Aeolidia papillosa) under a stone at Sandsend. This year on the 2nd of July I scrambled down the cliff at Kettleness for a spot of rockpooling in the beautiful pools there on a baking Summer's day.

Once again, under a stone on the middle shore was an example of one of the characteristically spiral shaped egg masses of this fascinating creature. Normally living in much deeper water, these sea slugs come up the shore every year in July and August to spawn.

This time, under another rock I was lucky enough to find one of these elusive, beautiful sea slugs. It was only partially covered with water in its original position, but once placed on a flat stone in a clear pool it could be seen in all its glory.

Aeolidia papillosa

They feed on sea anemones and can actually use the undischarged stinging cells (nematocysts) of the anemones they've eaten. The stinging cells pass undigested into the tips of the projections, known as cerata, that cover the surface of the sea slug helping to protect it from predators. An effective defence mechanism is vital in a creature whose shell has been lost through evolution

Although known as the Common Grey Sea Slug, the colour of the animals vary according to their local food supply, in this case the red sea anenomes on which it feeds have given it a rosy tinge. They can grow to 120mm in length, although this specimen is much smaller.

Against a £1 coin as a size comparison

Sunday 11 July 2010


Written and illustrated by Richard Locker

The Prospect Of Whitby is thought to be the oldest surviving public house in London, it can be found to the east of the city centre on the banks of the river Thames at Wapping. Situated within the borough of Tower Hamlets and surrounded by the infamous London Docklands, the pub has what could be considered a long and colourful history.

First built around 1520 during the reign of Henry VIII, the pub’s official name was ’The Pelican’, but as the river commerce increased a more transient population appeared tarnishing the riverside tavern with a dubious reputation. Finding itself host to a nefarious clientele made up of sailors, smugglers, prostitutes, cut throats and footpads the pub would eventually be re-christened the ‘Devils Tavern’ in their honour.

The Prospect of Whitby circa 1890

Perhaps the most villainous of the pub’s patrons was the 17th century nobleman ‘Hanging’ Judge Jeffreys. Known as the scourge of the Monmouth Rebellion, he was responsible for the putting to death of over 320 rebel supporters and sentencing a further 800 for transportation to the West Indies.

It was said that the Judge’s visits to the Devil’s Tavern would usually coincide with the hanging of local criminals at Execution Dock. He also enjoyed watching terrified felons being tied to posts on the river bank and left there whilst several tides washed over them. The scene is made all the more macabre by the fact that he was probably the very judge involved in sentencing these people to death.

Hanging Judge Jeffreys

Not all the pub’s customers were monsters, the famous writer and diarist Samuel Pepys was known to have frequented the establishment, although this was probably for no other reason than to carry out his numerous extra marital affairs in what he might have considered relative secrecy. He would often recount these infidelities in his diaries, as well as making several remarks about disturbances caused by the sailors in the Wapping area.

In 1777, after the Devil’s Tavern had been rebuilt because of damage sustained during a devastating fire, the landlord decided to rename the inn ’The Prospect Of Whitby’ after a square rigged collier called ‘The Prospect’. Built and registered in Whitby, the ship would often be found moored up outside the tavern after delivering it’s intended shipment of coal from the North-Eastern coal fields of County Durham and Newcastle.

In fact the ship became so much of a landmark, that the local people began referring to the pub as ’the one by the Prospect Of Whitby’. So like the Devil’s Tavern before it the name remained, right up until the present day where it is still possible to venture down to the banks of the Thames and buy yourself a pint in what is still considered to be the oldest pub in London.

A victim of The Judge