Sunday 30 January 2011


C. Corner

Sunday 23 January 2011



The Whaler Fleet is a sentimental poem written by the Victorian gentleman Arthur J Munby. It recounts a tragic incident which occurs during a whaling voyage to Greenland and the frozen north, the story is told from the perspective of a loved one awaiting the return of the fleet.


Full merrily sail’d our whaler fleet
When the wind blew out to sea;
Any many a one came forth to greet
Each good ship’s company.

For there was the Dove and the Good Intent
(How the wind blew out to sea!)
And the Polly o’ Sleights with her bran-new sails;
But the Mary Jane for me!

Oh, Captain Thwaites of the Mary Jane,
When the wind blew out to sea,
Full many a time his ship had sailed,
Full many a time had he.

He has Jack of Grosmont and Tom o’ the Staith
(How the wind blew out to sea!)
And Handsome Jim from Hayburn Wyke;
But ‘twas Robin Hood Will for me.

My Willy he kiss’d me before them all,
When the wind blew out to sea;
My Willy he stood the last on deck
A-waving a cap to me.

So off they sail’d out over the main,
While the wind blew out to sea;
Till the ice was all under their beamed bows
And the ice drove under their ice.

The months they went and the months they came,
And the wind blew out to sea;
Any many a time in the stormy nights
My mammy she wept with me.

But when the harvest moon came round,
And the wind blew in from the sea,
‘Twas merrily came our whaler fleet
All home from the north country.

The folk they call’d and the folk they ran,
And the wind blew in from the sea;
From the tick of the town to the lighthouse tower’
‘Twas throng as throng could be.

I saw them atop of the old church stairs,
When the wind blew in from the sea;
And the waves danced under their beamed bows,
And the foam flew under their lee.

I saw them at foot of the old church stairs,
When the wind blew in from the sea;
And the foremost ship of our whaler fleet
Was rounding the lighthouse quay.

Oh there’s the Dove and the Good Intent,
(Still the wind blew in from the sea),
And the red red sails of the Polly o’ Sleights-
Her men as plain to see.

Now every each hath pass’d the bar,
And the wind blew in from the sea;
And every each lies in harbour lies,
Right up against the quay.

But where, oh where, is the Mary Jane,
Now the wind blew in from the sea?
There’s many hath clipt his lass,
And when doth my lad clip me?

“Oh tell me where is the Mary Jane,
For the wind blew in from the sea?”
“The Mary Jane went down by her head
With all her company!”

And take me home, for I care not now
If the wind blows in from the sea;
My Willy he lies in the deeps of the dead,
But his heart lives on in me.

Arthur J Munby (1828-1910)

Munby was a relatively successful poet and had numerous pieces published in his lifetime, although he was only ever considered a minor writer of the Victorian era. It would only be after his death in 1910 when the true scale of his writings were revealed with his private diaries ‘Working Women In Victorian Britain 1850 - 1910’, a collection that ran to some 69 volumes in all.

These intimate diaries exposed Munby’s secret world and a life that was a far cry from the public demeanour he projected as an officious civil servant working at the Ecclesiastical Commissioners office. As the title suggests the diaries are an in-depth study of working class women from the Victorian era, but it is Munby’s idiosyncrasies which give the works a rather dubious reputation.

In them he describes how he would frequent the cities poor urban districts, where he could freely converse with these women, asking them about their lives, where they worked as well as the conditions they worked in. He would often make sketches of the women as well as writing detailed descriptions of their clothing and dialects. It is now considered that Munby may have had a form of mysophilia - a fetish for soiled and dirty materials or people - but he would vehemently deny that his ‘Hobby’ had any prurient elements.

 Hannah Cullwick in various guises, including that of a housemaid, a lady and a male negro slave.

In 1854 Munby began an affair with a Shropshire born maid-of-all-work called Hannah Cullwick. The peculiarities of this relationship saw Munby take on the roll of master whilst Cullwick became his willing slave, they also involved other forms of fetishism including age play and infantilism. Even after their secret marriage in 1873 the relationship remained the same, apparently on Hannah’s behest. But by 1877 the couple had grown apart and Cullwick left Munby to return to her previous profession as a maid. It is thought Munby continued to visit Hannah right up until her death in 1909.

Although there is no evidence that Munby ever visited Whitby, the poem appears to suggest that he knew the town well, with it’s detailed description of the harbour and a familiarity with the names of the surrounding villages (Munby himself was born only forty miles away at Clifton in York). Plus the fact that Whitby at the time was one of England’s largest whaling ports and an industrious hive of activity, means the he would probably have found the town a very enticing destination.


Turning over stones in rockpools at low tide is a popular pursuit of holidaymakers, usually hoping to find a crab feverishly scuttling for cover under a mass of seaweed, or a small fish darting in the blink of an eye into some nook or cranny. If only they looked more closely at the rock itself, because some truly strange creatures can be found clinging to its surface.

Bryozoans are tiny colonial animals that live surrounded by a cuticle of resilient material, rather like the rooms in a block of flats. Usually less than a millimetre in length, each individual is known as a zooid. Sometimes the colonies form encrustations on rock surfaces ( hence they are sometimes known as sea mats ), but some species form branching structures often mistaken for seaweed.

Hornwrack: Flustra foliacea

A close-up of a frond of Hornwrack
The photographs above show Hornwrack. This is often cast up on the beach in large quantities after a rough sea. It looks for all the world like a piece of dried up seaweed, but it feels quite different. It has a rough, sandpaper-like surface. On closer examination the seperate compartments each bryozoan inhabits can clearly be seen.

A colony of Electra pilosa on a stone

Electra pilosa showing the oval zooecia
This encrusting bryozoan has more oval shaped compartments, or zooecia as they are correctly called, than hornwrack's rectangular ones. All the members of a colony are the progeny of a single individual known as the ancestrula. In its free swimming larval stage the ancestrula chooses a suitable surface on which to settlefor the remainder of its adult life. The growth of the colony occurs by budding.

It goes without saying that every stone that's turned over in any pool should be put back as near as possible into the same position as it was found. Each one is a tiny ecosystem. Rocky shores such as ours on the North Yorkshire coast support a multitude of fascinating and beautiful plants and animals, and they deserve our respect. They've been around a lot longer than we have. Fossil bryozoans are known from rocks 470 million years old.  Humans emerged about 650,000 years ago.


My wife was speaking to someone at work recently who had just had a baby. She was disappointed to have delivered by caesarian section, because it meant she couldn't walk with the pram down Baxtergate collecting money, at least until the wound had healed a bit.

It seems that people, these days often old ladies, will put a coin into the hand of a newborn baby as it passes in the pram. It is meant to make sure that during its life the child shall never want for money. In Edinburgh it is known as 'silvering the baby' and often in the past a siver sixpence was used. Sometimes it was placed under the pillow or a blanket, possibly because it was less likely to be swallowed there.

Similarly a purse should never be given as a gift unless a coin is placed in it first, presumably ensuring it shall never be empty. In Scotland this is known as hanselling the purse. As long as the hansel was left in the purse, others would join it.

Also a knife should never be given without money being paid for it, traditionally the smallest coin of the realm. A promise that the knife would never be used against the giver, called by some 'blunting the knife'. Interestingly the Horngarth or Penny Hedge should rightly be made of sticks cut with a knife purchased for a penny.

Silvering the baby is still carried out in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. In England it seems to be restricted primarily to the north, although it has been reported from as far south as Surrey in the 1950s. Of course these days a 50p or £1 coin is the currency of choice. To a certain extent the connection between silver and babies has been commercialised. A quick look in a high street jeweller's will reveal silver piggy banks, silver spoons and other tacky trinkets.

At least the tradition still flourishes in Whitby. Indeed one mother came home with at least £50 from her first stroll out with the bairn. Still, mum's the word, eh?


As a supplementary detail to our previous post about the Wishing Chair on Stakesby Road, here is what English Heritage say about the site. It explains the shape of the chair and why it is situated at that particular point.

'Medieval cross base situated at the junction of Stakesby Road and Westbourne Road. It is the remains of a mile cross marking the approach to Whitby Abbey. It comprises a block of local sandstone 0.58m wide and 0.55m deep. There is an oblong depression, 0.34m by 0.25m and 0.24m deep cut into the top to serve as a socket. The N edge of the socket has broken away to form what looks like a chair. A modern cross commemorating the 1957 Festival of Britain has been set up on the opposite side of the road, this also marks the mile bounds of the Abbey. '

The cross commemorating the 1951 Festival of Britain