Saturday 16 April 2011


By Richard Locker

When Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula first appeared in 1897 it was regarded by the Victorian reading public as just another fantastical ‘invasion’ story, similar in vein to H.G Wells’ War Of The Worlds. It wouldn’t be until the 20th century when the book began to be adapted for the screen, that the story of the Count would attain it’s legendary status and the town of Whitby would forever become inextricably linked with the demon vampire.

Although Whitby is intrinsic to the story both Hollywood and the British Hammer Horror films seemed to disregard this fact, either opting for shooting in alternative locations around the UK, (in Hammer’s case usually for budgetary reasons), or as would happen in some movies the town was simply ignored and the arrival of the Count transposed directly to London (Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula is one such film).

In fact it wasn’t until 1977 when the BBC commissioned a three part mini series based on the novel, that the town was used for the actual scenes set in Whitby.

This BBC adaptation of the book is now considered by both critics and fans alike to be the most faithful. The film historian Stuart Gailbrath IV said that ‘Count Dracula remains one of the best-ever adaptations of Bram Stoker’s novel’ despite a ‘couple of missteps’, remarking that ’the cast is excellent’, in particular praising the performance of Frank Finlay (Van Helsing) and Louis Jordan (Count Dracula), who he calls especially good.

 The critic Steve Calvert agreed that Count Dracula was ‘one of the better versions’ of Stoker’s novel, calling it ‘perhaps even the best.’ he felt that ’few actors have ever played the role of Van Helsing as convincingly’ as Frank Finlay, that ‘without doubt, Jack Shepherd is the best on-screen embodiment there as ever been of the fly munching Renfield’, and remarked of Jourdan’s performance, ‘(His) Dracula …. exudes a quieter kind of evil. A calculating, educated evil with a confidence and purpose all of it’s own.’

Of course the intervening years have not been kind to certain aspects of the film, it could be said that some of the special effects are rudimentary to say the least. But the direction, editing, sound and visual imagery are all used to powerful effect and make for an unsettling experience, relying more on a subtle sense of dread, rather than the usual blood letting that is often associated with other versions of the story.

Some of the more memorable scenes look almost experimental in style, with a strange surrealist quality about them. Even the fact that the external scenes are all shot in film and the interiors on video only seems to add to the feeling of oddness that is suffused throughout the film.

Friday 15 April 2011



Lesser Celandine

Wood Anemone


Thursday 14 April 2011


William Scoresby
The 1816 voyage of the Esk to Spitzbergen under the command of Captain William Scoresby proved a most disastrous endeavour. As soon as the ship crossed into the arctic ice fields, a storm of such ferocity bore down on the vessel that Scoresby, a veteran of fourteen voyages, considered the hazardous situation the worst he had ever encountered. The storm lasted a full twelve hours, a prolonged period throughout which the crew must have felt in sickeningly close proximity to certain death and destruction.

After trying several times to free the Esk from the ever encroaching ice, which involved the intricate navigation of an unwieldy, cumbersome ship through narrow channels between drifting floes, on May 2nd open water was acheived.

Until June 19th the Esk was employed in the activity for which she was built, namely the hunting of whales. Although not the best season ever, a reasonable amount of 'fish' were caught. Things were going tolerably to plan, but in such an inhospitable environment nothing can be taken for granted.

In an attempt to avoid being crushed by two massive ice floes which were inexorably coming together, the Esk was steered towards an indentation in the ice. The thought was that, although it would be fairly tight, when the blocks of ice came together the indentation would prevent the Esk from being broken like a wallnut in a nutcracker.

Unfortunately, and unbeknown to the crew, a submerged projection of ice known as a tongue had done severe damage below the water. When the pressure of the opposed masses relaxed, the ship began to sink.

A distress signal was immediately sent out and assistance came from many of the ships busy in the area. One was the John of Greenock, commanded by Mr Jackson, Scoresby's brother-in-law. With the extra manpower available, pumps and buckets were put to constant use until the extent of the damage was ascertained.

Water was welling into the ship through a large hole due to a major section of the after keel being torn away. Emergency measures to save the Esk were discussed. Several plans were put forward. In the end it was decided to adopt the most extraordinary proposition of all.

The rigging was taken down and all portable stores and furniture were removed from the stricken ship and placed on the ice. Ropes were tied to the tops of the masts and heavy anchors were suspended from them to aid rotation of the ship. These ropes went under the hull of the vessel and onto the ice where they would be heaved upon by as many men as possible, the idea being to turn the Esk upside down in the water so the carpenter could then climb aboard the upturned hull and make good a repair

The attempt to capsize the arctic whaling ship the Esk by running ropes beneath her and using heavy anchors to assist in the manouvre. Click on the picture for a larger image.
With one hundred and fifty men pulling, the ship still refused to careen sufficiently and it was obvious that some extra persuasion was required. Scoresby duly went on board with one hundred and twenty men who lined up at the highest side of the tilted deck, and then ran en masse to the lower side in a vain attempt to suddenly move the ship in the water. Sadly all these endeavours failed and it was back to the drawing board.

In the end a plan to partition and seal off the injured part of the ship was hatched. This was carried out successfully and swiftly. The repair was tightly caulked to prevent leakage, and a 'thrumbed' sail - that is to say a sail studded with bunches of oakum and rope yarn - was applied to the hole externally. This was sucked into the leak by water pressure and served to partially choke the influx.

On July 6th 1816 the Esk set sail for home. The John remained with her to chaperone the limping vessel back to England. Because he had forgone any chance of success in the whale fishery through the unstinting assistance he'd given to Scoresby and his crew, Captain Jackson agreed a pact. He would take half of the cargo captured by the Esk prior to her near fatal accident.

On July 27th the Esk entered Whitby harbour with all but one of the crew she set out with, and all in a reasonable state of health. In the words of Captain William Scoresby...

The hearty congratulations I received on landing, from every acquaintance, were almost overwhelming, and these, with the enhanced endearments of my affectionate and enraptured wife, amply repaid me for all the toils and anxieties of mind that I had endured.

Saturday 9 April 2011


Old Mulgrave Castle

Captain Zachary Steward was born in 1607. The Steward family owned the estate of Lofthouse in Yorkshire, now Loftus, Cleveland. His father was Dr Zachary Steward, Rector of Easington, Fellow of Queen's College, Cambridge and Chaplain to the Archbishop of York. The Stewards of Loftus descended from the Stewards of Ely, Cambridgeshire, who claimed both the royal Stewarts and Oliver Cromwell among their relations. Dr Steward's second cousin, Elizabeth, was Cromwell's mother.

Captain Steward was in his mid-30s when the English Civil War (1642-1651) came to this corner of Yorkshire. A Royalist, he garrisoned Mulgrave Castle for Charles I and became governor of the ancient stronghold, the ruins of which can still be found deep within Mulgrave Woods, near Lythe. In July 1644, following the Battle of Marston Moor, Colonel Francis Boynton came north to reclaim the castle for Parliament. The rendition seems to have happened without bloodshed, an agreement having been made between the two sides. Captain Steward was allowed to ride out of the gates at the head of his men, drums beating, colours flying, having left all arms and ammunition behind. Mulgrave Castle was dismantled by Parliament in 1647, possibly by means of gunpowder, and has been in ruins ever since. Captain Steward had ensured his own house and lands at nearby Loftus were not forfeited. A condition of his freedom was an undertaking that he would be involved in no further hostility towards Parliament.

Steward subsequently made a great fortune through the discovery of alum on his land. He had founded, and owned, the profitable Loftus alum works. His only child, a daughter named Mary, married a Thomas Moore. Their son, Zachary Steward-Moore, inherited the Steward's vast wealth and lived in a large house sited where the supermarket now stands in Loftus Market Place. A flamboyant 18th century hell-raiser, Steward-Moore seems to have been a popular and fashionable man about town. He was a prominent member of the Demoniacks, the North Riding version of the Hell Fire Club. This secret society, founded in the 1740s by John "Crazy" Hall Stevenson, "indulged by night in heavy drinking and obscene jesting". The Demoniacks were based at Stevenson's home in the then rambling medieval castle at Skelton. It gained the name "Crazy Castle", no doubt their nocturnal activities hadn't gone unnoticed in the locality. A fellow Demoniack was Laurence Sterne, author of Tristram Shandy, and it is quite possible that some of the characters in the novel were inspired by his friends at Skelton. The actor, David Garrick, was another visitor.

Old Skelton Castle

Zachary Steward-Moore was said to have shod his horses hooves with silver and kept company with those who, "assisted him in the laborious work of getting to the far end of a great fortune." John Hall Stevenson wrote the following verse about Moore in his "Crazy Tales":

"What sober heads hast thou made ache!
How many hast thou kept from nodding!
How many wise ones, for thy sake,
Have flown to thee, and left off plodding!
Philosophy and grace are thine,
Not spiritual grace but sprightly;
Inspired by the god of wine,
Inspired like old Anacreon nightly.
Whether thy grace from heaven descends,
Or rises from the earth below,
Oft hast thou raised thy helpless friends,
Oft given thy purse unto thy foe."

Inevitably, Zachary Steward-Moore squandered all his family's money. As his funds dwindled, so did the number of his friends. He saw out the rest of his days in relative modesty at Gibraltar when offered a Lieutenancy there by one of his more loyal former acquaintances.

By Chris Corner.

Sunday 3 April 2011


The remains of The Old  Alum Works at Ravenscar offer a glimpse into a lost industrial past peculiar to this part of the east coast. Indeed it could be seen as the birthplace of the British chemical industry. What made the development of this complicated process so astonishing is that the science of chemistry was still non-existant. Everything occured as a result of laborious trial and error.

Alum was first produced at Slapewath, Guisborough in 1604. In 1640 Sir Bryan Cooke discovered alum in the rocks at Peak, now more commonly known as Ravenscar. The Peak fault, a shift in the rock strata that occured 350 million years ago, left accessible Lias shales above sea level to the north of Ravenscar, an obvious advantage if you wanted to mine it without drowning.

Alum was used as a mordant for fixing dyes and in the leather industry to render hide supple and manageable. During the 19th century synthetic alum was produced and aniline dyes were invented that didn't require a mordant to fix them. The last alum works to close were those in Kettleness and Boulby in 1871. The industry had lasted for around 250 years.

The Old Alum Works, Ravenscar
Aluminium silicates and iron pyrites were both present in the Lias shales, a feature of the Yorkshire coast's local geology. To produce alum, the sulphur from the iron pyrites and the alumina from the aluminium silicates had to be combined in as pure a state as possible.

Alum shale was dug from two large quarries and burned in huge stacks on brushwood fires. The chemical reaction gave off its own heat, so more shale could be piled on until these smouldering mounds, called clamps, were sometimes as much as 20 metres high. They burned for a full nine months, after which the whole rock became red in colour.

The 'calcined' shale was then steeped in pits of water to extract aluminium sulphate. The liquor was run off into settling tanks and the remaining red rock, known as 'mine', was dumped either on or over the cliffs. These spoil heaps are now the preferred habitat of yellow flowered gorse bushes.

One of the stone drainage channels
The liquor was then boiled in a Boiling House in pans over iron plates. This part of the process relied on huge quantities of coal which was brought to the works by sea. A stone lined winding house which once contained the winching machine remains at Ravenscar, iron fittings and spindle wheels still intact. It was used to haul coal deliveries up the cliff, and to load the finished alum product onto ships in the dock below.

The next stage of the process was to introduce potassium and ammonia. Potassium was obtained by burning kelp seaweed in huge quantities and adding the resulting lees to the mixture. As for ammonia, stale human urine was shipped into the works in huge barrels. It was said that poor people's urine was better as it was not the product of such strong drink.

The Winding House
In the heyday of urine usage people put it out on their doorsteps in jars ready for collection, buckets stood on street corners and special urinals were built in cities for the purpose. It was shipped in from such places as Newcastle and London in barrels in lye boats.

When the potash and ammonia was added to the brew it was left to cool and alum crystals gradually formed. The liquor could be reboiled time and time again to maximize the yield.

The industry has left indelible scars on the local landscape. A burning floor on the cliff above Sandsend has left a large, desolate area of bare shale reminiscent of the lunar surface. Remains of stone breakwaters and berthing points can be seen at Saltwick Bay and in many places the entire profile of the cliffs has been changed by alum mining.

Peak alum works as it is today
(Click on the photo for a larger image)
The site is now owned by The National Trust and is free to visit. It is well signposted from the Cleveland Way.