To the south-east of Staiths, is the village of Runswick, one of the most romantic spots on the coast, situated on the north-west side of a fine bay, termed Runswick wyke or bay. The houses are perched, at various elevations, in the face of the cliff; and as the latter occasionally shoots down, the houses sometimes slip from their original positions. About 150 years ago, the whole village, except one house, sunk down in one night towards the margin of the sea; though providentially no lives were lost.
At the bottom of Runswick bay, near the village, is a cave in the alum-rock, formed by the operation of the tide, which fills it at high water. This cave, which is named Hob-hole, has been deemed the residence of an aerial being named Hob (a Hobgoblin no doubt), supposed to possess the power of curing the hooping-cough.
The patient was carried into the cave by its parent, who with loud voice thus invoked the demigod of the place: "Hob-hole Hob! my bairn's got kink-cough; take't off, take't off." It is not many years since this idolatrous practice was laid aside. The cave is 70 feet long, and 20 feet wide at the mouth; which was formerly divided by a double pillar.
As all the inhabitants of Runswick are concerned in the fisheries, it is not surprising to find singular superstitions prevailing amongst them, as in other fishing towns. Some of the most remarkable are practised annually in the autumn, when the fishing-boats sail for Yarmouth, and especially when their return is expected. Among the animals that feel the changes of the atmosphere on their brain and nervous system, the domestic cat is distinguished; and the rapid motions, resulting from this feeling, indicating an approaching change of weather, have associated poor puss with witches, hobgoblins, and other storm-raising spirits.
Hence, when the fishermen of Runswick are expected home from Yarmouth, their wives and children, the better to insure their safe arrival, exterminate the whole race of cats in the village, and procure a fresh supply after the boats have returned! If the winds are unpropitious, the children light a fire on the heights, and dancing round it invoke the spirit of the gale in this humble strain;
"Souther, wind, souther;
And blow my father home to my mother."
The coast from Saltburn to Scarborough, and even to Bridlington Quay, is generally high and bold, except in the bays and inlets. At Huntcliff, Rockcliff, Kettleness, Peak, and a few other places, the cliffs are lofty, and in some parts precipitous. Hence these shores are not only dangerous to mariners in stormy weather, but cause many fatal accidents to others who frequent them. The most singular accident that ever happened on the coast, occurred about 15 years ago, under the high cliffs a little to the west of Staiths.
While two girls of the name Grundy, belonging to Staiths, were sitting on the scar, or rocky beach, with their backs to the cliff, a splinter, which by striking against a ledge had acquired a rotatory motion, fell from the cliff, and hitting one of the girls on the hinder part of the neck, severed her head from her body in a moment, and the head rolled to a considerable distance along the scar.
From "A Picture of Whitby and Its Environs" By George Young, 1824