Is indebted for it's origin to an abbey founded there in the year 650. The Saxon name of the place was Streanshalt, (Sinus Pharij or 'the Bay of the Watch-Tower.' It was afterword called Presteby, or 'the habitation of Priests;' then Hwytby, next Whiteby ; and now Whitby. It was destroyed by the Danes, about the year 867; and though it revived after the restoration of the convents, yet the Norman conquest and the subsequent disorders of the times reduced it to the lowest condition. At the time of the dissolution of the monasteries it was an inconsiderable fishing-town, and Leland at that period says:
" the inhabitants were protecting the haven from the violence of the sea, by a pier constructed of stones which were furnished by the fall of an adjacent cliff."
In the year 1540 (according to Charlton's account) the town consisted only of thirty or forty houses, containing not more than two hundred inhabitants. At this period, two or three small trading vessels constituted the whole of the marine belonging to the port; and the use of coal was then so partially introduced, that the principal fuel was decayed wood or turf, procured in the summer-season from the neighbouring moors.
In the beginning of the seventeenth century the inhabitants of Whitby were not above threescore families, and Charlton mentions:
"that, he was not able to meet with any certain account of either ship or vessel belonging to the port, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, except fishing-boats."
The important discovery of the Alum-Mine in those parts at the close of that reign was the original cause which raised Whitby from it's obscurity, and by opening a channel for commerce enabled the town gradually to attain a degree of maritime importance.
During the time of the Commonwealth, the number of inhabitants was nearly two thousand; and the ships belonging to the port were about twenty small vessels, all of them employed in the coasting trade, and navigated by more than a hundred and twenty seamen. Several carpenters also resided in the town, who built sloops and, brigantines, and boats for the fishing-trade. At the Restoration in 1660, the population was three thousand, and the number of ships thirty. In 1690, a farther accession of both had been made; the number of inhabitants amounting nearly to four thousand, and that of the ships to sixty of eighty tons burthen or upward; but even at that period they had acquired so little skill in navigation,
"That when any ship belonging to the place had to cross the sea to a foreign port, a pilot or master for that ship was to be procured from London, Yarmouth, Hull, Newcastle, or some other noted sea-port town."
In the year 1734, the number of vessels had increased to a hundred and thirty, all of which were eighty tons or upward in burthen.
In the French and Spanish war, about the year 1740, the trade and commerce of Whitby began to flourish. By these means, the inhabitants were enabled to advance forty or fifty thousand pounds annually in building new ships, and many of them being engaged in the transport-service, they received considerable advantages. The town also improved so much in appearance, that instead of mean houses, which before were built either of oak-timber framed, or stone roughly hewn, and a great number of them thatched, there were now erected spacious and commodious habitations with brick-walls, and many of them in a style of considerable magnificence.
In the year 1777 there were 251 ships (beside what were on the stocks) whose burthen amounted to more than 55,000 tons, King's measurement; so that in the space of forty years the number of it's shipping and inhabitants had increased in a duplicate ratio. At the commencement of the French revolutionary war, there were nearly three hundred ships, the aggregate tonnage of which exceeded fifty thousand tons. Twenty large ships were employed in the Greenland and Davis' Straits Whale-fisheries; but on account of the reduction of the bounty, seven ships are only now engaged in these services. In 1796, the tonnage of shipping amounted, by the register at the Custom-bouse, to 46,535 tons. In 1809, the number of ships was two hundred and eleven, the tonnage 35,216 tons. In the present year 1811, there are two hundred and fourteen ships measuring 36,988 ton.
Twenty-five ships from three to four hundred tons measurement, are, upon an average, annually built here. The building-places are on each side of the river, above the bridge, where are also five commodious dry docks capable of admitting sloops of war. Here the influx of the tide from the ocean expands into a spacious harbour, called the Inner one, where the ships lie in perfect security; but the Outer harbour is less safe, although protected by five piers. The principal pier, on the western side, built of squared stone and extending nearly 520' yards to the sea, has a handsome appearance. One of the other piers stretches from the eastern shore at right angles. The entrance of the harbour has lately been enlarged, but it still continues of difficult access in stormy weather.
Whitby, in a commercial view, exhibits much importance, and certainly claims a superior rank among the general class of minor ports, as will evidently appear from the following statement. It's limits extend northward to Huntcliff-foot contiguous to the river Tees, and southward within a mile of Scarborough-castle, comprising about forty miles length of coast. Within this distance are comprehended seven Alum-works, viz. two belonging to Lord Mulgrave; one to Lord Dundas; one to Messrs. Barker and Jackson; two to Messrs. Cookes; and one to H.W. Yeoman Esq. These works employ 550 men, and produce annually about 3000 tons of alum. The manufacture of alum is highly beneficial to the public revenue, not only on account of the exportation of a considerable quantity to the continent, but likewise from the coals consumed at the works, estimated at 10,000 chaldrons annually, the duty upon which amounts to 4000l. The following fishing-towns are situated within it's limits: Staithes, ten miles to the northward, sends to sea twelve large fishing-boats, measuring about sixty tons each and carrying seven men, which are employed in the herring-fishery at Yarmouth, during the season, beside several small boats called cobles carrying three men each: Runswick, two miles southward of Staiths, employs about half the number of boats: Robin- Hood's-town, six miles to the south of Whitby, has about the same number of fishing-vessels as Runswick.
The Exports from Whitby are, Alum, Whale-oil and bone, Butter, Bacon, Hams, Corn, Sail-cloth and Cordage for the London market, Stone for Bridlington and Ramsgate, for the purpose of repairing and building piers and other public works. A contract has also recently been made for a quantity of stone for the construction of the new bridge across the Thames.
The Imports are chiefly from the Baltic, viz. Timber, Masts, Hemp, Iron, and other articles necessary for Shipbuilding. These formerly exceeded twenty cargoes annually, and produced a revenue to the Crown amounting nearly to 5000l; but this branch of commerce, from the deranged circumstances of the Baltic trade, has suffered a temporary suspension. The inconvenience, however, has been in some measure compensated by a trade lately opened at the port with the British settlements in America; but the revenue has suffered a diminution, as the goods imported from these colonies are favoured by a reduction in the duty. In addition to the foreign trade of the port, several vessels are employed in bringing cargoes of oak- timber from Hull and some of the western ports, for the purpose of ship-building; and there are also regular traders to and from Hull and London with merchandise. From fifteen to twenty thousand chaldrons of coals are annually imported from Newcastle and Sunderland, for the use of the town and the Alum-works. The receipt of the port, previously to the decrease of the Baltic trade, was 10,000l. per annum.
Four Sail-cloth manufactories are established at Whitby , and the quantity manufactured annually, calculated at an average of the last five years, appears to be 9000 pieces containing 350,000 yards. In some years this amount has been considerably exceeded.
Whitby, situated in the North-Riding of the county of York, in latitude 53° 30' North, and longitude 0° 41' West from the meridian of London, stands on two opposite declivities, one fronting East, and the other West, on the borders of the river Eske, which divides the town into two nearly equal parts, connected by a draw-bridge spacious enough to admit a passage, for ships of six hundred tons burthen.
The town is closely and irregularly built. The houses of the opulent inhabitants are large and elegant; but the situation of many of them appears incommodious. Much taste however, and more uniformity have been displayed in a pleasant situation on the western side of the town beyond Flowergate.
The streets in general are inconvenient, though an Act of Parliament was obtained some years ago, for paving, lighting, and widening them ; but the defects of the original plan prevented the Commissioners from making the improvement complete.
A new Town-hall, for the convenience of the inhabitants assembling on public occasions, was erected by the late Mr. Cholmley. It is a heavy pile of the Tuscan Order, and does no great credit to the taste of the architect A POOR-HOUSE also upon an extensive plan has lately been built. It is a comfortable asylum to the distressed, and being judiciously managed, has had a good effect in relieving the burthen of the poor-rates. A Dispensary for administering advice and medicines to the Poor, gratis, was instituted in the year 1786, and is honoured with a liberal patronage.
The Parochial Church is situated upon an eminence eastward of the town, to which there is an ascent of a hundred and ninety-four steps. The first church was built by Edwin king of Northumberland, about the year 630, and after being burnt by the Danes in 867, lay in ruins until the conquest, when it was rebuilt by William de Percy. The architecture, originally Gothic, has received so many modern alterations, that it retains little of it's ancient form. The mansion of the Cholmley family, now a deserted habitation, and the ruins of a venerable abbey, are contiguous to the church.
A spacious Chapel of ease has been erected in the lower part of the town for the convenience of the inhabitants; beside which, there are three others in the country, one of them exceedingly elegant. The Dissenters of different denominations have, also, their respective places of worship, viz. the Presbyterians, the Independents, the Burgher-Seceders from the Church of Scotland, the Quakers, and the Roman Catholics. The Methodists have, likewise, a Meeting-house for their devotional assemblies.
The number of families in Whitby, by an account said to have been taken in the year 1776, was 2,268, which, averaged at five persons to a family, would make the whole 11,340. Since that period, the population has certainly increased; but, by a return made in 1801, the town is. stated to have contained only 1,596 houses and 7,483 inhabitants, viz, 3,471 males and 4,212 females. The following is a copy of the return made by the overseers, under the order of Government, for the present year (1811).
Whitby 1850 Families with 2494 males and 3975 females - total population 6469
Ruswarp 267 Families with 448 males and 669 females - total population 1117
The above enumeration is exclusive of seamen, soldiers, and militia, and comprises only such part of Ruswarp as is joined to Whitby.
Ammonites or Snake-stones are found on the rock between the high and the low water mark. This rock is formed by a stratum of Alum-mine nearly on a level with the surface of the ocean. The Ammonites are of various sizes, the spiral convolutions being from one to six or seven inches diameter.
Petrified shells or shell-fish are also found in great abundance under the cliff. They are of the bivalve kind, not separated, but closed together like complete and perfect shell-fishes. These are principally of the cockle species, but the petrified scallops are very rare.
The Trochitae, likewise, and pieces of petrified wood of a considerable size, principally of the oak-kind, are found in great abundance. In some of them may be observed very distinctly the bark, the fibres, the grain, the knots, and every thing pertaining to oak-timber. The petrified stump of an ash-tree was exposed to view some years since on the rock, with all the fibres and roots adhering thereto, and had the appearance of real wood. It was brittle, friable, and somewhat less heavy than common stone. When put into the fire, it burnt almost as freely and with as bright a flame as real wood.
In the year 1710, the petrified arm of a man was found on the rock by Dr. Woodward, in which all the bones and joints belonging to the arm and hand were very visible. In 1743 the Rev. Mr. Berwick and others discovered in the Alum-rock the complete skeleton or petrified bones of a man; but though the utmost caution was used, it was broken into many pieces, and greatly mutilated before it could be removed. In 1750 a complete ossification was found on the north side of the east-pier, not far from the cliff. It was taken up in the sea by a gentleman who was then bathing, and appeared to be the part of a human skeleton, consisting of three ribs, with the flesh between them and on the inner side of them totally ossified. There were also on the outside thereof some remains of skin, the pores of which might be readily discerned; but this skin was not in an ossified state, and after being kept some years, it entirely mouldered to dust. In 1758, the petrified bones of a crocodile were taken out of the rock under the cliff; and these, though broken into many pieces, were sent to the Royal Society. In 1762, the skeleton, or petrified bones of a horse, were found at the Alum-works at Saltwick, at the depth of thirty yards under ground, which yrere taken up with much care, though not without being considerably broken: these were afterward sent to the University of Aberdeen.
From "The History and Antiquities of Scarborough, and the Vicinity" 1811