WHITBY, a seaport, watering-place and market town in the Whitby parliamentary division of the North Riding of Yorkshire, England, 245 m. N. from London, on the North-Eastern railway. Pop. of urban district (1901) 11,755. There are a terminal station in the town and a station at West Cliff on the Saltburn branch. Whitby is beautifully situated at the mouth and on both banks of the River Esk; the old town of narrow streets and picturesque houses standing en the steep slopes above the river, while the modern residential quarter is mainly on the summit of West Cliff. A long flight of steps leads up the eastern height to the abbey, the ruins of which gain a wonderful dignity from their commanding position. This was a foundation of Oswy, king of Northumbria, in 658, in fulfilment of a vow for a victory over Penda, king of Mercia. It embraced an establishment for monks and (until the Conquest) for nuns of the Benedictine order, and under Hilda, a grand-niece of Edwin, a former king of Northumbria, acquired high celebrity. The existing ruins comprise parts of the Early English choir, the north transept, also Early English but of later date, and the rich Decorated nave. The west side of the nave fell in 1763 and the tower in 1830. On the south side are foundations of cloisters and domestic buildings. Adjoining the abbey is Whitby Hall, built by Sir Francis Cholmley about 1 580 from the materials of the monastic buildings, and enlarged and fortified by Sir Hugh Cholmley about 1635. A little below the abbey is the parish church of St Mary, originally Norman, and retaining traces of the first building; owing to a variety of alterations at different periods, and the erection of high wooden pews and galleries, its appearance is more remarkable than beautiful. A modern cross in the churchyard commemorates St Caedmon, the Northumbrian poet (c. 670), who was a monk at the abbey and there died. Other features of the town are the pleasant promenades and gardens on West Cliff, the antiquarian and geological museum, and an excellent golf course. The coast is cliff-bound and very beautiful both to the north and to the south, while inland the Esk traverses a lovely wooded vale, surrounded by open, high-lying moors. Whitby is a quiet resort, possessing none of the brilliance of Scarborough on the same coast. A large fishing industry is carried on from the harbour, which is formed by the mouth of the river and protected by two piers. The manufacture of ornaments from the jet found in the vicinity forms a considerable industry. The jet is a species of petrified wood found towards the bottom of the Upper Lias, and its use for the purpose of ornament dates from very early times. A former activity in shipbuilding is of interest through the recollection that here were constructed the ships for Captain Cook's voyages. Wooden ships and boats are still built, and rope-making and sail-making are carried on.
Whitby (Streanaeshalch c. 657-857; Prestebi c. 857-1080; Witeby, etc. c. 857 onwards) is first mentioned by Bede, who states that a religious house was established here about A.D. 657. In the 9th century it was destroyed by the Danes, but being refounded became the centre of a Danish colony, and until laid waste by the Conqueror was the most prosperous town in the district. Henry I. made a grant to the abbot and convent of Whitby of a burgage in the vill of Whitby, and Richard de Waterville, abbot 1175-1190, granted the town in free burgage to the burgesses. In 1200 King John, bribed by the burgesses, confirmed this charter, but in 1201, bribed by the successor of Richard de Waterville, quashed it as injurious to the dignity of the church of Whitby. A bitter struggle went on, however, till the 14th century, when a trial resulted in a judgment against the burgesses. In 1629 Whitby petitioned for incorporation on the ground that the town was in decay through want of good government and received letters patent giving them self-government. However, in 1674-1675 the crown, probably in gratitude for the part played by the Cholmleys in the Civil War, restored to the lords of the manor all the liberties ever enjoyed by the abbots of Whitby in Whitby and Whitby Strand. Whitby became a parliamentary borough under the Reform Act of 1832, returning one member until it was disfranchised under the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885. At the beginning of the 14th century Sir Alexander Percy claimed the hereditary right of buying and selling in Whitby without payment of toll. The market was held time out of mind on Sunday until the reign of Henry VI., who changed the day to Saturday, still the market day. A fortnightly cattle market was granted by Charles I. Henry I. granted to the abbot of Whitby a fair at the feast of St Hilda and the king's firm peace to all coming to the fair. A second fair was used later, but neither of them is any longer held. There was a port at Whitby in the 12th century and probably before, and though never important there have always since been traces of Whitby shipping and merchandise. In medieval times the salting and sale of herrings and the sale of cod, fish and other products of the North Sea fishery were the only industries. Whale-fishing began in 1753.
See J. C. Atkinson, Memorials of Old Whitby (London, 1894); Lionel Charlton, History of Whitby (York, 1779); George Young, History of Whitby (Whitby, 1817); Victoria County History, Yorkshire, North Riding.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)