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Whitby represents every period of English history from the earliest time of Anglo-Saxons to its becoming an important shipping port in the seventeenth century. The interesting parts are not always obvious, and a little searching will be rewarding.
Church Street is the town’s oldest. It was called Kirkgate in 1318, and extended only from the foot of the Church Stairs to the old Market Place, where the Black Bull Inn stood at the corner. Then followed High Gate, Crossgate and Southgate to Boulby Bank, where the new flats are. Beyond this was a sandy, tide-washed track to Spital Bridge.
The whole length is now Church Street, The Church Stairs (199 steps) date from 1370, and were originally made of wood. The road at the side (Donkey Road) led up to the Abbey Gatehouse and on to Hawsker.
In 1787 Lord Mulgrave, who was courting a daughter of the Cholmley family of Abbey House, drove a coach and four horses up it.
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At the foot of the Stairs is Henrietta Street, named after Nathaniel Cholmleys wife in 1761 when 130 houses were built here. It was originally Haggerlythe, dating from 1270.
Henrietta Street, named after Nathaniel Cholmley’s wife in 1761 as it looks today with Fortunes Kipper House on the left
A landslide in 1787 destroyed many of the houses. There was a gun battery at the end during the time of the privateer Paul Jones, around 1779. The old curing houses for kippers are on this street. Oak chippings provide the smoke.
A house near the foot of the Stairs has three ammonites on its wall, and another bears an inscription dated 1705.
Lower down Church Street a flight of stone steps leads to the site of Wesley Chapel, opened in 1788 by John Wesley but recently demolished, Near here is Blackburn’s Yard, containing a cottage in which the authoress Mary Linksell was born. Her novel The Haven under the Hill is well worth reading.
The Market Square, which still has a colourful variety of stalls on Saturdays, is grouped round the Town Hall, built by Nathaniel Cholmley in 1788. The Cholmley family came into ownership of most of the town after Henry VIII had possessed it, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540. At the top left hand corner of the Square is a building, originally a chapel, which was made into a house after the Reformation. The Square itself replaced an older market place in 1640, when the old Tollbooth was demolished. The present hall, or Tollbooth, used to house the country women with their produce and, at a later date, a pig market. The Courts Leet of the manor was held in the upper room, reached by a spiral staircase. Public whippings of thieves took place in the Square, where once stood the Stocks.
Back on Church Street, on the left, stood the White Horse Hotel, which was an important meeting place for master mariners and the local gentry in the 18th century.
First stage coach service to York, twice weekly (fare 14s inside, 8s outside), had its base here. Another old inn, the Black Horse, which had a yard at the back where farm animals were accommodated, became important in 1874 when excavations revealed a collection of animal bones and shells. Combs and spoons, dating back to AD 630, were also unearthed, suggesting that this was the midden of the monastery of St. Hilda, founded in 657. These are in Whitby Museum.
The hiring of farmhands at Martinmas used to take place in this area of Church Street, where there were many taverns, long since disappeared, continuing past the end of Bridge Street. Is the Friends Meeting House dating from 1813, on the site of one built in 1676.
Seamens Hospital Church Street Whitby founded in 1670
Just past here, near the end of Grape Lane, was the old Potato Market where, before 1540, the Abbot of Whitby had his Tollbooth.
Many houses have disappeared on here, but the Seamen’s Hospital is still there. It was founded in 1670 by ship owners for distressed seamen and their widows, but the front was rebuilt in 1842, opposite, buildings were cleared to make a river frontage, the site having been a boat building yard in 1817. Near here, on the mud, the famous Horngarth or Penny Hedge ceremony is performed on the Eve of Ascension Day. The area is called "Abraham’s Bosom", and here the sailing ships had their bottoms cleaned or "careened".
On the other side of the street is "Salt Pan Well Steps", where there was a 16th century salt industry. The pump, removed from here to the Museum, has an inscription meaning: "To everyone his own, Draw, Drink, and Be Silent".
The ruined gas works nearby were erected in 1837.
The White Horse and the Black Horse public houses in Whitby, in reality they are not quite next door to each other as they look in this picture
Previously, a gas made from whale oil was used to light the streets of the town as early as 1825. Passing some old cottages we come to steep Green Lane, which leads to Abbey Lane. To the left is St. Hildas Hospital, once the "Workhouse". Seaweeds are a modern housing development bearing the old name "The Ropery". Ropes were made here in sailing days, here also is Boulby Bank, once a picturesque steep street of old houses. An ancient path leads along the edge of the cliff to the wall of the Abbey.
A Whitby video tour down Henrietta Street, Church Street, passing Whitby's old town Hall, the Black Horse and White Horse public houses and ending up at the Seamens Hospital.