The Town of Whitby

Thought there can be no doubt that it owned much of its early importance the the Abbey was quite  able to stand by itself. From entries in Domesday it has been computed that Whitby was assessed at a sum equivalent to £3500 for the Dane geld impost alone, so that it must have been, in spite of the harrying of Norsemen, both large and wealthy.

Old map of Whitby

During the latter half of the eighteenth century, the town derived much profit and importance from whale fisheries, Whitby men and Whitby boats taking a leading part in the adventure. It is said that in a period of fifty years nearly 3,000 whales, to say nothing of seals, bears and other Arctic spoils, were brought to Whitby. There is a fine description of the return of a Greenland whaler in Mrs. Gaskell's Sylvia's Lovers. Whitby was long a fairly important. Shipbuilding centre, sending out some notable and well-found vessels, both wood and iron, including those which served that dauntless navigator, Captain Cook.

There was a time, too, when Whitby was one of the principal ports of the alum trade. Later, the jet industry was a great boon to the town, and Whitby became as famous for its jet as, within our own generation, Sheffield has become for steel. The few articles now made, however, are mostly of the “souvenir “type, the demand for jet for purposes of adornment being small and variable. Jet, it may be well to say, is a bituminous sub-stance found in the shales of the Upper Lias, and is very common about Whitby.

There is, of course, no comparison between the rough articles, as it may be found by any chance collector, and the highly-polished and elaborate ornaments cherished by our grandmothers or on sale in the town to-day. It is interesting to recall that it was at Whitby, in 1835, that George Stephenson and George Hudson, “the Railway King," first met face to face, their conference resulting in the conception of an " East Coast Route " between London and Scotland.

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