Whitby is a seaside town in Yorkshire with a long and interesting history. We found it a wonderful place to visit for a number of reasons.
In the mid 1800s both my and my husband’s forebears left Yorkshire in Northern England to migrate to Australia. We loved driving through the Yorkshire Dales and I thought how difficult it must have been to leave this beautiful countryside for a place totally alien, far across the sea and make that home. Adding to that past family history, at Whitby we discovered much which appealed to our interests of literature, religion and history.
Whitby was the inspiration for the novel, Dracula, written by Bram (Abraham) Stoker and published in 1897. In the novel, Dracula is shipwrecked off the Yorkshire coast whilst on his way to London; he comes ashore at Whitby in the guise of a black dog. He attacks his first English victim in the St. Mary’s Church graveyard at Whitby with the ruined Whitby Abbey as the backdrop. This popular culture connection leads to the present day Dracula Tours conducted in Whitby.
The site where the ruined Abbey now stands was once a monastery (established 657 AD) which was an important centre of Anglo -Saxon religion. It was the location of the Great Synod of Whitby, held in 664 AD which determined the direction of the Church in England. In the 9th Century the monastery was abandoned, it is believed, because of Viking raids. After the Norman conquest of 1066, a new Benedictine monastery was established. Over time this grew into one of the richest monasteries in Yorkshire and the magnificent English Gothic architecture structure of Whitby Abbey began to be built in the early 1200s.
But the thing about history is that it moves always and forever forwards, so in 1539 when King Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and began the dissolution and suppression of the monasteries, Whitby Abbey was abandoned. Today the imposing ruins of the Abbey stand as a sentinel on the windswept headland overlooking the harbour and town below.
On the West Cliff at Whitby is a monument to Captain James Cook famous for sailing and mapping the east coast of Australia in 1770. Cook was born close by and served his apprenticeship in Whitby, thus beginning his career as a sailor and explorer. The Captain Cook Memorial Museum is situated in the house where Cook once lived. The Cook family were regular church goers at the local church, St Mary’s, which belonged to the Abbey and was built in the early 12th Century.
Inside St Mary’s, which is still a working church, is very interesting. The interior is filled with box pews which were popular the 17th and 18th Centuries. Families had a little box of pews which were named for themselves and this is where they sat. In this Church I found a memorial plaque to Captain James Cook in the Cook Family box pew.