EJ Rudsdale on Twitter from 3 September 2019

28th September 1944 - Whitby

Up at 8.30.  Calm, sunny morning.  The old ladies most kind, and gave me an enormous breakfast, more than I could eat.  Walked down to the top of Bagdale, through the lane coming down from Sneaton Castle.  Saw the house belonging to Shaw Jeffreys, who was once Headmaster of the Colchester Royal Grammar School.  He left there in 1916, when Cape came.  At present he very wisely lives in S. Africa.

Saw the very pleasant museum, standing on the high hill above Bagdale, but it was not open for another hour, so went down by the lovely Georgian terraces to Baxtergate.  What a pity that those hideous yellow brick house were built on the W. side of Bagdale, right against Carr’s Yard.  My grandfather lived in the one on the corner of the yard in his latter years, and it must have been there that I stayed as a child of three in 1913.

Explored various funny little yards and alleys off Baxtergate – Loggerhead Yard, with a very mutilated wooden figure set into the house front on the street – Mackridge’s Yard, - Virond’s Lane. Massive tank blocks everywhere (one right against Carr’s Yard).

Good public-house names – “The Old Ship Inn”, “The Cutty Sark”, “The Swan” in Baxtergate, with its sign newly repainted.  There were women working in shawls and clogs, and fishermen in their thigh-boots and red canvas jerseys.

Walked up the almost vertical Golden Lion Bank, now obstructed by a tank block, into Flowergate.  A derelict site on the north side, where the Council Offices were destroyed by a direct hit two or three years ago.

Then back to the water side, and across the bride and up Church Street.  Many of the shops do not appear to have changed for generations, and probably have not altered since Father was a boy.

Saw the Talbooth, in the Fishmarket, a handsome square stone building on Doric columns, now apparently disused and deserted.  On the N. face is the following inscription:


Above the inscription is the Cholmley coat of arms.  This is a very fine piece of architecture, and deserves more care and attention.

The Market Place is at present full of brick air-raid shelters, and there is a vacant site on the E. side, where a number of old houses have been pulled down.  Whatever rebuilding is done there should be in complete sympathy with the Talbooth and the old brick buildings which still remain on the W. side.  The modern fish market is on the N. side, running right down to the edge of the harbour.

Went up Church Street, and saw at the bottom of  Church steps the shop of “J. Storr, Jet Manufacturer”, with the window full of jet ornaments, models of the Abbey, tiny tables and chairs, beads, necklaces, etc; everything priced very dear.  The smallest objects being about 30/-.  We have a good “set” of jet at home, showing the whole process of manufacture, which Father bought down from Whitby about 40 years ago, to illustrate object lessons at Barrack St. School.  I gather from conversations here that there are now only about three jet-makers left, of whom Storrs is one.  For many years past the jet has not been found on the beaches, but is dug out of small pits on the Moors, some 10 miles from the town.

Went slowly up the ancient worn steps to the Church, feeling more than ever like a ghost, having seen those steps all my life in a hundred different photographs.  The old donkey way still runs alongside, green with grass growing between the stones.

Found myself all alone in the churchyard, by Caedmon’s Cross, looking at the great building with its multitude of leaden roofs and squat tower.  My grandfather used to do repairs on the roofs, and once my Father as a little boy went up there with him, and marked his foot print in the soft lead.

The churchyard full of memorials of men lost at sea, of wrecks and disasters of long ago.  Now their bones lie there among the grey stones, the whispering grass, with the cry of the gulls and the beat of the waves, making their everlasting symphony.

Looked down across the town and harbour, the High Light and the Low Light, the two stone arms enclosing the little haven.  The houses on the opposite side looked as if they were built on top of one another, and above them all the gaunt terraces of West Cliff. 

Inside the church, more magnificent than I had believed.  Wonderful Norman chancel arch, and the East Window.  The arch is obscured by the great Cholmley pew built across it, but nobody would ever suggest the removal of such a magnificent anachronism.  All the old pews are still there, with numbers painted on the doors.  Some are marked “For Strangers Only”.  Sat in one for a few minutes to write some notes – yet am I a stranger here?

In the middle of the church there is a fine brass chandelier, early 18th century, I suppose, hanging from a miniature anchor, and in the chancel a chair made from timber of the “Royal Charter”, William Scoresby’s ship.  The pulpit is huge and high.

No electric light anywhere, nor should there ever be.

In the S. Aisle, there is a row of old wooden hat pegs on the edge of the low gallery, and some of the pews appear to me to be of 17th century date.  There is no organ.  Wonder if they still have an orchestra?

Just inside the porchway is a memorial to the lifeboat men who were drowned in the great storm in Feburary 1861, eleven years before my Father was born, but often have I heard him tell the story of that day.  Only one man was saved out of the crew of 13.  Now their names are cut in stone there forever, men of families still living in the town.

Near this monument is an iron-bound chest, and at the far end of the S. Aisle a stone coffin for a little baby.  Another curiosity is an inscription in the Chancel to General Peregrine Lascelles, who “fled at Prestonpans”.  An interesting precedent which ought to be remembered when the time comes to put up monuments to more modern generals.

Went out again into the churchyard, among the grey tumbled gravestones, and wondered how many of these people knew Father or were known by him.  Three elderly men came up the steps and walked through the churchyard, one reciting “each in his narrow cell forever laid”, in a strong Yorkshire accent, hitting at the gravestones with his stick.

Then to the Abbey, and saw the ancient cross-shaft behind the church, and a notice on the wall nearby stating that the Abbey was closed on account of military occupation, but having come so far I was not likely to be put off by that, so went along the drive to the ruins of the great Abbey House, where the Cholmleys lived, and found the whole place deserted, no signs of military occupation except a few notices hung on the walls.

Climbed over a low place into the enclosure round the Abbey Church, and as I walked across the grass felt as though I was stepping into the photo on the bedroom wall at home.  There were even cattle grazing round the towering columns, just as there were when that picture was taken half a century ago.

Walked up and down the great empty aisles, and saw among the grass the traces of the earlier church, where no doubt Caedmon’s songs were sung in his time.  The ruins are in beautiful condition.  What a tragedy that the central tower should have fallen on that summer day a hundred years ago.  The place where the German shell struck in 1914 is still visible.

Outside the N. door are some mediaeval gravestones, exposed in a sort of hollow, while nearby is an ancient well, covered with a modern iron grill and padlocked, but obviously still used, no doubt to water the cattle.

As I stood looking out over the sea, the air raid sirens wailed out for a test.

Back down into the town, saw the house in Grape Lane where Capt. Cook lived, and a fine house in Church Street, overhanging on the third floor in a most unusual way.  Noticed that Capt. Cook’s house, although built in the usual red brick, is dated 1688.  Perhaps some of these brick houses are earlier than one would suppose.

Next climbed back up to the Museum, just before 1 o’clock.  The place is well designed, and of pleasing appearance, square in shape, with an oblong art gallery on the S. side.  The art gallery is free, but a charge of 6d is made for the Museum, which is only supported by funds left by Alderman Pannett, and not by the rates.

Noticed in the art gallery a water-colour given by J.J. Holdsworth, who gave so much material to the Essex Archaeological Society. 

The most striking thing in the Museum is the magnificent series of the great Samians, mounted on the walls in the S.W. corner.  The huge skeletons are beautifully set, and well labelled, with cases nearby containing smaller bones and some nice models showing the appearance of these fantastic creatures.  One of the Ichthyosanni is 25 feet long, and was found at Hawsker more than a century ago, when digging in the cliff for alum.

There is an “Old Whitby” section, with an excellent model of the town, beautifully done, and a fine collection of topographical prints and drawings.  Delighted to see a watercolour showing Carr’s Yard, undated, but from the costumes and appearance of vehicles it would seem to be about 1760.  Must get a copy of this.  There is a coloured lithograph of “John the Bellman”, who died in 1878.  Have heard Father speak of him, how he used to “cry” for things lost or found.  The old town plans are excellent.  Only wish Colchester had such a useful series.  There is also a model of the old harbour bridge, made over a hundred years ago, with two basenles worked by counter-weights.

The ship-building, whaling, and fishing exhibits are fine.  Numbers of fine ship models.  The Capt. Cook collections are of great interest, and include quite a lot of original material brought home by him from various voyages.  Also photographs of the birthplace at Gt. Ayton.  What an outrageous thing that it should have been taken away, but I suppose that if the Australians had not had it the County Council would have destroyed it under some pretext or other.

Found the Hon. Curator in his office, and made myself known.  His name is Capt. Boyle, a retired Navy man, and as I walked in he was sitting at his desk reading the “Museums Journal”, in which was the report that Frank Elgee was dead.  Much regret that I never met him, a most able man.  We had a brief conversation, but Capt. Boyle did not seem very informative and soon left, but soon after he had gone Mr H.B. Browne, the Secretary of the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society, came in. 

He was most affable, and took me into the Society’s Library, where some ladies were sitting and talking about the German “rockets” which are now falling on London.  (Cannot yet find whether these things are really “rockets” sent from Germany or shells fired from Calais).  Mr Browne showed me the whole of the collections in detail, and made himself most pleasant.  He told me that the Museum was much appreciated by visitors, but is ignored by the Town Council, who are apathetic and intolerant to any form of culture.  Practically the whole of the old town has been condemned, and will be destroyed as soon as convenient after the war.  Mr. B. says he sees no way by which the old buildings round the harbour may be saved.  One councillor said at a Council Meeting that no house of over 50 years old ought to be allowed to stand.  Mr. B. thinks there will undoubtedly be trouble about Carr’s Yard before long, although it has not been condemned yet.
Widespread destruction is also proposed at Robin Hood’s Bay, but there is some suggestion that the best of the houses there might be turned into artists’ studios or summer residences.  Would there be enough tenants for that sort of thing?  And how would the properties be maintained and by whom?

There must be still a great mass of interesting folklore on the Moors.  In the Museum is a “witch post”, of ash, formerly built into a cottage, warranted to keep witches away.  At York there is a “witch cross” and other things, and Miss Rodgers told me that there is a man on an Observer Post near Whitby who proudly claims that his grandmother was a witch.

Whitby Museum must be one of the oldest in the country, being founded by the Whitby Philosophical Society in 1823.  It was originally in a house near the harbour, and my Father remembers seeing the samians and fossils there when he was a boy.

Mr Browne also showed me the Society’s Library, which lacks several numbers of the Colchester Museum Reports.  Promised to send them on to him, though very doubtful whether I shall be able to do so.  Feel considerably embarrassed when people ask for our reports subsequent to 1937.

Left Mr. Browne most cordially, and went back to aunt’s house and prepared to make a start on the road, to get as far as possible before dark, but I was pressed to stay another night and to go over to see Uncle Bob Parratt, who lives not more than 200 yards away, which I did.  Recognised him at once, having seen him at Colchester about 8 years ago.  He lives quite alone now, his wife dead, and his son away in the RAF.

Before we had tea he took me back to the town over the old stone flagged paths across the meadows, through a little farm where the cows were just coming in for milking, a brown pony following behind them.  These stone paths are very ancient, and Father used to run along here as a little boy, going up to Smeaton Castle Farm for eggs or milk.

We went down into Flowergate, and then into a maze of courts and alleys between there and the harbour.  Uncle owns several properties around here.  Saw many houses of great interest, both 17th and 18th centuries, some standing five or six storeys high, with curious wooden stairs up the outsides.  It is most essential that a full and complete survey of this town should be made without loss of time.

Then back to tea, and afterwards looking at his books.  Shaw Jeffrey’s “Whitby” is very good.  I hear that the old man is still alive and well, but he has been in S. Africa for 5 years.  It is almost 30 years since he left Colchester.

Then he showed me some 18th century deeds concerning property in the town owned by himself and his brother (a jeweller).  One mentions houses and buildings owned by a John Wilkinson, who died in 1770 and appears to have owned a vast amount of property.  Wonder if this would be the iron-master, who issued copper tokens?

Next I was shown family photographs – Aunt Ciss, taken by my Father at Colchester, 40 years ago, a strikingly handsome young woman, with thick wavy hair and a finely modelled face.  Miss Cecily Rudsdale of Whitby.  For a time she and Uncle Bob lived in a new house in Audley Road, and he gave me two photos taken by himself, looking down towards Drury Farm, about 1906.  The he showed me a photograph of the family taken in front of the coach painting shop at Carr’s Yard, and there was Father sitting in front, a little boy of 13, looking so like me that it was quite uncanny and the ghostly feeling came on very strong.  Standing at the back, behind stern bearded grandfather, was my Aunt Betty, who died of rheumatic disease when only a girl.  She was very pretty.  For some years she and old grandfather were both bedridden in the same house, and during all that time never saw one another, then they both died.

We heard the 9 o’clock news, the Prime Minister trying to smarm over the fearful disaster of Arnhem.  75% of the men have been lost, most of them killed, and there is now no chance of the war ending during the next 12 months.

Left at eleven, and went back to “Broomlea”, the wind rising and great clouds rolling up, obscuring the moon.  Could hear the surf booming on the shore.  Sat talking to the old aunts until nearly midnight.  Aunt Kitty thinks that putting on the street lights now is “tempting providence”, and insists on seeing that her own windows are as darkly curtained as ever they were.  Talked about bombing, and said that when the Council offices were hit a young clerk was killed.  A week later there was another attack, and one bomb fell into the cemetery, on this young man’s grave.  They had several attacks in 1942, the station yard and a big hotel on Westcliff both being hit.

There are very few horses in the town, though a fair number are kept on farms.  Saw a smart little tub cart being driven down Bagdale yesterday.

Of the ancient whaling industry, nothing remains but the collection in the Museum and two pairs of jaw-bones, one in the park and one in Church Street.

Aunt has a photographic copy of the Bagdale drawing in the Museum, which gives the date “1794” in a modern hand.  Am not absolutely certain that it is identical with the Museum drawing, as the figures seem to be altered.

To bed at midnight, the wind howling and roaring, and the sound of guns far off at sea.

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