1717 Whitby Painting

This quaint painting can be seen hanging in the main hall of Whitby Museum. On first glance you may not realise that the painting is of Whitby, but look closer and it is surprisingly accurate. A former curator of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich once commented how historically accurate the ships were.

We do not know the identity of the artist, however the painting is inscribed ‘The Town of Whitby – October 28th 1717’. On the rear of the painting is a cutting describing the detail of the painting. We presume the clipping came from either the Whitby Gazette or Whitby News around the mid 19th century as it makes reference to the drawbridge, which was demolished in 1834/35, being in living memory.

‘At the top of the sheet, the chief feature, as well as the only ecclesiastical-looking portion of the Abbey is the tower, amid sundry tall spiky pinnacles; while within the wall which separates the ruins from ‘the plane,’ the field is seen to be skirted by trees, their season having long since passed; and a staff here with a flag hoisted, has graced the enclosure where the wall bends round to the Scarborough Road.

The old cross stands as it now is; and on the further or sea-side of it, opposite the north transept of the abbey, there are two conspicuous houses, and some tress ad-joining them, one being an inn, or alehouse, with a projecting sign of somebody’s head, and the capitals E.C.1717. These have all disappeared; and we pass to The Hall of the Cholmleys, the front of which, if we understand our artist aright, has been approached through a low palisading in the place of the high stone wall and pillared gateway surmounted by shields, now forming the entrance. The line of stables still remaining, extends along the Almshouse Close; and at the commencement of this line towards Church Lane, and abutting upon it, are three small outbuildings now gone, one a gatehouse with its archway, beneath which stands a henchman, pole-axe in hand, as if on guard at the entrance leading from thence into the hall precincts. The circumstances of this armed official in his long green coat, ample sleeves, and expansive hat, coupled with the ensign displayed on a conspicuous part of the grounds, speaks if the state and retinue formally maintained by the Cholmleys in this quarter…

………Thence comes the descent of the Church steps, with a one-sided hand rail towards the lane; and at the lane foot of the flight, the houses are much more picturesque than those now on the spot. One of the largest with a latticed gate, has a projecting sign of the Cock, which marks it as a public house, while in the near vicinity, the aged have told us there was a similar place of call under the ornamental designation of the Blue Monkey. Leaving the habitations on both sides of the “Church stair-foot” or highest part of Church=street, the draw-bridge, depicted where the present structure stands, is a very slight affair of wood; and with its apparent narrowness, must have been calculated for foot passengers only, every portion including the pillars, being without a vestige of stone work; and we know that prior to the publication of Charlton’s History of Whitby, the ford across the River, which is yet occasionally used at low water, between Boghall and Spital bridge, was the ordinary passage for heavy items.

The ridge, then of 171, may probably be the one taken down in 1766, for the erection of the draw-bridge which many of us remember, the [here it become unintelligible] transmitted view, the bridge I question is seaward of the church steps instead of landwards; but apart from this circumstance, there is that about the details which savours of veracity. Of planks and spars, the two leaves over the shipway were hoisted perpendicularly on their hinges with ropes and pulleys attached to an overhead erection of frame work; and we further perceive there are fixed weights underneath the leaves, so as to assist by their sway the opening of the bridge, when the bolts were withdrawn which kept the leaves in central contact. The supporters are rough woodenposts set in the bed of the river, which have ‘strut timbers’ to stay them, as a buttress slopes to wall. Next comes the shipping, where the artist exhibits an old fashioned fleet in full sail across the sheet, and apparently, he would have the spectator to consider himself so far outward of the harbour mouth, as to take into view the heads of the east and west piers; with a further intimation, if right in our comprehension, that the west side of the water is thickly inhabited, by the lie of pointed roofs innumerable with which h the bottom of his view is bordered, in the place of our two stately lighthouses at the main pier heads, between which vessels now sail into the port, we have in the picture, on each pier of the day, a a pole beacon ascended by means of spikes projecting from the sides, for conveying the fuel into the round iron frame or burner, the fuel being spoken of as a hard compound of akum, tallow, pitch and rosin;

……… thus far has the endeavour been made to afford some idea of the view of Whitby in 1717 – uncouth as before said, yet curious for what it reveals of the past, when the top stories of opposite houses in the narrow streets almost met over the heads of the passengers, and the unglazed shops with their wooden-hatched windows opened as the front of a stall. The colours are chiefly red, blue, and yellow; and the whole scene of houses is pervaded with diamond lights or the ‘penny pane’, thus bringing us to the statement, that a sash window was not know in Whitby until 1725; at the insertion of which , both town and country gazed at it as a prodigy.”

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