Social History

The collections that reflect the social history of Whitby comprise bygones, toys and dolls, coins, clocks and watches, medals, and weapons and militia. Whilst items such as kitchen and household utensils, mainly donated by local people or people with local associations, inform visitors about Whitby life and culture over the last three hundred years, our coins represent the pre-Roman Iron Age to the reign of King George VI. The large and varied collection of toys ranges from Elizabethan wooden dolls to an early Punch and Judy set. We are at the seaside after all.

At Whitby Museum you can learn about famous people and events. For example, our commemorative coins are reminders of Roger Bannister’s sub-4-minute mile, the publication of Florence Nightingale’s book on nursing, the London Olympics in 2012. Of particular note are coins from the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, including the transition from £.s.d. to decimal currency in 1971, produced by the Royal Mint to celebrate royal events and commemorate anniversaries. One of our earliest military medals is the Trafalgar medal (1805) given to George Wilson, who sailed on The Revenge under Captain Moorsom; the latter’s fine pair of boxed flintlock pistols by Barber Newark were used onboard at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Our stunning social history artefacts are guaranteed to remind you of childhood days, and children will learn how toys of the past were educative and fun. Particularly inspiring is our witch post from a house in Egton. Almost exclusively a feature of the North York Moors region, witch posts by the fire were supposedly to protect the house from witches. Why do you think people kept these relics of superstition?

Included in this collection


Spurs used in cock fights

Clog worn by school truant

Victorian ivory objects. Knitting stick, penknife, teetotum & dice box

Knitting sticks

Splintwork maybe used in rituals by a ‘wiseman’

A typical collection of everyday and unusual artefacts reminiscent of local life and culture over the last three hundred years or so. Apart from kitchen and household utensils (everything from gingerbread moulds to corn dollies), there are significant collections of snuff and tinder boxes, pipes and matches, nineteenth century medical and surgical instruments (including a very rare register of births between 1720 and 1764 from a local midwife), ladies’ crafts, educational objects and a case dedicated to Whitby’s five eighteenth / early nineteenth century private banks. A number of items are either the work of Napoleonic prisoners-of-war (carved wooden Noah’s Ark set, ivory lady’s workbox) or scrimshaw (carved whalebone corset stays, spoons, etc.) by local Whaling sailors.

Carving at top of witchpost

The collection contains a witchpost from East End Cottage, Egton. Witch posts are almost exclusively a feature of the North York Moors region. It is a solid upright timber of oak or rowan wood which is built as part of a house’s structure, often by the fireplace. It has a carved cross near the top of the post and it is thought their purpose was to protect the house and its inhabitants from witches. It has also been suggested that itinerant priests in the 17th century who sheltered in the house may have given a blessing on the house and its inhabitants, the occasion being recorded by the carving of a cross on one of these posts. Whatever, the custom is of remote antiquity and a remarkable relic of superstition.

1 guinea banknote from local bank

Ivory fan

Horology (clocks & watches)

Desk clock with barometer, thermometer and compass presented by W H Gladstone to R.E.P.

This burgeoning collection has a few local clocks and watches :

  • a 30 hour long case clock by Turnbull, Whitby 1823-1840 painted face oak case with mahogany crossbanding
  • a brass faced 30 hour clock by Webster, Whitby late 18th century
  • a mahogany wall clock with fusee movement by Day, Whitby
  • a verge watch by John Webster in a silver pair case 1813 with its watch papers
  • a verge watch by Thomas Turnbull again with silver pair case 1834

Mid 18th century verge watch by John Pattey

Other verge watches includes one by Isaac Rogers London with an unusual dial with the hours as letters spelling Johanes Boyes (probably the owner) and a mid 18th century verge watch in a pinchbeck case decorated with repousse chasing by John Pattey of London (see illustration). There is also a collection of watch-makers tools and associated items. The collection includes an interesting pedometer made by Spencer & Perkins London ca. 1830.

Numismatics (coins)

Silver denarius of Hadrian from Ugthorpe

There are two panels of British coins on display. The first has representative coins from the pre-Roman Iron Age to the reign of King George VI. The second looks in much more detail at the coins of Queen Elizabeth II, including the transition from £.s.d to decimal currency in 1971, and the enormous range of coins produced by the Royal Mint to celebrate Royal events and commemorate anniversaries ranging from Roger Bannister’s sub-4 minute mile to the publication of Florence Nightingale’s book on nursing. Just at present they are issuing a series of coins to celebrate the London Olympics in 2012, many of them designed by amateurs all over the land, such as a schoolboy from Harrogate who designed the 50p piece about Cycling. There are also examples of the special gold and sterling silver coins produced for collectors.

Henry III penny

£5 coin commemorating the 2007 Diamond wedding of Elizabeth II and Prince Philip struck in sterling silver


Trafalgar Medal

Our medal collection contains military medals, commemorative medallions and life-saving medals all with local connections.

One of our earliest military medals is the Trafalgar medal (1805) given to George Wilson who sailed on ‘The Revenge’ under Captain Moorsom and our latest relate to the Great War of 1939-45. One particular group relate to the Hurley family which span several generations starting with the Indian Mutiny of 1857 – 1858, and go on to include the Boer War, First and Second World Wars. The family all served in the Royal Artillery. These medals are accompanied by letters and photographs which give a insight of this particular family’s military history.

There are also life-saving medals such as one belonging to Henry Freeman the sole survivor of the 1861 disaster. On 9th February 1861 one particular gale, that had been blowing for several days, drove several ships ashore including the schooner Gamma, the Brig Utility and the schooner Roe. The Whitby life-boat was launched on each occasion and succesfully rescued the crews. However the schooner Merchant also ran ashore and this time the lifeboat capsized killing 12 men leaving only one survivor, Henry Freeman, who was awarded the R.N.L.I’s silver medal.

Military Cross, British War Medal, Victory Medal & Croix de Guerre



We also have a gold medal presented to Capt. Thomas Thistle of the SS Eric by the president of the U.S.A. in recognition for his part in the rescue of the captain and crew of the american schooner Bertram N White in December 1898. Captained by Capt. Kelley of Jonesport in Maine, the schooner was on passage from Jacksonville to Philadelphia with a cargo of lumber and was wrecked in a hurricane.

Cigarette case given to Roberts Miller by Baden Powell in 1914

Commemorative medallions in the collection relate to such things as the opening of Whitby’s railways, bridges, award of Maundy money etc and in one case the gift of a cigarette case given to Robert Miller by Baden Powell in 1914. Robert Miller was a King’s scout who lost his leg in the bombardment of Whitby whilst acting as a message runner on 16th December 1914 and of whom Baden Powell stated “he holds the doubtful honour of being the first scout wounded in Defence of his Country”. See the display in the Museum for further details including 2 telegrams from Baden Powell.

Royal Maundy Money given to Mrs M E Usher in 1972

Toys & Dolls

A large, varied and ever growing collection of toys, dolls, books and games ranging from Elizabethan wooden dolls to the Pelham puppets along with an early Punch and Judy set.

A host of other toys includes a furnished dolls house plus a selection of tin toys and wind up vehicles.

There is also a varied selection of wax-headed, bisque and composition dolls, most in beautiful Clothes.

Visitors are taken back to their own chidhood days and children can learn how toys were used for education as well as fun.

Victorian wax headed doll with leather arms, hands and human hair

Authentic reproduction of Clothes found in an old Victoria & Albert Museum book

Early Punch and Judy. Believed to have been made before the introduction of the crocodile. Any information would be appreciated on early Punch and Judy

Edwardian doll with travelling trunk full of many sets of period Clothes

Kattie, the Ruswarp Witch

Clockwork tinplate Beetle

Model of the Grosmont bus. Made in the 1940s by George Harrison, the Grosmont village joiner

‘Sunny Jim’ ca. 1900. Used to sell Oats Force Flakes

‘Bertie Bassett’ Introduced by John McEwan to sell liquorice allsorts in 1929


Weapons & Militaria

Pair of cased flintlocks by Barber of Newark. Belonged to Capt. Robert Moorsom

The Weapons and Militaria collection contains pistols, guns, blunderbusses as well as swords, uniforms and associated miscellany.

We are fortunate to have many guns etc., with local connections. In particular the fine pair of boxed flintlock pistols by Barber Newark used by Captain Moorsom R.N. aboard ‘The Revenge’ at the Battle of Trafalgar. We also possess a flintlock presented to his son, also Captain Moorsom R.N., by Radama, King of Madagascar. This gun has silver mounts and a red stone on the stock. There is a double-barrelled ppercussion shotgun by Tyson, Whitby that was used by a poacher on 29 January 1844 to shoot Mofat, Lord Normanby’s game keeper at Mulgrave Estate! A pair of ladies muff pistols from The Great Exhibition which are of Belgian manufacture and a pepper box pistol by Wear, Whitby are of particular interest along with various other pistols from the mid 18th century and several blunderbusses.

Sharps patent four barelled pistol by Tipping & Lawson. Used by Lt. Col. English of the Royal Engineers

top – Blunderbuss by Smith and Walker ca. 1780 bottom – line throwing gun by Pritchard



More unusually there is a line throwing gun made by William Pritchard, Birmingham to the instructions of Professor Murray for saving life at sea by shore to ship rescue. It shot an arrow attached to a line and was purchased by the Whitby Literary & Philosophical Society for use at Whitby.

Leather shot flasks

There are some good Georgian swords with blued and gilt blades. A quite rare cross hilted sword of a private of the 15th regiment of Light Dragoons (Elliotts Dragoons 1764 – 1788). The regiment was raised by George Augustus Elliott 1st Baron Heathfield 1717 – 1790. A rapier with an English japanned hilt ca. 1630 with a Spanish blade. The hilt is unique and was made for someone in mourning. Other items of interest are a Cromwellian Helmet with front and back plates, various flasks, powder magazine, a collection of constables’ staffs (police truncheons) not to mention handcuffs etc.

Several uniforms are on show of the local Volunteers North Riding Battery, Royal Field Artillery along with photographs and other items of interest.

From the second World War are some souvenirs collected from the Heinkel shot down on Banniel Flats including a watch name plate and pendant made out of the windscreen. It was the first German plane shot down on British soil by F/O Peter Townsend on 3rd February 1940 flying a Hurricane.