Fine Art

The museum’s paintings collection consists of mainly 19th and early 20th century work (both oil and water-colours), either by local artists or portraying local scenes. It includes an extensive collection of 19th century ships’ portraits commissioned by local owners or ships’ captains. Our ceramics area is quite diverse, mainly as a result of bequests. More modern pieces reflect local potters. The glass section includes early glass bottles; examples of apprenticeship pieces (friggers) such as glass walking sticks and decorative rolling pins; and items fashioned by current glass makers from the local area.

All these collections show visitors what people displayed or used within their own homes, some as decorative and others as practical items. The paintings are pre-photography and therefore an important record of the Whitby area and everyday life.

The glass collection has recently been re-displayed with some stunning new contemporary pieces from local glass designers. The ceramics collection is rotated on a regular basis to reflect different themes. The paintings collection is currently undergoing a comprehensive review for conservation and restoration purposes.

Included in this collection


Sampler by Biah Dickinson, 1714

Whitby Museum possesses 98 samplers, the earliest dating from 1714 and the latest from 1992 in a wide variety of styles. Many, if not most, have local connections and are part of Whitby‘s history and heritage, particularly of the Quakers. Typical examples from the overall collection are on display on the wall outside the Kendall Room (immediately on the right of the ticket desk at the Museum entrance).

This is one of the largest and more important collections in the UK with many fine examples. The earliest sampler in the collection (CBE33) dates from 1714 and was stitched by Abiah Dickinson and is complete with text “Love the Lord and he will be a Tender Father unto thee. This work in hand my friends may have when I am dead and laid in grave”. The latest sampler (1992/8) is dated 1992 and was stitched by Violet Sythes (the wife of Des Sythes who was at one time our photographic curator) and combines the elements of a traditional sampler with a modern interpretation of Whitby.

Sampler by Violet Sythes, 1992

Sampler by Mary Woodfin, 1822

Sampler by Mary Davison, 1787

The collection contains a wide variety of styles. Many of the samplers have local connections and are part of Whitby’s history and heritage, particularly of the Quakers (Abiah Dickinson, mentioned above, was the daughter of Arthur and Jane Dickinson of Whitby, who were amongst the earliest followers of George Fox). Many samplers bear names that are still local today, such as Lyth (1992/5 as a memorial to the death of the donors great great-grandfather at sea), Scarfe (1995/9.2), Eliza Marwood Wilkinson (CBE52), Waring (CBE36), Noble (CBE57, CBE58) and Whisson (1992/10). The latter sampler worked by Susannah, aged 10 at St Michael’s School in Whitby, can be traced to a local family owning a well-known bistro, with family scattered from Whitby to New Zealand. This family originated in Whissonsett and were falconers to the baron who ruled Norfolk in the aftermath of the Norman invasion of 1066 and their name is mentioned in the Domesday book.

For further information on Samplers see A brief history of samplers.  Some of the samplers in the collection have been charted so that purchasers can embroider their own. A catalogue is available to view in the museum.

Ceramics and Glass

For such a small museum, Whitby’s ceramic section is quite diverse as the result of a number of bequests – notably the Trattles’ collection of 18th & 19th century English pottery and porcelain.

Staffordshire figures – ‘Courtship’

Coalport flower-encrusted basket

Derby Peacocks and Chelsea Derby figures

Amongst this collection are a number of Rockingham poodles, small groups of Derby cats, early Staffordshire pottery groups – mainly of a bucolic character, some fine Coalport encrusted and flower moulded baskets, a set of four Derby porcelain peacocks, and a rare pair of Bloor Derby tailor and his wife on goats with all their possessions in baskets including children etc., ca. 1825. There is a rare pair of Derby Mansion House dwarfs or grotesque punches, made by Bloor & Co ca. 1825, based on famous figures that stood outside the Mansion house in the City of London with advertisements on their large hats. Their original cost was 18/-, now worth thousands of pounds. Staffordshire pastille burners in the form of cottages encrusted with flowers, were used in sick rooms where the windows were hermetically sealed in the Victorian era.

There is a late Victorian porcelain dessert service with bird paintings of the highest quality, on an apple green ground, in mint condition.

Amongst other bequests is an extremely rare vase transfer printed creamware commemorative Sunderland mug, depicting the Union Mill, Whitby (formerly situated at the top of the town) with the Mill and the words Ch. Watkin Chairman on one side and on the reverse –

      From Stormy Blasts
       And Danger Ill
      May God Protect
       The Union Mill
Foundation Stone laid June 16th 1800
by T Fishburn & T Broderick Esq

Also a circular Staffordshire pottery plaque, ca. 1830, banded with canary yellow and depicting three local Whitby characters : Willy Dickinson, ‘Spanker’ and Hockley Hole, etched by the renowned Whitby artist, George Weatherill 1810 – 1890. Both these items are badly damaged.

There is a good small collection of English Delft tiles, mostly in good condition, and a beautiful mint set of six Scottish carpet bowls.

Of note there are some commemorative jugs and mugs of the Napoleonic wars, with transfer prints and inscriptions, and an 18th century Sunderland frog mug with a transfer print of Sunderland Bridge.

19th century green glazed Chinese dragon

There are Sunderland lustre religious text plaques, mugs and jugs, a Staffordshire mug showing Princess Mary opening the Whitby Memorial Hospital, and a good collection of Whitby memorabilia from Victorian to the present day.

Moorcroft ceramics old and new, Wedgwood jasper and creamware and a large barge teapot, a magnificent pair of Copeland Spode large serving dishes with powder blue ground and floral decoration in mint condition, some examples of Chinese Export porcelain ca. 1760, and last but certainly not least – a perfect little toy from the Doulton Lambeth factory of a pottery pocket watch, are all part of Whitby Museum’s possessions.

In the glass section are early glass bottles; rolling pins and fancy glass walking sticks. There are also examples of blue Bristol glass on show.

Scent bottles


The Museum painting collection consists of mainly 19th and early 20th century work (both oil and water-colours) painted either by local artists or of local scenes.

‘A Dutch Pinck’ by G Chambers

The Museum has an extensive collection of 19th century ships’ portraits many of which have been recently restored. Created before the advent of photography, the paintings depict Whitby ships off their homeport or a port visited. The pictures would have been painted by artists on commission to the ship’s Captain to hang either in his cabin or in pride of place at home. Often two or three views of the ship are depicted. Some of these brilliant seascapes were painted by professional artists with real knowledge of the sea such as George Chambers (1803-1840), who served in Whitby merchant ships and George Weatherill (1810-1890) and his children Richard and Mary. A particularly fine example is the restored picture by George Chambers “A Dutch Pinck, a frigate and other vessels”. The Scarborough lifeboat is dramatically depicted by Alfred Willis attempting the rescue of the “Coupland” in a gale in 1881.

‘Rescue of the Coupland’ by A Willis

‘Prosperity’ by J Burton – 1862

Unknown ship leaving Whitby harbour

‘Ann’ of Whitby

Vessels off Whitby – artist unknown

The rich marine heritage of Whitby is further amplified by numerous paintings of the harbour in its 19th century heyday surrounded by the narrow streets and tightly packed pantile-roofed fisherman’s cottages overlooked by the dominating ruins of Whitby Abbey. John Syer’s “Whitby Harbour from the West Side” and W. Gilbert Foster’s painting of “Stockton Walk 1885” are examples of this scene. The ‘Staithes Group’, which played an important part in the development of British Art, is also represented with paintings by artists such as Albert Stevens (1863-1925) and Rowland Henry Hill (1873 – 1952) – of particular interest his picture of the wrecking of the hospital ship Rohilla, where the artist had watched and recorded the desperate efforts to rescue patients and nurses from the stricken vessel on 30th October 1914.

Whitby from Larpool by Richard Weatherill – 1874

Egton Bridge by Edwin Cockburn

The surrounding countryside can be seen in paintings such as the early study by F.H. Carter of “Whitby from Larpool”, seen prior to the building of the Whitby to Pickering Railway. The depiction of “Egton Bridge” by Edwin Cockburn (1814-1873) was probably completed between 1845 and 1855 when Cockburn was living and teaching in the area. The picture is of particular historical interest as it depicts the area as seen before the building of the North Yorkshire and Cleveland Railway completed in 1865. Cockburn was also a well known portrait painter. Numerous other portraits in the collection give a comprehensive insight to the various local dignitaries who helped to create the rich heritage that is Whitby.

More recent work of note is a collection of sepia and wash drawings by Albert T. Pile (1882 – 1981) which record many of the yards in the old part of Whitby before and during their demolition during the 1950’s. Some of these can be seen on the lower ground floor.

We show only a very small part of our collections on this website. However we are participating with The Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC in the Your Paintings website where you can see many more (110 in total) of Whitby Museum’s Paintings and (122 in total) of the Pannett Gallery’s Paintings.

Quaint picture of Whitby