Textile History of Whitby

Viveka Hansen’s Textile History of Whitby

book cover


Whitby, situated on the North Sea coast is foremost associated with its rich history during the period 1700 to 1914; the early alum industry, James Cook, whaling fleets, fishing, tourism and Victorian jet manufacturing. The town was relatively isolated by land until the coming of the railway, though accessible both locally and internationally by sea, and its geographical situation had substantial implications for transport both at home and abroad. Its population ensured a constant local need for textiles, in earlier years with the manufacture of sailcloth and sails as well as trade in expensive fabrics with other British ports and foreign destinations. Then in the later part of the research period, many hundreds of textile workers were needed for tailoring, dressmaking, drapery and other closely related activities, including laundry. These developments reflected the increasing demand nationwide from the growing middle classes to own more clothes, while Whitby’s steady development as a holiday resort during the Victorian period strongly influenced the local drapery trade. So Whitby came to have special social and historical textile needs of its own, as well as obvious similarities to many other towns of similar size. However, up to now the town’s rich and complex textile history has been rather unknown, therefore this monograph’s collated in depth studies presents a valuable insight into the detailed account of the various trades through numerous archival and visual sources.

SUBJECTS: Alum & Natural dyeing, Archive studies, Art history, Decorative arts, Economic history, Embroidery, Fashion history, Interior design, Laundry, Knitting, Local history – Whitby and Yorkshire, Material Culture, Manufacturing & Trading, Museology, Port History, Printing History (prints, advertisements etc), Sail-making & weaving, Social History, Textile recycling.


The Textile historian Viveka Hansen’s studies of the material in combination with the writing of the main text and three appendixes, include a large number of primary sources in the form of; clothing, accessories, textile tools, letters, deeds, censuses, parish church registers, maps, paintings etc. Additionally, a large selection of local photographs by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe – connected to the textile trade, clothing and everyday life is included – already a highly esteemed photographic artist in the 1880s. These sources are today to the greatest extent kept at Whitby Museum (Whitby Literary & Philosophical Society); library, archive and museum collections in Pannett Park, Whitby. The research for the monograph has secondarily taken place at other museums and institutions; in Whitby, North Yorkshire, Leeds, London, Oxford and in coastal towns throughout northern Europe.

  • A monograph based on 8 years of textile research.
  • An interdisciplinary study.
  • The importance of a combination of theoretical and practical knowledge – giving textile research a deeper understanding.