The Whitby Drawbridge

Last Friday (24th July) saw the 111th anniversary of the opening of the present swing bridge. The bridge was opened by Mrs Gervase Beckett, wife of the local MP, and was electrically operated from the start. On that day they could never have imagined one way pedestrian crossing because of a global pandemic or bridge closures to traffic to allow passing Goths!

Probably the first mention of a bridge crossing the Esk in the town comes in a will of 1327 which refers to ‘shops near the bridge-foot’. Later sources refer to repairs or damage, so nothing much has changed there!

The model in Whitby Museum shows the last of the old drawbridges which crossed the river; this one cost £3,000 and stood from 1766 until 1835 when the first swing bridge was built. The leaves were lifted by counterweights and chains which were always tangling in rigging.

At thirty-two feet, the opening of the 1766 bridge was greater than its predecessor, which had been weakened in 1746 when pieces were removed to allow Benjamin Coates’ new vessel to pass when it was realised, at the launch, that the ship was too large to go through.

In 1830 it was from this bridge that the driver of a hearse, John Brown, was blown into the harbour, never to be seen again.

The model was made by, or for, Francis Pickernell, who was employed as surveyor of the harbour, and who would build the swing bridge in 1835 having constructed the west pier lighthouse in 1831.

The images show the model of the old drawbridge in Whitby Museum and the opening of the present swing bridge in 1909.

The opening of the swing bridge, 24th July 1909