St. Mary’s

Whitby’s Parish Church

St Mary'sNo visit to Whitby is complete until you have visited the old church on the East Cliff. No matter from which angle you approach it you will not be prepared for what awaits you inside.

Enter into a small low ceiling area, and then open the double doors to a building that takes your breath away. If you are looking for ornamental stone work, Gothic arch’s etc., turn round and leave but if you are looking for Whitby’s history then you will find it all around.

If you take a look at the east side of the tower you will see signs that indicate the pitch of the first church. That building was a long narrow building that stretched the full length of the building you now see. That makes the building much older than the adjacent abbey ruins. As the population of the town grew, a bigger church was needed so they added on the South Transept, also older than the abbey. As the town grew even larger the North Transept was added to accommodate the growing congregation, giving the building the traditional cross appearance. In the early 1800’s it was enlarged yet again giving you the present size and shape. The Church has two Norman arches one hidden by the Lord of the Manor’s pew, and the other cannot be seen as it is behind the organ and indicates a grand doorway via the tower. The tower has a fine peal of 10 bells.

To give more seating the building is full of galleries and it now has provision to seat over two thousand people. To make extra space the staircases to some of the galleries are on the outside of the building. It is recorded that at one memorial service the congregation exceeded three thousand. At the time of the last extension one had to pay for a seat in the church. Thus the smaller you made them the more you got in. At one time the Parish church was also used by local communities that did not possess a church and those townships had several seats allocated to them. They even had their own church wardens and retained any money taken at the collection. Several pews were also allocated for the poor. The seating provided for anyone attending services but who was not a resident of Whitby are marked “For Stranger Only”.

No matter where you sit in the building you can be seen by the person using the top level of the three decker pulpit. At the back of the pulpit parts of an ear trumpet device are fitted so that the wife of the Rector, who we are informed was partly deaf, could hear the sermon given by her husband. The main use of the pulpit was the to emphasise the spoken word rather than looking for the nonexistent altar.
The Lord of the Manor’s pew was placed so that those seated there could see all that was taking place, and also see if any of their workers were absent from church. The Lord of the Manor’s pew has its own private entrance again on the outside of the building.

On your left of the aisle can be seen a small cupboard in which were placed loaves of bread to be given to the poor attending services. The walls are covered by an assortment of memorials to past members of Whitby. One of the memorials differs as it uses two different methods of keeping dates. Two boards placed in the roof space of the chancel due to lack of wall space are often missed by visitors. The building contains some interesting monuments which are self explanatory. There are also lots of pen knife graffiti but you would need permission to start to look for them and plenty of spare time.
Whitby does not have any war memorials, but the names of men and women who died for their country in the African Wars, WWI and WWIIare to found in the church. The entrance porch and the ringing room of the tower also have wall boards for several of the charities of the town and the ringing of bells for special occasions. Some stones dotted about the church are pieces that have been found during various building work.

The building has some stained glass, mostly by Kemp. The oldest glass is the window in the south transept, This was originally in the east wall of the chancel but was moved at the time of the restoration of the chancel in 1901.
The small font of unknown date is still in use. The two stone fonts on the chancel steps were returned to the church after being used as field troughs for many years on a farm near Aislaby.
The Church has a moveable altar table, one of the oldest in the country. Some regard such things as modern but Whitby has been modern for several hundred years!

After the last extension was built it was decided to install an organ. The location meant a loss of a number of pews. The present organ still has the original pipe work, but some extra stops were added at the major restoration in the early 1900’s. History of music before the organ installation is very sketchy, but records indicate at that time there was no choir. Some will tell you the Vamp horn found in the building would have been used to aid singing, but the instrument was presented to the church for safe keeping, and the donors have not been able to give any of it’s history.

On the south side outside you can see the position of a doorway. This wall was in danger of collapsing so it was totally rebuilt. Stone found in the old walls are an indication of some of the original ornamentation of a doorway that had been done away with when they built two new entrances to the Church. A memorial stone that was in the original porch door way is to be seen on your right in the newer south porch.

Out side the church there are very many grave stones. When the burial ground had to close Mr.Waddington recorded every inscription so preserving for Whitby information which has now started to disappear due to weather erosion. Many of the grave stones have names of ships, trades or professions and also name the place where people died or are buried, if different to Whitby. An interesting feature in the church yard is a memorial stone to the Huntrod family. This stone must have been brought from another location as the people mentioned do not appear in the birth, marriages and deaths in Whitby records, but obviously must have existed. Several stones have been moved in the past in order to present a neat and tidy area on the South side. The 199 Church Stairs (to give them the correct title) are also part of the church yard and have no historical connection with Whitby Abbey.

[Descriptive details by courtesy of Ray Conn]