Robert Elliott Pannett (1834 – 1920)
Whitby born and bred, Robert Elliott Pannett was one of Whitby’s most generous benefactors. His name appears in several parts of the town still, most noticeably in the charming hillside Park and handsome Art Gallery which were built, with money and assets he bequeathed, for the benefit of local people and visitors alike. The Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society later built Whitby Museum onto the Gallery.
In his lifetime Mr Pannett had elegant lights put onto the West Pier, a favourite promenade; put up a drinking fountain; and most of all, helped the Wesleyan Methodist community to build or improve their churches and schoolrooms in Church Street, Fylingdales and his own church in Brunswick Street. With his friend Thomas Warters, he built a handsome, airy schoolroom lit by stained glass windows in a contemporary design. A great believer in education, he contributed at least 300 books which he himself helped to distribute each week, and in his will left money to install a good organ flanked by beautiful tiled panels illustrating Christ’s concern for children.
Mr Pannett lived in the town throughout his long life except for the ten or eleven years which he spent in London studying law. Admitted solicitor in 1858 he returned to work in partnership with Matthew Gray. It seems he concentrated on property, mortgages and family matters.
Once established, Mr Pannett took up duties in local government. He was Clerk to the various bodies which preceded the establishment of District and County Councils at which point, in 1888, he stood as one of the founding members of the North Riding of Yorkshire County Council representing West Whitby. In 1903 he was elected an Alderman. He attended meetings assiduously sitting on several committees and must have spent countless hours on the long train journeys to Northallerton. His principal concerns were with education – he was instrumental in establishing a well-built and well equipped senior school in Whitby – and in agriculture, fishing and other economic matters.
In all these activities he was noted for his meticulous attention to details of law and expression, especially punctuation. These latter attributes also served the Literary and Philosophical Society well. He sat on Committes for many years but did not take office.
Outside his legal work and his local government commitments Alderman Pannett’s keenest interests were in literature and art. He clearly had an eye for beauty and collected paintings and objet d’art, some of which he bought on his travels to London and abroad. Though most are of a traditional nature he was well aware of contemporary tastes as his purchase of works by Burne Jones demonstrate. Much of his collection can be seen in the Pannett Art Gallery. He also collected books, taking a special interest in any concerned with the history of Whitby and Yorkshire. Much of his own collection is now housed in the Library of the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society at the Whitby Museum.