Whitby History

Whitby History

Whitby History, learn more about the history of Whitby

The history of Whitby is fascinating and includes ties to Dracula, Whaling, and Captain Cook. This small coastal town is still reminiscent of its past, and still boasts quaint cottages, cobblestoned creeks, the quintessential ruined abbey, and a harbour complete with fully functional lighthouses. While Whitby seems to represent the typical fishing town, its history sets it apart as a truly unique town.

Whitby was involved in the whaling industry from 1753 to 1883, and was began with two ships owned several merchants in the area. These two ships became the Whitby Whaling Company, which would grow to 55 ships by 1883. The Whitby Whaling Company employed both local fisherman and Dutch specialists, and went through several cycles of having good and bad years. The Whitby Company provided work to the locals, but there were also many that were lost over the years to rough seas and the extreme weather conditions of the whaling areas. Whitby shows its pride in it whaling history with a huge monument of a whale jaw bone, which the returning ships would proudly display on their masts to signify that their ships were full.

The story of Captain Cook is also linked with Whitby history. Whitby has a large monument to Captain James Cook, who began his maritime career in the whaling fleet. In 1755, Captain Cook left the Whitby Whaling Company to join the Royal Navy, where he moved quickly through the ranks due to his exceptional navigation and charting skills, which ultimately led to him assisting with the capture of Quebec. Captain Cook is also known for his voyages of discovery and charting, which included New Zealand and the coast of Australia. He was also the first man to completely sail around the world, and at the time of his death he was on a mission to find the North West Passage.

Whitby’s location on the east coast of Yorkshire led it to become known for its lucrative herring fishing in addition to the whaling fleet. Fishing remains a large part of Whitby’s heritage and economy today due to its rather remote location. The economy is based almost solely on the fishing and tourism industries due to the low availability of land and property.

Whitby’s coastline is also home to a seven and a half mile length of one of the earliest gemstones called Whitby Jet. The jet from Whitby has been dated all the way back to its use by crafters during the Bronze Age, and remained popular enough that there were Jet crafting workshops opened in 1808. There were many dangers associated with mining the large jet supplies in Whitby, and the large demand for the gemstones led to a shortage around Whitby. There are still believed to be large stores under the hills along the shore, but these cannot be accessed easily. Most of the early jet used was exposed by the high winds and pounding surf against the shoreline, and many believe that the hidden stores will remain there until they are once again exposed by nature.

In addition to the maritime successes, Whitby is also well recognised due to it being the location chosen for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Stoker commonly stayed at the Royal Hotel in Whitby, and it was during one of his stays here that the story of Dracula was born. This has led to Whitby becoming known as a decidedly gothic town in nature, and has even led to it becoming the twice yearly home of the Whitby Gothic Weekend, which is a festival held for those commonly referred to as Goths. It is believed this choice of location was due in large part to it being the setting for Dracula.

Thomas Paylor
About Thomas Paylor 107 Articles
Hello everyone and welcome to The Whitby Guide. I'm part of a local Whitby family and love sharing great content that helps promote the town. Your comments are welcome, please share this page with your friends and help spread the Whitby love. If you want to contribute to The Whitby Guide, then please get in touch here


  1. Hi
    Just wondering if anyone can recommend a book on the history of Whitby – one with lots of photos/sketches would be great. I’d like to give it to my daughter for Christmas; we live in Australia but have ancestral connections in Whitby and surrounds. Thanks

    • Hi Debbie. Thanks for getting in touch. I haven’t read any personally but ill ask our Facebook followers to see if anybody can recommend anything for you. Tom

  2. Does anyone know the history of St Hildas terrace, in particular the large Georgian house that used to be council offices.(Mariners house) I’m told that it was built about 1816 by a sea captain.

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