Whitby Abbey was built in 657 AD. It was a double monastery housing both women and men. It was destroyed by the Danes during a Viking invasion but rebuilt by the Normans in 1067.
The town is teeming with history and mythical tales. The Abbey itself is all but a ruin. Lady Hilda is said to haunt what remains. Now ran by English Heritage.
The early history of Whitby is associated with the founding of a monastery, later known as Whitby Abbey. In 655, the Christian king of Northumbria Oswy was greatly outnumbered by the Pagan king of Marcia, Penda. Oswy prayed to god for a victory over Penda and vowed that if victory were his he would give land to found monasteries. Penda and his nobles were killed in the battle and being good to his word, Oswy founded many monasteries. One of them was Whitby abbey. The monasteries first Abbess was called Hilda, a remarkable figure who later became Saint Hilda. Under her influence, Whitby became a centre of learning giving rise to the poetry of Caedmon who created some of the earliest Anglo Saxon literature.
Whitby abbey was destroyed by Danish Vikings in 867. The Vikings landed a few miles away west of Whitby at Ravens hill. They then ransacked the town/settlement and destroyed the monastery. The monastery was rebuilt under the orders of William de Percy in 1078 and dedicated to St Peter and St Hilda. The monastery was known then as Prestaby, meaning the habitation of priests, then Hwytby; next Whiteby, (meaning the "white settlement" in Old Norse, most likely from the colour of the houses) then Whitby. In 1540, Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries including Whitby Abbey.
Whitby had a population of around 200 in the mid fifteenth century with thirty or so houses according to various directories of the time. Over the centuries, Whitby has spread out inland and over the West cliff, the east side is still dominated by the ruined abbey.
In the 1830's Whitby was changed dramatically by the coming of the railway. Visitors from all over the country made property developers create more and more boarding houses to accommodate this influx. Whitby's west cliff saw the biggest development of property by the wealthy railway king George Hudson. His plans were to out do Bath and its famous crescent, but his fame and fortune ran out, and only half of his ambitious plans were actually built.
Queen Victoria's loss of her husband Prince Albert made Whitby's jet industry flourish in the 1870's. As an outward display of bereavement Queen Victoria made wearing jet fashionable. Whitby's jet deposits are the best found anywhere in the world and it was not long before the black gold industry sprung up all over the town. At its peak over 1400 people were employed in the industry, from craftsmen to diggers. At least one steam lathe was even used during this time. By the 1930s, the interest in jet had dwindled and the industry tailed off. It is still possible to buy jet in Whitby from local shops and there are some fantastic examples of artistry from that period which can be seen at the local Museum.
This is Constance de Beverley's story Ghost story:
I was a nun in the Abbey. I broke my vows and was punished. I fell in love with a knight, he was such a brave man. I know it was wrong but my love for him was powerful and I couldn't stop myself. When my crime was discovered, they bricked me up in the dungeon and left me to die. It was a horrible death. I don't think I deserved that sort of barbaric punishment. I'm still here hoping that someone will release me. Please, please, if you see me on the stairway, release me.
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