My Dear Whitby peeps,
Last year, before I went into hibernation I told you about some of the things that I had witnessed before and into the First World War. I remembered the SS Rohilla and the rescue operation, not to mention the effects of the war on our wonderful Whitby community. I also explained the work that had been done to my walls and new work that would be necessary.
My current condition is probably as dramatic as it’s going to get. My floors had to be removed due to water damage, walls have had the concrete removed to allow them to breath again and my drains has been repaired and replaced.
Backdoor pre-commencement of work
The back yard had been used as a dumping ground for all kinds of things.
The next move will be to remove the fireplace that was added in the 1970’s to reveal a secret that I’ve kept this last fifty years.
My original fireplace has a stone mantle but the rest of it has been hidden by the new plastic and chrome one that was added in a fit of lunacy and I’m keeping the rest of the structure secret until the new one is removed so there’s significant curiosity and George is particularly excited about the next part of the plan.
It’s just another development for me though. I remember at the end of the 19th Century I had an extension added that gave me a new kitchen. It was tiny but was a huge improvement for the family that I sheltered at the time. It gave them facilities that others in this part of Whitby could only dream of and there was much visiting as envious eyes were cast on my new provision. At that time I had a coal-fired oven which is long gone but the chimney stack which serviced it was still there although the bottom half had collapsed and the top, including chimney, disappeared decades ago.
Here’s an early picture – I’m on the right
Over the first few years of the twentieth century, I witnessed the replacement of the old wooden swing bridge that was so narrow as to restrict the sea-borne traffic using the harbour. The new steel one built in 1908 improved the width of that narrow crossing point on the Esk and enabled bigger ships to be built in the shipyards further inland. It also allowed larger trading vessels to use the harbour. This larger, wider bridge inevitably increased the number of carts, coaches, people and horses to Church Street in front of my door. Whilst they didn’t know it then, it would need to cope with huge increases in traffic including motorcars, wagons and even buses although the latter became restricted to the areas on West Cliff where tourists would disgorge and make their way to the facilities along the cliff and further into Whitby down Khyber Pass and through the snickets, ginnels and yards.
It eventually came to a point where lights were needed to control the flow over the narrow bridge and this helped for a few years but eventually, a little over 70 years later, the main road would be diverted to a new high-level bridge nearly half a mile inland. This reduced the flow of traffic past my door to a fraction of what it was.
This map relates to late 19th early 20th century
The new bridge was constructed by Heenan and Froude, who you’ve probably never heard of, but their other claim to fame was Blackpool Tower!
I used to have a kitchen table in the living room where the family would sit together for their meals and discuss the news which would range from Mrs Smith’s unmentionable illness ‘down below’ to world events that would inevitably be a week or two old. It should be remembered that news was in printed newspapers, letters through the post or word of mouth in those pre-radio and pre-TV days.
In ‘Update 5’ I told you about the first decade of the 20th Century and also the war years but towards the end of the conflict during July and early August of 1918 my windows and doors had been thrown open to enable a gentle breeze to blow through my ground floor whilst the family assembled for their evening meal.
They had already sat down around the table at their usual places when I overheard them talking excitedly about a German U-boat that had been harrying ships in the North Sea. The 257-ton vessel had attacked the Madame Renee, a steamer, in the North Sea, three days before and they each expressed their disgust at such underhand tactics and that it was typical of the enemy to invent such a devious and sneaky device. Apparently, it had been spotted by the crew of the ‘John Gillman’ on 13th August 1918 and they rammed it. The rest of the family joined in at this point and talked of reports that it had been hit by shore batteries and depth charges eventually sinking in 160 feet of water killing all on board. It would be another 70 years before the wreck would be discovered by divers. The bodies of at least 20 crewmen are said to be still onboard and the German embassy would declare it a war grave and ask that divers respect it as such.
The following year, in 1919, I heard them talking excitedly about a ‘christening’ that was taking place at the Lifeboat station. The new ‘motorised’ lifeboat had been delivered and there was to be a formal ceremony to accept it and thank the major donors who’d paid for it. The trigger that had made the RNLI move towards these new boats with engines had been the disaster of the SS Rhohilla in 1914 when it was accepted that oar-propelled boats were no longer appropriate and the engine based ones could save more lives. There was a number of crew who were unhappy with this decision but the coming months and years would prove the worth of the new breed.
With Love: The Little Yellow Cottage…x
More to come…
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