My Dear Peeps, I’m Abbeville, although Her Majesty’s Postal Service gave me a longer name 37a, Church Street, Whitby, YO224AE. It’s a bit long-winded and impersonal but it gets the letters and parcels here so that’s great.
I do have another name generously given to me by the people of Whitby and sailors using the port from around the World, not to mention new friends from the Internet, they call me “The Little Yellow Cottage” and I’m good with that.
I think I was built around 1770 although a window of twenty years, either way, would probably be prudent.
I’ve seen the gentle living of life over the centuries coupled with dramatic moments of illness and death. I’ve also seen the positive and beautiful moments of love, marriage, sex and birth producing new generations of children playing tag and hide and seek in secret alcoves with tiny feet rattling up and down my spiral staircase, they called it the ‘wooden hill’ in years gone by.
I still remember the huge casserole pot simmering on the hook near the open fire during the long and sometimes very cold winters when the hoar-frost would render the masts of the fishing fleet white and the ropes and lanyards would be stiff with the frozen moisture within. Visitors would enter through the front door that leads directly into the living room where the wonderful smell from the casserole hanging by the open fire would fill their nostrils and they’d always be invited to share the fresh bread with the concentrated contents of the pot.
In the 17th and 18th century Church Street delimited the houses, pubs, yards and warehouses on the east side with warehouses, bonded warehouses, chandlers, sail and mast makers, and boatyards on the banks of the Esk, in other words, I couldn’t, in those years, see the river for buildings on the other side of the road.
In 1748 Church Street watched in fascination as James Cook, then eighteen moved from his apprenticeship at the grocer’s shop in Staithes to a new apprenticeship with John and Henry Walker who were local ship owners leading coal along the English coast. His first taste of the sea was leading coal from the Tyne to London and several years later armed with a wad of exam successes he applied to the Royal Navy in 1755 and although having to restart at the bottom he quickly rose through the ranks. In 1764 I saw Tomas Fishburn of Whitby build a coal carrier named Earl of Pembroke. In 1768 it was bought by the Royal Navy, refitted and renamed the Endeavour, the rest, as they say, is history!
Over the next two centuries, I’ve seen the industry and buildings that occupied the east bank of the river disappear leaving only a wooden plank as a footpath between the Esk and my front door. Over time, Church Street was re-established as a track for coaches and carts and the Esk was dredged into a wide harbour and protected by breakwater piers.
For the last three centuries or so I’ve witnessed the rise and fall of the fishing fleet, the whaling fleet and the building of boats. In 1790–91 Whitby built 11,754 tons of shipping, making it the third-largest shipbuilder in England, after London and Newcastle and in the early part of the 19c the area would stink as whales would be rendered to bone and oil with the best year being 1814 when 230 tons of oil was produced from 172 whales from one boat, the Resolution. Clearly not popular with anyone but the Japanese now; but essential for lamps, soap and margarine etc at the time.
In the nineteenth century, the railway was built and there were some developments on the West Cliff when three springs were discovered and declared to be good for health so the town pronounced itself a ‘spa’, took a new direction and became host to tourists.
I’ve seen numerous changes to myself. In 1970 I became grade 2 listed and that should protect me for future generations. Some of my walls are hand made bricks and both mortar and rendering (plaster) are lime-based, some of it mixed with animal hair. My floors, beams and supports are mostly made from wood although some alien materials have been added over the years and my renovating team are currently examining the various coatings where it doesn’t damage the material beneath.
My roof was covered with concrete pantiles and these are being urgently replaced with traditional clay pantiles to make it water-tight and restore it to its former beauty and also extend the life of the roof.
Finally, there is a recent story behind my deterioration which was never intentional but due to tragic circumstances. My new owner’s cousin and his wife looked after me with love for thirty years but, sadly, Graham passed away a number of years ago and Maureen couldn’t find the strength to return as there were so many happy memories here.
Some of you may remember John, their son, who would sit in my window looking out over the harbour and wave at the returning fishermen who always delighted him with a reciprocal wave; he’s still alive and living very happily in a home for special people near Darlington.
You’ll see some significant activity as Justin Waring and his team work on my outside dormers and roof then there may appear to be a halt as permission is sought to conduct the repairs and renovations necessary on doors, windows and to an extent, my floors and walls within.
On a personal note, may I thank the people who responded with leads to find out the history, I’ve utilised some so far but not all as some of the named people are on holiday.
In my next post, I’ll publish a few pictures of ‘then and now’ together with more pictures of the cottage or adjacent buildings. I’ll also be publishing the names of the people who have helped.
Enjoy the snaps…G..x
…much more to come!