Whitby facts for kids
Quick facts for kidsWhitby
View of Whitby from the sea
Arms of Whitby Town Council featuring three green serpents (prior to 1935 depicted as ammonites).
|13,213 (2011 census)
|OS grid reference
|Yorkshire and the Humber
Whitby is a seaside town, port and civil parish in the Scarborough borough of North Yorkshire, England. Situated on the east coast of Yorkshire at the mouth of the River Esk, Whitby has a maritime, mineral and tourist heritage. Its East Cliff is home to the ruins of Whitby Abbey, where Cædmon, the earliest recognised English poet, lived. The fishing port emerged during the Middle Ages, supporting important herring and whaling fleets, and was where Captain Cook learned seamanship. Tourism started in Whitby during the Georgian period and developed with the arrival of the railway in 1839. Its attraction as a tourist destination is enhanced by the proximity of the high ground of the North York Moors national park and the heritage coastline and by association with the horror novel Dracula. Jet and alum were mined locally, and Whitby jet, which was mined by the Romans and Victorians, became fashionable during the 19th century.
The earliest record of a permanent settlement is in 656 AD, when as Streanæshealh it was the place where Oswy, the Christian king of Northumbria, founded the first abbey, under the abbess Hilda. The Synod of Whitby was held there in 664 AD. In 867 AD, Viking raiders destroyed the monastery. Another monastery was founded in 1078 AD. It was in this period that the town gained its current name, Whitby (from "white settlement" in Old Norse). In the following centuries Whitby functioned as a fishing settlement until, in the 18th century, it developed as a port and centre for shipbuilding and whaling, the trade in locally mined alum, and the manufacture of Whitby jet jewellery.
The abbey ruin at the top of the East Cliff is the town's oldest and most prominent landmark. Other significant features include the swing bridge, which crosses the River Esk and the harbour, which is sheltered by the grade II listed East and West piers. The town's maritime heritage is commemorated by statues of Captain Cook and William Scoresby, as well as the whalebone arch that sits at the top of the West Cliff. The town also has a strong literary tradition and has featured in literary works, television and cinema, most famously in Bram Stoker's novel Dracula.
While Whitby's cultural and historical heritage contribute to the local economy, the town does suffer from the economic constraints of its remote location, ongoing changes in the fishing industry, relatively underdeveloped transport infrastructure, and limitations on available land and property. As a result, tourism and some forms of fishing remain the mainstay of its economy. It is the closest port to a proposed wind farm development in the North Sea, 47 miles (76 km) from York and 22 miles (35 km) from Middlesbrough. There are transport links to the rest of North Yorkshire and North East England, primarily through national rail links to Middlesbrough and road links to Teesside, via both the A171 and A174, and Scarborough by the former. As at 2011, the town had a population of 13,213.
Whitby was called Streanæshalc, Streneshalc, Streoneshalch, Streoneshalh, and Streunes-Alae in Lindissi in records of the 7th and 8th centuries. Prestebi, meaning the "habitation of priests" in Old Norse, is an 11th century name. Its name was recorded as Hwitebi and Witebi, meaning the "white settlement" in Old Norse, in the 12th century, Whitebi in the 13th century and Qwiteby in the 14th century.
A monastery was founded at Streanœhealh in AD 657 by King Oswiu or Oswy of Northumbria, as an act of thanksgiving, after defeating Penda, the pagan king of Mercia. At its foundation, the abbey was an Anglo-Saxon 'double monastery' for men and women. Its first abbess, the royal princess Hild, was later venerated as a saint. The abbey became a centre of learning and here Cædmon the cowherd was "miraculously" transformed into an inspired poet whose poetry is an example of Anglo-Saxon literature. The abbey became the leading royal nunnery of the kingdom of Deira, and the burial-place of its royal family. The Synod of Whitby, in 664, established the Roman date of Easter in Northumbria at the expense of the Celtic one.
The monastery was destroyed between 867 and 870 in a series of raids by Vikings from Denmark under their leaders Ingwar and Ubba. Its site remained desolate for more than 200 years until after the Norman Conquest of 1066. After the Conquest, the area was granted to William de Percy who, in 1078 donated land to found a Benedictine monastery dedicated to St Peter and St Hilda. William de Percy's gift included land for the monastery, the town and port of Whitby and St Mary's Church and dependent chapels at Fyling, Hawsker, Sneaton, Ugglebarnby, Dunsley, and Aislaby, five mills including Ruswarp, Hackness with two mills and two churches. In about 1128 Henry I granted the abbey burgage in Whitby and permission to hold a fair at the feast of St Hilda on 25 August. A second fair was held close to St Hilda's winter feast at Martinmas. Market rights were granted to the abbey and descended with the liberty. Whitby Abbey surrendered in December 1539 when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.
In 1540 the town had between 20 and 30 houses and a population of about 200. The burgesses, who had little independence under the abbey, tried to obtain self-government after the dissolution of the monasteries. The king ordered Letters Patent to be drawn up granting their requests, but it was not implemented. In 1550 the Liberty of Whitby Strand, except for Hackness, was granted to the Earl of Warwick who in 1551 conveyed it to Sir John York and his wife Anne who sold the lease to the Cholmleys. In the reign of Elizabeth I, Whitby was a small fishing port. In 1635 the owners of the liberty governed the port and town where 24 burgesses had the privilege of buying and selling goods brought in by sea. Burgage tenure continued until 1837, when by an Act of Parliament, government of the town was entrusted to a board of Improvement Commissioners, elected by the ratepayers.
At the end of the 16th century Thomas Chaloner visited alum works in the Papal States where he observed that the rock being processed was similar to that under his Guisborough estate. At that time alum was important for medicinal uses, in curing leather and for fixing dyed cloths and the Papal States and Spain maintained monopolies on its production and sale. Chaloner secretly brought workmen to develop the industry in Yorkshire, and alum was produced near Sandsend Ness 3 miles (5 km) from Whitby in the reign of James I. Once the industry was established, imports were banned and although the methods in its production were laborious, England became self-sufficient. Whitby grew significantly as a port as a result of the alum trade and by importing coal from the Durham coalfield to process it.
Whitby grew in size and wealth, extending its activities to include shipbuilding using local oak timber. In 1790–91 Whitby built 11,754 tons of shipping, making it the third largest shipbuilder in England, after London and Newcastle. Taxes on imports entering the port raised money to improve and extend the town's twin piers, improving the harbour and permitting further increases in trade. In 1753 the first whaling ship set sail to Greenland and by 1795 Whitby had become a major whaling port. The most successful year was 1814 when eight ships caught 172 whales, and the whaler, the Resolution's catch produced 230 tons of oil. The carcases yielded 42 tons of whale bone used for 'stays' which were used in the corsetry trade until changes in fashion made them redundant. Blubber was boiled to produce oil for use in lamps in four oil houses on the harbourside. Oil was used for street lighting until the spread of gas lighting reduced demand and the Whitby Whale Oil and Gas Company changed into the Whitby Coal and Gas Company. As the market for whale products fell, catches became too small to be economic and by 1831 only one whaling ship, the Phoenix, remained.
Whitby benefited from trade between the Newcastle coalfield and London, both by shipbuilding and supplying transport. In his youth the explorer James Cook learned his trade on colliers, shipping coal from the port. HMS Endeavour, the ship commanded by Cook on his voyage to Australia and New Zealand, was built in Whitby in 1764 by Tomas Fishburn as a coal carrier named Earl of Pembroke. She was bought by the Royal Navy 1768, refitted and renamed.
Whitby developed as a spa town in Georgian times when three chalybeate springs were in demand for their medicinal and tonic qualities. Visitors were attracted to the town leading to the building of "lodging-houses" and hotels particularly on the West Cliff. Then, in 1839, the Whitby and Pickering Railway connecting Whitby to Pickering and eventually to York was built, and played a part in the town's development as a tourism destination. George Hudson, who promoted the link to York, was responsible for the development of the Royal Crescent which was partly completed. For 12 years from 1847, Robert Stephenson, son of George Stephenson, engineer to the Whitby and Pickering Railway, was the Conservative MP for the town promoted by Hudson as a fellow protectionist.
The black mineraloid jet, the compressed remains of ancestors of the monkey-puzzle tree, is found in the cliffs and on the moors and has been used since the Bronze Age to make beads. The Romans are known to have mined it in the area. In Victorian times jet was brought to Whitby by pack pony to be made into decorative items. It was at the peak of its popularity in the mid-19th century when it was favoured for mourning jewellery by Queen Victoria after the death of Prince Albert.
The advent of iron ships in the late 19th century and the development of port facilities on the River Tees led to the decline of smaller Yorkshire harbours. The Monks-haven launched in 1871 was the last wooden ship built Whitby and a year later the harbour was silted up.
On 30 October 1914, the hospital ship Rohilla was sunk, hitting the rocks within sight of shore just off Whitby at Saltwick Bay. Of the 229 people on board, 85 lost their lives in the disaster; most are buried in the churchyard at Whitby. In a raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby in December 1914, the town was shelled by the German battlecruisers Von der Tann and Derfflinger. In the final assault on the Yorkshire coast the ships aimed their guns at the signal post on the end of the headland. Whitby Abbey sustained considerable damage in the attack which lasted ten minutes. The German squadron responsible for the strike escaped despite attempts made by the Royal Navy.
During the early 20th century the fishing fleet kept the harbour busy and few cargo boats used the port. It was revitalised as a result of a strike at Hull docks in 1955 when six ships were diverted and unloaded their cargoes on the fish quay. Endeavour Wharf, near the railway station, was opened in 1964 by the local council. The number of vessels using the port in 1972 was 291, increased from 64 in 1964. Timber, paper and chemicals are imported while exports include steel, furnace-bricks and doors. The port is owned and managed by Scarborough Borough Council since the Harbour Commissioners relinquished responsibility in 1905.
A marina was started in 1979 by dredging the upper harbour and laying pontoons. Light industry and car parks occupy the adjacent land. More pontoons were completed in 1991 and 1995. The Whitby Marina Facilities Centre was opened in June 2010.
Geography and geology
Whitby is situated on the east coast of Yorkshire facing the North Sea in a deep valley at the mouth of the River Esk. It has been a bridging point since at least medieval times and several bridges have spanned the river. The current bridge, built in 1908, is a swing bridge with a 75-foot (23 m) span that separates the upper and lower harbours which have a total area of around 80.1 acres (32.40 ha). The houses are built of brick or stone, often with red pantiled roofs, in narrow, steep streets, on both sides of the river.
The town is surrounded on its landward sides by the moorland of the North York Moors National Park and the North Sea abuts it on the seaward side. The coastal areas are designated part of the North Yorkshire and Cleveland Heritage Coast. This stretch of coast, known as the 'Dinosaur Coast', the 'Fossil Coast' or the 'Jurassic Coast', is around 35 miles (56 km) long, stretching from Staithes in the north, to Flamborough in the East Riding of Yorkshire. At Whitby dinosaur footprints are visible on the beach. The rock strata contain fossils and organic remains including jet. Fossils include the petrified bones of an almost complete crocodile and a specimen of plesiosaurus measuring 15 feet 6 inches (4.72 m) in length, and 8 feet 5 inches (2.57 m) in breadth was discovered in 1841. Smaller fossils include ammonite, or "snake stones" from the alum shales and at Whitby Scar and nautilites in the lower beds of the lias strata. The Hildoceras genus of ammonite is named in honour of St Hilda of Whitby. The Rotunda Museum in Scarborough has a comprehensive collection of fossils from the area.
The harbour and the mouth of the River Esk are on a geological fault. On the east side the cliff is tall, 187 feet (57 m), and consists of alternating layers of shale, sandstone and clay. On the west side the cliff is much lower and has a deep capping of boulder clay over a sandstone base making it less stable and liable to slippage. Both cliffs are being eroded quite rapidly.
The area generally has warm summers and relatively mild winters. Weather conditions vary from day to day as well as from season to season. Its latitude means that it is influenced by predominantly westerly winds with depressions and their associated fronts, bringing unsettled and windy weather particularly in winter. Between depressions there are often small mobile anticyclones that bring periods of fine weather. In winter anticyclones bring cold dry weather. In summer the anticyclones tend to bring dry settled conditions which can lead to drought. The two dominant influences on the climate of the Whitby area are shelter against the worst of the moist westerly winds provided by the North York Moors and the proximity of the North Sea. Late, chilly springs and warm summers are a feature of the area but there are often spells of fine autumn weather. Onshore winds in spring and early summer bring mists or low stratus clouds (known locally as sea frets) to the coast and moors.
|Climate data for Whitby, elevation: 41 m or 135 ft (1981-2010)
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|Source: Calculated From Met Office Raw Monthly Data
On 5 January 2016 the town became "virtually cut off" after flash floods. North Yorkshire Police warned on the night of 4 January that the town was only accessible through one route by 4x4 vehicles. It urged motorists to use "extreme caution" and avoid the area unless "absolutely necessary".
According to the 2011 UK census, Whitby parish had a population of 13,213 living in 6,097 households. In the 2001 UK census of the total number of 5,973 homes 2,034 were rented and 3,939 were owner occupied. Of the 5,506 economically active persons aged between 16 and 74, 420 were unemployed. The number of people working in the service industry was 4,113. Approximately 2,500 people were aged under 16, 8,400 were aged 16–64, and 2,700 aged 65 and over. The mean age of the population was 41.78 years. The number of people who travel to work by motorised transport is 3,134 but 2,190 households have no cars or vans.
|Population growth in Whitby from 1801 to 2011
|Hawsker CP (part)
Note: Between 1801 and 1925 Whitby comprised Whitby, Ruswarp and part of Hawsker civil parishes and (between 1894 and 1925) Helredale civil parish, all of which were merged on 1 April 1925 into the current Whitby area.
Whitby is on the River Esk and has a port used for shipping to Europe, especially Scandinavia, and it mainly handles grain, steel products, timber and potash cargo. Vessels limited to 3,000 tonnes deadweight tonnage can dock at the wharf, which is able to load or unload two ships simultaneously. As of 2004[update], 54,000 square feet (5,000 m2) of dock space is used to store all-weather cargo, with a 17,000-square-foot (1,600 m2) warehouse.
The town is served by Whitby railway station which is the terminus of the Esk Valley Line from Middlesbrough, operated by Northern. It was formerly the northern terminus of the Whitby, Pickering and York Line. In 2007, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway began a summer service between Pickering and Whitby operated by steam locomotives, as an extension of their long-standing Pickering-Grosmont service. The Scarborough and Whitby Railway, which follows a scenic route along the coast, was built in 1885; it required construction of the red brick Larpool Viaduct across the Esk Valley into Whitby. The line closed as a result of the Beeching axe in 1965; the trackbed is now used as a footpath, bridleway and by cyclists. The Whitby, Redcar and Middlesbrough Union Railway had a station at Whitby West Cliff and ran close to the cliffs to the north of the town. It opened in 1883 and closed in 1958.
Whitby is situated on the A171 road from Scarborough to Guisborough, which originally passed over the swing bridge. A high level bridge over the Esk Valley was built in 1980 to avoid the bridge and ease congestion in the town centre. The A174 accesses coastal towns to the north and the A169 crosses the moors to Pickering.
Whitby is served by the Yorkshire Coastliner bus line, operating from Leeds, Tadcaster, York, Scarborough, Bridlington, Pickering and Malton, with connections beyond Yorkshire. In 2018, this was voted Britain's most scenic bus route. Arriva North East runs bus services connecting Whitby to Scarborough and Middlesbrough.
The coastal section of the 110-mile (180 km) Cleveland Way National Trail passes through Whitby.
The swing bridge spanning the Esk divides the upper and lower harbours and joins the east and west sides of the town. Whitby developed as an important bridging point of the River Esk and in 1351 permission was granted for tolls to be taken on the bridge for its maintenance. In 1609 a survey for a new bridge was commissioned while in 1628 it was described as a drawbridge where men raised planks to let vessels pass and tolls were collected. The bridge posts were rebuilt in stone at a cost of £3,000 in 1766. This structure was replaced by a four-arched bridge between 1833 and 1835, one arch made of cast iron swivelled to allow vessels to pass. This bridge was replaced between 1908 and 1909 by the current electric swing bridge.
The bridge allowed the town to spread onto the west bank, whilst the east bank, the Haggerlythe, is dominated by St Mary's Church and the ruins of Whitby Abbey which is owned by English Heritage. St Mary's Church is a grade I listed building on the site of a Saxon church. The church's ancient foundation dates from the 12th century. Over time it has been extensively altered and enlarged but retains several features including box pews. The East Cliff is quite a distance by road from the church, the alternative is to climb the 199 steps of the "Church Stairs" or use the footpath called "Caedmon's Trod". The stone stairs, which replaced the original wooden steps, were built about 200 years old ago and renovated between 2005 and 2006. There are landings to assist coffin bearers on their journey to the graveyard on the cliff top.
The harbour is sheltered by the grade II listed east and west piers each with a lighthouse and beacon. The west lighthouse, of 1831, is the taller at 84 feet (25.5 m) and the east lighthouse, built in 1855, is 54 feet (16.5 m) high. On the west pier extension is a foghorn that sounds a blast every 30 seconds during fog. New lights were fitted to both the lighthouse towers and the beacons in 2011. Whitby Lighthouse, operated by Trinity House, is located outside the town, to the south east, on Ling Hill.
On the West Cliff is a statue of Captain James Cook who served his apprenticeship in the town, and a whalebone arch, commemorates the whaling industry. It is the second such arch, the original is preserved in Whitby Archives Heritage Centre. By the inner harbour is a statue commemorating William Scoresby, designer of the crow's nest.
On the outskirts of town to the west is the 19th-century Sneaton Castle built by James Wilson who sold his sugar plantation where he had over 200 slaves and moved to Whitby. Alongside it is St Hilda's Priory, the mother house of the Order of the Holy Paraclete. The castle was used as a school and is now a conference centre and hotel in association with the priory.
Culture, media and sport
Frank Meadow Sutcliffe left a photographic record of the town, harbour, fishing and residents in late-Victorian times. His most famous photograph entitled "Water Rats" was taken in 1886. He became famous internationally as a great exponent of pictorial photography. He exhibited his work in Tokyo, Vienna, France, the USA and Great Britain winning over 60 gold, silver and bronze medals. He retired in 1922 and became curator of Whitby Museum. The Royal Photographic Society made him an honorary member in 1935. A gallery of his work is located on Flowergate.
Pannett Park was built on land purchased by a local philanthropist and politician Alderman Robert Pannett in 1902. After his death in 1928, the trust he set up created a public park and art gallery. In 1931 Whitby Museum was built behind the gallery by the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society. It holds a collection of the archaeological and social history of jet and has on display a "Hand of Glory". The Friends of Pannett Park, formed in 2005, successfully bid for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to refurbish the park. There has been a lifeboat in Whitby since 1802 and the old boathouse, built in 1895 and used until 1957, is a museum displaying the Robert and Ellen Robson lifeboat, built in 1919.
The ancient Penny Hedge ceremony is performed on the eve of Ascension Day commemorating a penance imposed by the abbot on miscreant hunters in the Middle Ages. The hunters using a knife costing a penny had to cut wood in Eskdaleside and take it to Whitby harbour where it was made into a hedge that would survive three tides. This tradition is carried out annually on the east side of the upper harbour.
The Whitby Gazette was founded in 1854 by Ralph Horne, a local printer. The first issues were records of visitors and lodgings rather than a newspaper. The publication became a weekly newspaper in 1858, with a short spell of being published twice weekly between 2000 and 2012. Local radio stations are BBC Tees and Yorkshire Coast Radio.
The Pavilion Theatre built in the 1870s in West Cliff hosts a range of events during the summer months. For over four decades the town has hosted the Whitby Folk Week, and since 1993 the bi-annual Whitby Goth Weekend for members of the Goth subculture. "Whitby Now" is an annual live music event featuring local bands in the Pavilion which has taken place since 1991. Since 2008, the Bram Stoker Film Festival has taken place in October.
Wind surfing, sailing and surfing take place off the beaches between Whitby and Sandsend and the area is visited by divers. Whitby has various sports facilities including the town cricket and football pitches and tennis courts. The Cleveland Way Long Distance Footpath follows the coast between Saltburn and Filey running along the developed frontage of Whitby.
The Whitby Regatta takes place annually over three days in August. The competition between three rowing clubs – Whitby Friendship ARC, Whitby Fishermen's ARC and Scarborough ARC – forms the backbone of the weekend. The event has expanded to include a fair on the pier, demonstrations, fireworks and military displays – including the spectacle of the Red Arrows aerobatics display team of the Royal Air Force.
Whitby Town F.C., formed in 1892, is a semi-professional football club which plays in the Northern Premier League at the 3,200 capacity Turnbull Ground on Upgang Lane. Golfing facilities range from "pitch and putt" to Whitby Golf Club whose 18-hole golf course is situated on the cliff tops to the north west of the town.
The town has a strong literary tradition; it can even be said that the earliest English literature comes from Whitby as Cædmon, the first known Anglo Saxon poet was a monk at the order that used Whitby Abbey during the abbacy of St Hilda (657–680). Part of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula was set in Whitby, incorporating pieces of local folklore, including the beaching of the Russian ship Dmitri. Stoker discovered the name "Dracula" at the old public library. One scholar has suggested that Stoker chose Whitby as the site of Dracula's first appearance in England because of the Synod of Whitby, given the novel's preoccupation with timekeeping and calendar disputes. Elizabeth Gaskell set her novel Sylvia's Lovers partly in the town which she visited in 1859 and Lewis Carroll stayed at 5, East Terrace between July and September 1854: his first publications may have been published in the Whitby Gazette.
Charles Dickens is known to have visited Whitby and in a letter of 1861 to his friend Wilkie Collins, who was at the time in Whitby, Dickens says:
In my time that curious railroad by the Whitby Moor was so much the more curious, that you were balanced against a counter-weight of water, and that you did it like Blondin. But in these remote days the one inn of Whitby was up a back-yard, and oyster-shell grottoes were the only view from the best private room.
Wilkie Collins stayed in Whitby to work on his novel, No Name. He was accompanied by Caroline Graves, the inspiration for The Woman in White. Mary Linskill was born in a small house at Blackburn's Yard in 1840. She reached a wide readership when her second novel, Between the Heather and the Northern Sea, was published in 1884. Her last novel For Pity's Sake, was published posthumously in 1891. James Russell Lowell, the American writer, visited Whitby while ambassador in London 1880–85, staying at 3 Wellington Terrace, West Cliff. On his last visit in 1889, he wrote:
This is my ninth year at Whitby and the place loses none of its charm for me.
G. P. Taylor, a former Church of England curate in Whitby, is now a celebrated author. His best-selling book Shadowmancer was set in Whitby. Theresa Tomlinson, a writer of historical and other fiction for children and young adults, has retired to the town.
A crime novel series by James Whitworth is set in Whitby. The first two novels are Death's Disciple and The Eve of Murder.
A trilogy of young adult novels, The Whitby Witches, makes much of the town's setting and history, embellishing local traditions whilst incorporating them into the narrative. The author, Robin Jarvis, recalls "The first time I visited Whitby, I stepped off the train and knew I was somewhere very special. It was a grey, drizzling day but that only added to the haunting beauty and lonely atmosphere of the place. Listening to Carmina Burana on my headphones, I explored the ruined abbey on the clifftop. The place was a fantastic inspiration. In the Whitby Witches I have interwoven many of the existing local legends, such as the frightening Barguest, whilst inventing a few of my own, most notably the aufwaders." Jarvis returned to Whitby for his 2016 novel, The Power of Dark, the first in The Witching Legacy series.
Other literary works referencing Whitby include:
- Caedmon's Song by Peter Robinson
- The Hundred and Ninety Nine Steps by Michel Faber
- The Resurrectionists by Kim Wilkins
- Never the Bride, Something Borrowed, Conjugal Rites, Hell's Belles by Paul Magrs
Whitby is twinned with a number of towns across the globe. Most were either visited by Captain Cook in ships that were built in Whitby – and one was named after Whitby by settlers from England.
- Anchorage, Alaska, United States
- Porirua, New Zealand
- Stanley, Falkland Islands
- Whitby, Canada
- Nukuʻalofa, Tonga
- Kauai County, Hawaii, United States
- Osterode, Germany
Tourism supported by fishing is the mainstay of Whitby's economy in an isolated community with poor transport infrastructure and restricted by building constraints in the surrounding North York Moors National Park. The economy is governed by the changing fortunes of fishing, tourism and to some extent, manufacturing. Structural changes have led to concentrations of deprivation, unemployment and benefit dependence. A narrowing employment base and dependence on low wage and low skill sectors has resulted in younger age groups leaving the area. There are few business start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises. Older people who make increasing demands on the area's health and social care capacity have moved into the area. Demographic changes, Whitby's relative isolation from the region's main growth areas and decline in traditional employment sectors pose an economic challenge.
The town has a variety of self-catering accommodation, holiday cottages, caravans and campsites, and guest houses, inns, bed & breakfast establishments and hotels. The jet industry declined at the end of the 19th century, but eight shops sell jet jewellery, mainly as souvenirs to tourists. In 1996, Whitby West Cliff qualified for a 'Tidy Britain Group Seaside Award'. The town was awarded "Best Seaside Resort 2006", by Which? Holiday magazine.
The harbour has a total area of about 80 acres (32 ha) and is used by commercial, fishing and pleasure craft. Inshore fishing, particularly for crustaceans and line fish, takes place along the coast. Lobsters, brown and velvet crabs are important to the local fishery. From May to August, salmon is found in the Esk, and small open boats are licensed to net these off the harbour entrance. There are around 40 licensed angling party boats. The commercial catch is no longer herring but has been replaced by cod, haddock, and other fish caught within 12 miles (19 km) of the coast. A fish market on the quayside operates as need arises. The ready supply of fresh fish has resulted in an abundance of "chippies" in the town, including the Magpie Cafe which Rick Stein has described as the best fish and chip shop in Britain.
The Whitby Marina project, jointly funded by Scarborough Borough Council, Yorkshire Forward and the European Regional Development Fund, was developed to diversify the local economy. The remaining shipbuilding firm, Parkol Marine, is a family-run business on the east side of the river. Founded in 1988, the boatyard has two berths for new build and a dry dock for repairs. St Hilda's Business Centre provides office space for a range of businesses. Whitby Business Park is a 49-acre (20 ha) site located by the A171 road, 2 miles (3 km) from the harbour on the southern outskirts of the town. Companies on the park include Supreme Plastics, Whitby Seafoods Ltd and Botham's of Whitby alongside major retailers, Homebase and Sainsbury's.
The east coast has limited conventional energy generation capacity, but Whitby is the closest port to a proposed development on Dogger Bank, ideally placed to provide the offshore wind power industry with support vessel operations and logistics. The Dogger Bank wind farm could include up to 2,600 giant 400-foot (120 m) turbines covering more than 3,300 square miles (850,000 ha).
Whitby has a three-tier school system, primary, middle (11–14) and Caedmon College (11–19), which was formed in 2014 from the merger of Caedmon School (11–14) and Whitby Community College (14–19). Eskdale School continues to operate as a middle school, but is currently consulting on raising its age range to 16. In February 2018 Caedmon College and Eskdale School agreed to federate and plan to provide a joint sixth form operation in the town.
The primary schools are St Hilda's Roman Catholic Primary School, Stakesby Community Primary School, West Cliff Primary School, Airy Hill Community Primary School and East Whitby Community Primary School. North Yorkshire County Council provides education services.
The Whitby and District Fishing Industry Training School offers training for new entrants to the fishing industry and experienced fishermen.
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