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Wynd Cottage and Whitby History

Wynd Cottage Historic Building Report

We have done plenty of research in to the history of Wynd Cottage over years but as amateurs we could only go so far. In early 2023 we took the plunge and engaged the services of James Wright from Triskele Heritage to undertake some research to assess, date, and phase the structure of the building. James has publish this report on his website "Wynd Cottage, Cliff Street, Whitby". For ease of reading we have also split the report in to three pages for browser based viewing.

1. Introduction

2. Archaeological Description

3. Conclusions +


For more about the cottage renovation click here

And there's a bit about the cottage history here

The Naming of Whitby - from the accademic perspective

Ceadmon's hymn - Translation, notes and context.

The Years of Debauchery at Whitby Abbey - A less favourable look at Abbey Life before the dissolution.

Whitby Pig Farmer 1081- Imaging a peasants perspective of Whitby

Whitby The Farmer's son 1557 - Imagining the thoughts of lowly farmer's son


The Early History of Whitby

The earliest name attributed to Whitby is 'Streanœhealh' or 'Strænosalch', which is commonly translated to mean 'Beacon of the Bay'. Whilst other coastal towns have tried to claim this name, such as Scarborough, it is most commonly assumed to be in reference to Whitby, as it was taken as the name for the Abbey prior to the Viking settlement. Given the translation of the name, some historians believe that what we now know as Whitby was once a Roman settlement, with a signal light on the now eroded headland of the east side, hence 'beacon of the bay'. The town's oldest name is commemorated by the house at the very top of this street, that overlooks the East side.

When Abbess Hilda came to establish the first recorded settlement- the monastery- in 656 AD there was no evidence of a prior settlement other than the name. The Abbess was originally a member of the Northumbrian royal family, whose lands spanned from Edinburgh to York. In 627AD, under the influence of his wife, King Edwin and his court were converted to Christianity- including the future abbess. Following her uncle's death in 633AD, Hilda accompanied the Queen to Kent for a time, before answering the call of Bishop Aidan and returning to Northumbria, not as a member of the deposed royal family, but as a nun. She spent time at the now untraceable Hartlepool Abbey, rising to become the second Abbess. Therefore, when Whitby Abbey was founded in 657AD, it was under the watchful eye of a woman who had already proven herself to be a capable and godly leader.

The Abbey was originally believed to resemble a village, rather than the towering stone structure we see today. The monks and nuns would live separately, but come together in the small wooden church to pray. Their diet was simple and home reared, with sheep being raised on the grounds to provide wool for the harsh winters, and crops being grown to provide a basic diet of grains and vegetables. Because the original abbey was made of wood, the only traces that remain are from descriptions in the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History and the small metal tools uncovered by various archaeological digs around the Abbey- These tools are now displayed in the visitor's centre for Whitby Abbey.

Due to Abbess Hilda's reputation for wisdom, Whitby Abbey soon became one of the most prominent in the Kingdom of Northumbria. In fact, events at the Abbey had a key role in defining the role of Catholicism across England for almost a thousand years. In 664 a Synod was held at Whitby to determine when Easter would be celebrated, as, whilst both Catholic, King Oswiu of Northumbria and his Queen followed two different branches of Catholicism- Roman, and Celtic, both of which used different methods to calculate when Easter should be celebrated, which led to a rift in both the royal court (one half would feast whilst the other still maintained Lent) and key monastical figures in England. The debate was finally settled when Wilfrid, who would later become the Bishop of Northumbria, argued that they should follow the Roman tradition as the apostle Peter was raised and died in Rome, and had been proclaimed to be the rock of the Church. Whilst this was one in a series of Synods in England that defined the practise of Christianity, it is regarded as one of the most influential, as Northumbria was one of the largest English kingdoms. It paved the way for the heavy Roman influence on England over the course of the next thousand years, in a manner similar to most of mainland Europe.

We also have Hilda to thank for establishing Whitby's long literary history, for her recognising of the talents of the young sheep-herder, Cædmon, one of the first English poets, whose seminal work (Cædmon's Hymn) is one of the most well known and earliest recorded piece of Old English poetrys, and is often studied alongside Beowulf, Wulf and Eadwacer, and The Wife's Lament. Cædmon's work was incredibly important in the conversion of the masses, many of whom could not read. As he was illiterate himself, he was taught by monks in the monastery various biblical tales, which he would then commit to memory and convert to verse. Sadly, Cædmon's Hymn is his only surviving piece of poetry, but multiple, relatively contemporary writer's to him make explicit reference to his works. The oldest surviving manuscript can be found in the Cambridge University Library.
Most historians agree that the original Abbey lasted for around 200 years, before it was destroyed and plundered by Pagan Viking raiders. Given that literacy was the almost exclusive domain of Christianity at this point in time, we have very little record of life in Whitby during this time, although it can be assumed that given the Old Norse origins of the town's name ('bý' translates as 'settlement') that the Vikings not only raided the coast line, but eventually settled here. Given the relative lack of Pagan artefacts celebrating the Norse pantheon, as can be found in other parts of Yorkshire, it can be assumed that these Viking settlers converted to Christianity relatively quickly, especially in comparison to their Scandinavian cousins, who didn't begin conversion until 1000AD.

It wasn't until 1078, a few years after William the Conqueror took the unified English throne, that the monastery was re-established. Having begged the Pope's support in his campaign to take the crown, he had to pay his dues by donating his new lands to the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore, many of the monasteries that fell to waste during the Viking invasions were rennovated and reconstructed to remain in the Pope's favour. The first rebuilt monastery was very simplistic, but made of sturdier materials than its first incarnation, and was funded through tithes, and donations from both the peasantry and the newly instated Lords, all of whom wished to buy a place in heaven.


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