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Book records highs and lows of Whitby Abbey
IT’S an iconic landmark that is recognised worldwide – an imposing and brooding ruin that dominates the North Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby.
Whitby Abbey has been the background for literary masterpieces such as Dracula and has witnessed one of the most defining moments of the establishment of the Church, the Synod of Whitby in AD664.
It has been destroyed and rebuilt several times – ransacked by the Vikings, it lay in ruins until the Norman Conquest, when it was re-established, becoming one of the most powerful and richest abbeys in North Yorkshire, before being dissolved by Henry VIII and falling back into ruin.
The site was sold to the Cholmley family and they used some of the abbey stone to build a grand residence.
Despite this, and having being bombed quite badly under German submarine shell-fire in the First World War, Whitby Abbey still stands as a proud symbol of the town’s historical importance and is now under the guardianship of English Heritage, who, during the past 50 years, have conserved the ruins and transformed the headland into a major tourist attraction.
This area is the focus of a new book, Whitby Abbey & Abbey Headland Through Time, by local historian Alan Whitworth (Amberley Publishing, £14.99), which offers a pictorial history of the abbey and the land surrounding it and traces some of the many ways in which it has changed and developed during over the last century.
Some of the images, such as the aerial shots, show just how extensive the abbey once was.
There are also some dramatic shots of St Mary’s Church and its graveyard, which also occupies the abbey headland, with its Saxon origins and unique interior of galleries and box pews.
Most of the names in Dracula were taken from the tombstones in the churchyard, which is also extensively featured in the book.
There are also some unusual photos of Abbey House, once the home of the Cholmley family, who owned the lands from 1540 to the 20th century, part of which is now a youth hostel with medieval fireplaces, a 17th century staircase and a room with Georgian panelling. The other part was made into a visitor centre in 2001.
One of the most prominent monuments of the Abbey headland featured in the book is Caedmon’s Cross, erected as a memorial to Caedmon, the famous illiterate 7th century cowman of St Hilda’s monastery, also known as the father of English literature, who had a life-changing dream and the following morning was able to sing and create beautiful poetry.
The book also contains fascinating illustrations of engravings of the abbey as it may have appeared as early as 1320 in the time of the Normans, with a defended walled abbey, and an engraving by Samuel Buck, published in 1711, thought to be the earliest true image of Whitby Abbey, showing the north side, which has all but disappeared today.
Meanwhile, engravings dating from 1789 contain figures picnicking in the grounds, indicating that the ruins were already an important tourist attraction by this time.
Whitby Abbey & Whitby Headland Through Time offers a comprehensive and thoroughly-researched history of this iconic monument throughout its developments and demises and the people who lived and worked there, all the while accompanied by images, often from unusual and unrecognisable views, of this beautiful and much-loved ruin.