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Whitby Abbey

The History Of Whitby – Whitby Abbey

Whitby Abbey Illuminated For Whitby Goth weekend 2013
Whitby Abbey Illuminated For Whitby Goth weekend 2013

Set on a headland high over the popular seaside town, Whitby Abbey is the perfect choice for a great value day trip in Yorkshire.

It’s easy to see how Bram Stoker was inspired by its gothic splendour when writing Dracula. This is one of the most atmospheric visitor attractions on the Yorkshire coast.

Discover the long history of the Abbey and the daily life of the monks who once lived here in the unique interactive visitor centre with its dramatic digital reconstructions.

Or listen to the audio tour as you wander around the ancient ruins and enjoy the stunning views.

For mystery and imagination, Whitby Abbey is one of the best family days out in Yorkshire.

The first monastery was founded in 657 AD by the Anglo-Saxon era King of Northumbria, Oswy (Oswiu) as Streoneshalh (the older name for Whitby).

He appointed Lady Hilda, abbess of Hartlepool Abbey and niece of Edwin the first Christian king of Northumbria, as founding abbess.

The name Streoneshalh is thought to signify Fort Bay or Tower Bay in reference to a supposed Roman settlement that previously existed on the site.

This contention has never been proven though and alternate theories have been proposed, such as the name meaning Streona’s settlement.

Some believe that the name referred to Eadric Streona, but this is highly unlikely due to chronological considerations: Streona died in 1017 so the naming of Streoneshalh would have preceded his birth by several hundred years.

The double monastery of Celtic monks and nuns was home to the great Northumbrian poet Caedmon. In 664 the Synod of Whitby, at which King Oswiu ruled that the Northumbrian church would adopt the Roman calculation of Easter and monastic tonsure took place at the abbey.

Streoneshalch was laid waste by Danes in successive raids between 867 and 870 under Ingwar and Ubba and remained desolate for more than 200 years.

The existence of ‘Prestebi’, meaning the habitation of priests in Old Norse, at the Domesday Survey may point to the revival of religious life since Danish times.

The old monastery given to Reinfrid comprised about 40 ruined monasteria vel oratoria similar to Irish monastic ruins with numerous chapels and cells

Whitby Abbey Timeline

  • 614 – St Hilda (Hild Of Whitby) born
  • 657 – AD Saw the first monastery built at Whitby by Oswy King Of Northumberland
  • 657 – Hilda became the founding abbess of a new monastery at Whitby
  • 664 – Synod Of Whitby
  • 680 – AD Death Of Caedmon the first English poet
  • 680 – Hild Dies
  • 867 – The Abbey fell to Viking attack
  • 1078 – Abbey re-founded by Regenfrith (Reinferd) a soldier monk, under the orders of his protector, the Norman, William de Percy
  • 1539/1540 – Second Abbey destroyed by Henry 8th -Under  The Dissolution of the Monasteries
  • 1539 – The Cholmley family acquired Whitby Abbey and its land after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 and lived in the abbey`s lodgings and the gatehouse until they built the Banqueting House. It is recorded at several sources including the book Whitby Law And Legend that the Abbey was ruined by The Cholmley Family who used stone and roofing materials to sure up Abbey house where they lived.
  • 1762 The nave fell
  • 1800’s (Unknown Date) – Strikland Family take ownership
  • 1830 – Abbey tower crumbled
  • 1897Bram Stoker writes Dracula
  • 1914 – Abbey shelled by German Navy in World War 1
  • 1920 – The abbey ruins, then owned by the Strickland family, were handed over to the Ministry of Works
  • 1984 – English Heritage took on the care of the abbey
  • 2002 – New visitor center opened in
  • 2003 – £3.5m spent on Abbey House which is reopened as Whitby Youth Hostel
  • 2010“Desecration” of an ancient site by Yorkshire Water and Duffy Contractors
  • 2012 – New Plaque put in place at The Donkey Field

Further Reading On Whitby Abbey

Whitby Abbey Gallery – Click Thumbnails To View Full Size Images.

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  1. New pictures added along with a time line of events at the abbey. If you can contribute any dates for the timeline or any information at all about the abbey then please comment below.

  2. Another first class collection, Real Whitby, making the case for Whitby achieving World Heritage Status.

    It is an aberration that Whitby has remained outside of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park.

    If the Park had acquiesced to central government’s suggestion to consider becoming an elected (rather than appointed)Authority, Whitby would have a great case for being the seat of local governance – free of Scarborough Borough Council – a status befitting its unique historical and geographical identity.

  3. Readers my also enjoy “WHITBY without WORDS” – a video compilation of Stuart Trumper’s atmospheric photographs of the town alomst devoid of people:

  4. brillent website really usefull

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