Whitby Piers (East And West) can be found at the mouth of the River Esk in Whitby. The piers are much loved by locals and visitors from across the UK and even worldwide.
Some form of harbour protection at the mouth of the River Esk was present in the early 1300’s.
Protection was achieved by a combination of Tate Hill Pier, Scotch Head and West Pier and construction was likely to have comprised timber, boulders and stone collected form cliff falls.
In 1632 West Pier was rebuilt using sandstone blocks. Repairs, rebuilding and lengthening continued throughout the 1600’s, 1700’s and 1800’s. An extension was added to the pier between 1908 and 1914 and an interceptor wall was added to the bullnose of the main arm to reduce the swell entering the harbour.
In the late 1600’s the piers were in a similar poor state of repair as they are today. In his book The Old Seaport of Whitby (1909), Robert Tate Gaskin writes, “On the 8th of December 1696 a petition from Whitby was presented to the House of Commons and read. It set forth that Whitby Harbour was one of the most commodious in the north of England, being capable of receiving 500 sail of ships.” He goes on to quote from the House of Commons journals, ” ..the ancient piers being much decayed the mouth of the harbour being almost choked up, and in danger of being quite stopped up unless the piers be repaired.”
A bill was eventually carried by Royal Assent on May 6, 1702 amid protest and initial refusals of help. Duties were imposed by the Trustees of the town (Gideon Meggison, Ralph Boyes and Henry Linskill) upon shipping using the port, a tax towards the upkeep and reconstruction of the harbour. This period coincided with an upturn in prosperity in the town due to the increase in whaling and the coastal collier trade between the Tyne and the Thames. Colliers needed a safe haven between the Tees and the Humber in the event of storms and this would have been a strong case in Whitby’s favour regarding funding for new harbour works.
Young writes, in his History of Whitby (1816), “The act of 1812 particularily authorises the repairing of the east pier, which is now enlarging on the outside, in the same durable form as the west pier, to the breadth of 15 yards. This pier, which is about 215 yards long forms the grand barrier to protect our town from the fury of the German ocean, which often breaks over it with great violence.”
The west pier was almost wholly rebuilt by Mr Francis Pickernell, the engineer of the Harbour Trustees. It was completed on Christmas Eve, 1814, being built with stone from nearby Aislaby Quarry. Pickernell also designed the west pier lighthouse with its fluted Grecian column. This was completed in just 11 weeks in October 1831. The Acts passed to finance all this work were eventually repealed by 1861, considerably longer than the initial period of 9 years agreed in 1702. In the words of George Young this building activity resulted in, “..an admirable piece of workmanship, which may vie with any pier in the kingdom, either for strength or beauty.” Francis Pickernell died in September 1871. By this time Whitby possessed much of the fine stone built harbour we see today.
The Building Of The Whitby Pier Extensions
The outer piers at Whitby (Past the lighthouses after the stone piers) are known as The Pier Extensions. They were built between the years of 1908 and 1914 and stand pretty much as built right up to the present day, although a poor level of maintenance by their caretakers Scarborough Borough Council means the piers are currently in a very poor state of repair.
Photographs Of The Building Of Whitby Piers
Photographs Courtesy of The Whitby Memories Facebook Page.
Here is one of the earliest literary references to the piers at Whitby written by Samuel Jones in 1718 who was recovering from jaundice by drinking the spa waters.
“Two noble Piers, as no way else are found,
Reduce the ocean to its ancient Bound,
And guard the silver Esk on either side,
Whose gentle streams towards their mother glide
by constant Running, Drive the Sand away,
And keep an open Entry for the sea.
o th;Western Pier! A walk, a work most rare,
Worthy those men that have it under care”.
Whitby Piers Photographs