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, 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. In 867, the monastery was destroyed by Viking raiders. Another monastery was founded in 1078. 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.