Monday, 23 April 2012


The following is taken from an official account made by Whitby's port authority of an incident which occurred on 12th August 1724. It goes some way to show the difficulties Customs Officials had when it came to controlling the smuggling trade in a town where it seemed that everybody was on the side of the smugglers.

The ‘Sarah And Gissell’ had made for the safety of port after the weather had turned against her. The Master, Thomas Robertson of Perth told the Customs officer that his ship was en route from Perth and had come into port wanting provisions. But the ever watchful port authorities soon became suspicious of the ship and it’s Master, according to a sworn statement made by Abram Watkins (a boatman) and William Towers (a tidesman and boatman) the crew of the vessel had lived almost completely of their own provisions the whole time they had been in port, only taking on board a six penny loaf of bread and a small cask of ale. The district Riding Officer further corroborated the port authorities growing testimony by claiming that the ship had previously been anchored off  Robin Hood’s Bay selling spirits to the locals.

This was cause enough for the Collector of Customs who immediately sent his rummage men a board the ship, where it was is discovered that the hold was filled with salt in which were buried a large number of barrels containing Brandy. The Master quickly changed his story claiming he had sailed from St. Martin in France and was on his way to Bergen.

The Customs opined that the salt was there to stop the barrels rolling around.‘The salt on board ye ship is in bulk and appears to be made for stowing ye casks in and as ballast and that, when ye vessel first came into port, she appeared to have been lightened above half a foot forward, and by ye stowage of ye Casks it appears that there has been a great part of a whole tier of casks taken forwards’.

The Master of the ‘Sarah And Grissell’ knowing that he had been caught tried to make good his escape and planned to put to sea on the night of the 15th August, the Customs men realising that the ship was been made ready for sea called for re-enforcements, but ‘despite all ye fair means the officers could use, ye Master ordered his men to cast off ye mooring’.

Hacking around with knives in the gloom the officers cut ropes and ratlines to prevent the sails being set, they tried to unship the rudder, but still she moved down the harbour…towed by a local coble skippered by Christopher Hill, recognisable amidst the struggle by his loud voice shouting that he would murder every Customs Officer.

The Master and his mate ‘assaulted and abused’ Mr Selby, the Customs Surveyor, and tore his clothes when he ‘endeavoured to get ye management of ye helm in order to put ye vessel on shore, and at other times when he endeavoured to obstruct their design’.

As the ship moved down the harbour, from St. Ann’s Staith where it had been moored, the customs officers were pelted with large stones from a great number of people on the shore and from cobles running alongside ‘even in such a manner that some of ye officers were obliged to shelter themselves behind ye masts’.

Christopher Hill, ‘that notorious runner of goods whose voice Mr Selby knew very well threatened him and other Officers in a prodigious manner and swearing he would have ye ship to sea over ye next morning’. He went on to have ‘the impudence to abuse Mr Selby and threaten to fight him without the least provocation’.

But the Customs men succeeded in their delaying tactics, the battle royal went on for three hours and she was still not out of the harbour. Abram Watkins, the Customs boatman, tied a rope to another moored vessel, but one of the smugglers slashed it through. Watkins then managed to furl the topsail, but it was immediately unfurled. By now the tide had turned; Watkins managed to cut some of the ropes from the boats towing the vessel out and hauled others onto the ship, during which time he was being assaulted by the Master. Then he bent a small rope to a Cage and dropped it at the stern and was finally able to run the ship aground at Colliers Hope.

After the battle was over a further search of the vessel revealed 13 more casks of Brandy and a parcel of Playing Cards, all of which were removed to the King’s Warehouse. The salt remained on board; the skipper had refused to sell it so the vessel remained in the harbour, so preventing the seizure of the ship whilst prosecutions were being prepared against it’s skipper Thomas Robertson, Henry Mann the mate and Christopher Hill cobleman.

The result of the ship not being cleared of cargo was that the Customs Collector had to stand to the cost of keeping two men on board the vessel. This might look of little importance until it is realised that at the time the Collector only received his dues if the prosecution was successful. Leading to the fact that it might not have always been advisable or even worthwhile actually prosecuting these crimes in the first place.

Saturday, 14 April 2012


OUT ON YE! is not a music blog, but the band Rudolf Rocker (named after the aharcho-syndicalist writer and intellectual Johannes Rudolf Rocker) have released a CD steeped in the mystery and mythology of Whitby and the surrounding area.

I interviewed singer and guitarist Mark Goodall one night in the appropriate surroundings of The Black Horse to delve into his relationship with the folklore and history of the district that informs the songwriting. A quick glance at the track listing shows the subject matter we're dealing with here. Some of the songs are unashamedly boisterous knees-ups, but the ones I'm interested in have a haunting, arcane quality to them.

During our conversation, which was recorded for presentation on this blog, the pub gradually filled up with drinkers, so there is a bit of incidental conversation. Also fans of the glam rock outfit The Sweet will notice their hit tune Ballroom Blitz forming a slightly incongruous backdrop to our talk of ancient artifacts. Postmodernism of the highest order.

I must apologise for the occasional rumbling sound picked up by the microphone. I suspect its caused by a slightly unsteady table. In these extracts we discuss four of the thirteen tracks. To my mind these are the amongst most interesting.

I knew nothing of this, but apparently around 1934 a local man had the idea of building a swimming pool and a boating pond in Litllebeck. By 1945 due to disuse it became silted up and was populated only by hundreds of frogs. A film exists in the Yorkshire Film Archives showing boys bathing in the pool.

In Old St Stephen's Church, Fylingdales hang four maiden's garlands. They were made to commemorate the tragic death of a young girl, and would be carried along at the funeral procession.

The wreck of this concrete ship stands forlorn on Whitby Scar. The subject of these strange vessels was covered more extensively on OUT ON YE!  here.

The mummified, severed hand kept in a cabinet in Whitby Museum is purportedly the only surviving Hand of Glory. It was found hidden in the wall of a thatched cottage in Castleton.

To listen to the tracks Showerbath of the Patriarchs, Hand of Glory and Hole of Horcum, and for more information visit Rudolf Rocker's website here.

Maiden's Garlands, Old St Stephen's Church, Fylingdales


Sound recordist Craig Vear has made a sound poem of the River Esk which has been released on CD by 3Leaves. This is the review I did of the work, which was originally published in The Field Reporter blog earlier this year.

What does a river mean?

In some cases it means an obstacle, a barrier that needs to be bridged. For wildlife it means a range of habitats, both beneath the water and along the banks. A river geographically connects the towns and villages along its course. Rivers are often pressed into service as metaphors for life. They begin as unruly infants, high up in the hills, full of energy and exhuberance. Over time and distance they become languid and peaceful before finally opening out into the unforgiving sea.

Rivers have a multitude of meanings and can be read in many ways. Craig Vear’s sound poem Esk is a portrait of a 28 mile long English river flowing from its birthplace on the hills at Westerdale, through the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, and into the North Sea at the town of Whitby. Vear has produced a piece of work that is rich in detail and yet not cluttered or contrived. As with any portrait, a true appreciation of character emerges the longer and deeper you look.

Curiously Vear collected the raw materials for Esk by beginning at the outer harbour wall at Whitby, then moving upriver towards the source. After acquiring what must have been hours of recordings, the piece was then edited and composed in the order of the Esk’s actual flow. In other words in the opposite direction to which it was recorded. In a sense it is moving backwards in time as it gets closer to the sea. The seasons flow in reverse, proving that sound art can render time plastic.

Recording the flow of water in all its various forms is one thing, but what really defines a river is its banks. They channel it and give it form. The geographical nature of the countryside it passes through and the life around it imbue a unique personality. At various points along the route we hear the engines of vehicles crossing bridges spanning the water, and occasionally human voices. This work shouldn’t be taken as an idealised, pastoral portrait. It is grounded in reality and there are some surprisingly jarring sound events. Rough edges have not been smoothed off.

At several points we are plunged beneath the surface into the world of crayfish, dragonfly nymphs and trout. Hydrophone recordings always feel like eavesdropping on sounds that we as air-listeners weren’t designed to hear. They always take us into an unknowable place. We can picture the silver surface of the water undulating above us and the stone strewn bed beneath us.

There are many different facets to Esk, and it moves quickly between environments. On the moors insects buzz, in the trees birds call and in the fields cattle low balefully. We move on towards the sea, the natural direction of flow giving this work its linearity and purpose. The final sounds are deep water surges showing that the journey is complete and the Esk has been reclaimed by the sea.

As with all 3Leaves releases, Esk comes exquisitely packaged in a postcard sized cover depicting the river in winter. Snowblown trees and white banks speak equally of picturesque stillness and the harshness of nature. A fitting image.

What does a river mean?

According to Heraclitus it means change. In his words; ‘You can never step into the same river; for new waters are always flowing on to you’. Similarly, every time you listen to this piece by Craig Vear, expect something different being carried on the current.

3Leaves website

Monday, 2 April 2012


There are two Wade's Stones still standing, one at East Barnby and one near Goldsborough. They are thought to be prehistoric in origin and the southern stone (East Barnby) has been associated with an Anglo Saxon inhumation. A spearhead has also been found there (Frank Elgee, Early Man on the North Yorks Moors, 1930).

Although only two remain today, it is claimed that there were at least four stones in the past. When the Reverend George Young spoke about them in his History of Whitby of 1817, he described the sites thus: 'A stone above East Barnby, which once had another near it, is said to mark out the grave of a giant called Wade; but that honour is assigned, by another tradition, to two similar pillars near Goldsborough, standing about 100 feet asunder'.

Two views of Wade's Stone (south) at Goldsborough
Sometime between February and March 2008 the East Barnby stone toppled over, probably due to centuries of cultivation around its base. However Tees Archaeology have recently erected it again. Both stones stand on working farms on agricultural land.

The fallen Wade's Stone (South) at East Barnby
Photo by David Raven 28.03.2008
As the stone appears today, thanks to the efforts of Tees Archaeology
The question of how the character Wade became so closely associated with this area is another story altogether. An interesting accountof Wade and his origins, beginning with the story of what occurred when the author Mike Haigh visited one of the sites, can be found here.