Friday, 23 June 2017


Stronger Than The Sun was a television drama written by Stephen Poliakoff and directed by Michael Apted. It aired as part of the Play For Today strand in 1977, a series that was never shy of courting controversy. Dealing with the nuclear industry and its possible consequences, the play certainly asked some pertinent questions about safety and personal responsibility.

Waiting at the bandstand
A walk on the pier
Kate (Francesca Annis) and Alan (Tom Bell) work at a fictional nuclear facility called Caversbridge. Although the precise location is never fully revealed, it's somewhere  near Whitby. After finding out that a radioactive leak has occurred and is being covered up, Kate steals a small amount of plutonium to highlight security weaknesses  in the system. When she takes it to pressure groups and the press they won't touch it with a bargepole.

The phone box
When will she finish that bloody call?
When Alan discovers that Kate has been carrying a capsule of plutonium around in her handbag, he alerts the authorities who enter her flat in West Terrace. Dressed in full anti-radiation suits they take her out to a waiting ambulance as local residents look on.

Almost all the outdoor action takes place in Whitby. There are some great shots of the town including motor bikes circling round the bandstand, a walk along the pier and the phone box on St. Ann's Staith in front of Whitby Fish Selling Company.  The culminating scene of police cars pulling into West Terrace is quite extraordinary.

Buying a paper
At the station
It was Poliakoff's first television film before he went on to achieve great success in the medium writing and directing many award winning dramas. Francesca Annis gives an extraordinary performance as the intelligent, well-meaning but naive Kate. The late Tom Bell plays her concerned and less impulsive lover whose attempt to save her from herself proves too little too late.

The end

Wednesday, 7 June 2017


William Gervase Beckett

There were two elections in Whitby in close succession in 1905 and 1906. The first was a Parliamentary by-election on 1 June 1905. Two candidates contested the seat. The Conservatives selected William Gervase Beckett, the 39 year old younger brother of the previous MP Ernest Beckett. The reason for the by-election was that Ernest succeeded to Baron Grimthorpe on the death of his uncle on April 29th 1905 and vacated the seat.

The candidate standing against him was Noel Edward Buxton, a 36 year old Liberal with an interest in temperance reform. Unfortunately he fell foul of the Temperance League because of his supposed brewery interests. Despite the Temperance League traditionally supporting the Liberals, they threatened to withdraw their support unless another less controversial candidate was put forward.

Noel Edward Buxton
Despite this, and with a 79% turn out, Buxton won by 445 votes. He described the result as "a great victory for truth, for the cause of the working man and for liberty throughout the world". The following year in January a General Election took place and the result was reversed with Beckett taking the seat, but only by 71 votes.

This post was prompted by seeing an intriguing drawing of the fish quay at Whitby in Pannett Park gallery. It is by marine artist and member of the Staithes group Joseph Richard Bagshawe (1870-1909). The title added by the gallery says 'Parliamentary Election 1905 - 1906' which doesn't make it clear exactly which election it depicts.

The people of the town certainly weren't shy about showing their allegiances at the time with endorsements for both candidates appearing in the sketch. Most prominent is the 'VOTE FOR BECKETT' lettering on the shed roof and on the passing boat. The 'VOTE FOR BUXTON' sign is less clear and right on the other side of the harbour. Whether this represents Bagshawe's own political bias is open to interpretation.

Click on the picture to enlarge it.

T.B & R Jordan’s Staithes Group of Artists Exhibition runs until 18th June 2017. This is in addition to the permanent Staithes Group display which is a fixture at the gallery.


Tuesday, 6 June 2017


The Freshwater Pearl Mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) was once abundant in the rivers of Britain, but is now in serious decline. The only river in Yorkshire supporting these large, bivalve molluscs is the Esk, where steps are being taken to establish a breeding population.

The problem is that the life cycle of pearl mussels is ludicrously complex. Firstly, in June or July the males release sperm into the water in the hope that it will be inhaled by a female. Once fertilised, the eggs grow into larvae known as glochidia, and from July to September these are released into the water in huge quantities. The future of these proto-mussels relies on them being inhaled by a salmon or a trout. As they are filtered through the fish's gills along with the river water, they snap onto the gill filaments. The fish then creates a cyst around these tiny hitch hikers. They grow over winter happily encysted on their host's gills, until in May or June the following year they drop off. They need to land on clean, well oxygenated gravel to continue developing into adults. 

With so many variables involved in maintaining this delicate cycle, is it any wonder that the freshwater pearl mussel is now included on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species? Historical pearl fishing, siltation, pollution and the decline of the host fish population have all contributed to the disruption of the delicate balance required for these important creatures to flourish.
The pearl mussels in the River Esk are the last surviving population in Yorkshire, and only a few mussels are left. The vast majority of the remaining pearl mussels are aged 60 years+, and the mussels in the Esk have not produced young for over 25 years, it is likely that the Esk population will become extinct in the next 40 years unless action is taken to halt this decline. From the North Yorkshire Moors National Park official blog.
Some mussels from the Esk have been taken to attempt captive breeding at a  Freshwater Biological Association 'ark' in the Lake District. There fertilised female mussels are kept with fish in the hope that encysting of glochidia will take place, after which the mussels are removed to a different tank. The introduction of viable mussels back into their host rivers is the projected end result of this work. Of course this will only be possible if the water quality and substrate are suitable.
The freshwater pearl mussel can live for 130 years, so it's quite conceivable that mussels living in the Esk now were around when Frank Meadow Sutcliffe was snapping away.

Further information is available from the links below.

The River Esk Pearl Mussel and Salmon Recovery Project
The Freshwater Biological Association Pearl Mussel Project
Pearl Mussel Videos from Lousie Lavictoire