History of Whitby Civic Society

Wonderful Whitby

Since its beginning the society owes much to many people and I fear that my memory may leave out someone who deserves to be there.


First I would like to thank the previous civic societies both of which worked hard to do the best for Whitby.


In 1996 our society started after an interval when Whitby did not have a civic society for over ten years. Thanks are due to Mr. Alan Whitworth for calling the inaugural meeting and as secretary setting up the society as a civic society and a charity and also for obtaining a generous grant towards putting up Whitby’s blue plaques. He did not remain with the society in its second year and then the chairmanship was taken by Mr. Peter Thornton and it is to him that the society owes its spirit of sharing responsibility among all the committee which continues today. He helped, advised but never dominated except that meetings always ended at a fixed time with a cup of tea or coffee where official discussion ended but conversation could continue and did. It was a great shock when he suddenly died. Our Vice-chairman Frank Doyle held an emergency meeting which helped to get our spirits together and continue. In those early days Anne Dennier, who was the secretary at the time, was a great asset. Her knowledge of local government helped us to establish a link with the local planning officers who were very sympathetic to our concerns about preserving the town’s housing heritage. Anne, along with Elizabeth Cheyne, had everyone on the committee look for material to make the White Rabbit Trail and they created it. The idea came from the Blue Plaque erected at the house where Lewis Carroll spent several holidays and got ideas which were incorporated in Alice in Wonderland.


The White Rabbit Trail was the society’s first publication. It has been edited and reprinted several times with the help of Jean Dawson, Elizabeth Cheyne and Betty Bayliss.


Parry Thornton, while choosing not to be on the committee, has been a big help to the society. He wrote a pamphlet on Whitby’s magnificent Victorian Chalybeate Spa Well and with John Shorter edited the East and West Side of Whitby trails. Parry took control and looked after the Spa Well and ensured that it was open to the public throughout the summer, with help from Barry Atkinson.


More recently, a new Blue Plaque Trail booklet has been designed by Elizabeth Cheyne with a walking trail and photographs provided by Peter Craggs. This booklet has been printed in 2 sizes and they are used to provide guided tours around all of Whitby’s Blue Plaques.


The earlier Blue Plaques had been put up without any ceremony but, one of the former members of the Whitby Civic Society, Kevin Devaney, organised the Lewis Carroll plaque. Then Mr. Malcolm Barker, who was also one of the original members and a member of staff on the Whitby Gazette and editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post, unveiled the plaque. Children from the local West Cliff School, who were dressed as characters from Alice in Wonderland, performed a play as part of the unveiling ceremony. Since then, Blue plaques have always been unveiled with an appropriate ceremony.


To our regret, Anne Dennier left the committee to follow other interests. Dr. John Shorter replaced Peter Thornton as chairman and also took on Anne Dennier’s role on planning. Following John Shorter, Barry Atkinson was an excellent chairman, followed by George Dawson and we now have the current chairman, Dr. John Field. In George Dawson’s period the society took on a very large financial commitment to erect a plaque to the Rohilla Shipwreck disaster on its centenary in 2014. Despite fears by some, he more than achieved the target and did this in close conjunction with the local lifeboat crew.


Lectures by Peter Thornton had had full houses but the Society had not asked for admission charges, hoping for voluntary donations, which seldom recuperated our costs. It was Maureen Eves, when she became secretary, who led us to take the courageous step of having regular talks with an admission fee. She arranged good speakers and it proved a great success. Following her, Doreen Wort, Elizabeth Cheyne, Betty Bayliss, and Wynne Jones all took on the task of providing interesting lecturers. This is now done jointly by the whole committee. A very valued member of the Society, Dick Barron, made very attractive posters and this task is continued by Pam Whitlam.


The society also arranged free events for discussion of things of public interest to the town. One such meeting was to discuss a planning application for a Captain Cook Experience to be built on land near the listed and now unused Engine Shed. The event was organised by Mr. Walter Jones, our secretary, who split the meeting into smaller groups so that everyone took part and a report based on all of the comments raised led to a fairer and more comprehensive outcome. It was very much enjoyed by those there but this format was never repeated.


Doreen Wort was also a very good secretary; she organised beach cleans along with her husband Dennis. These beach cleans itemised & weighed everything found and the results were recorded and sent to Beachwatch, the national beach cleaning and litter surveying programme run by the Marine Conservation Society which helps people care for their coastline.


Doreen also organised a competition to provide a memorial to seamen who had lost their lives at sea. This memorial took the form of our beautiful Storm Gate situated on the West Pier. This gate is locked to prevent access to the West Pier extension to avoid any accidents during rough weather. The Storm Gate was made by a local craftsman, James Godbold of Egton and it still performs its function today.


Following a visit to our neighbouring society at Pickering, Doreen, along with others, organised our own Give or Take days which allowed people to give away items they no longer wanted to others at no cost. They were held twice a year; in the summer and in the winter. They continued after her death for a while, in her memory.


The society took on Heritage Open Days. In the year 2000 5 buildings opened to the public and there were 500 visits. It was then taken over by Dr. John Shorter who expanded it and by 2007 there were 17 venues with 1,700 visits and he added specialist guided walks led by Geoff Wilson and Ben Dean. Following the death of Dr. John Shorter, Betty Bayliss took over this responsibility and continues today.


The number of buildings opened in Whitby exceeds that of many larger towns.


The first Newsletter appeared on the first January of the Society, edited by Kevin Devaney and Mike Dawson. This became a feature of the society and is issued three times a year with Maureen Eves and Mike and Jean Dawson and now Pam Whitlam being editors.


Mike Dawson also edited a web site for the society for many years. This is now done by a group including Mike Dawson, Chris & Pam Whitlam and Peter Craggs.


The Society Treasurers, over the years, have been Mike Dawson, Ann Barron, Nicholas Harty & Libby Thompson, who has retired from the post, which has been taken over by Janet Kukk.


The public meetings have been held in various venues over the years: the library in Pannett Park museum, Abbey House, Church House, the Normanby room in Pannett Park museum and currently are held in the Coliseum.


There have been some invaluable ladies who work in the background doing sterling work; Hazel Thomas is such a lady.


Mr. Mike Dawson, President of Whitby Civic Society.