The ruins of Whitby Abbey are among the most celebrated sights of North
Yorkshire. The first monastery here, founded in about 657, became one of
the most important religious centres in the Anglo-Saxon world. In 664 it
was the setting for the Synod of Whitby, a landmark in the history of
the Church in England. The headland is now dominated by the shell of the
13th-century church of the Benedictine abbey founded after the Norman
Recent excavations have shown that the Whitby headland
was settled during the late Bronze Age. A round house within a ditched
enclosure was found near the cliff edge, and a number of objects dating
to this period have been recovered.
The Whitby headland may have been occupied by a Roman
signal station in the 3rd century AD, as it is midway between known
stations at Goldsborough and Ravenscar, and is in a strategic position
at the mouth of the river Esk. If so, the site of the signal station has
probably long since fallen into the sea as the cliffs here have eroded
Following the collapse of Roman rule Britain fragmented
into a number of small kingdoms, and by the 7th century Northumbria,
roughly covering what is now Northumberland and Yorkshire,
was the most powerful of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. In the
7th and 8th centuries the headland at Whitby was occupied by a large
Anglian community, together with a celebrated monastery for both monks
and nuns. Excavations here have revealed much evidence of Anglian life,
including large quantities of pottery, household goods and fine metal
There are two main sources for the history of
Streaneshalch (probably meaning "Streane`s
headland"), as it was then known. These are
the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed
about 731 by the Venerable Bede, a monk from St Paul`s
Monastery at Jarrow on the Tyne and a life of Pope Gregory the Great
(d.604), by an anonymous monk of Streaneshalch.
In 627 the Anglian King of Northumbria, Edwin, converted
to Christianity and was baptised by the Roman missionary St Paulinus.
The monastery at Streaneshalch was founded in about 657 by Hild (614
- 80), daughter of an Anglian nobleman, with the support of Oswiu
(d.670), then ruler of Anglian Northumbria. Streaneshalch seems to have
been of particular importance to the Northumbrian royal family, as a
number of its members were buried there. It was during Hild`s
rule that the layman
lived at Streaneshalch, the first named poet in the
After the Suppression Sir Richard Cholmley (d.1578)
bought the abbey`s buildings and the core of
its estates. The Cholmley family adapted part of the abbot's lodgings
into a house.
This was only one of the Cholmleys residences.
Originally from Cheshire, they had already become major landowners in
Yorkshire. Sir Hugh Cholmley I (1600 - 57)
played a notable part in the Civil War (1642 -
51), defending Scarborough Castle for the king before surrendering it in
1645, after which Parliamentarian troops captured and looted the Abbey
House at Whitby.
After the war Sir Hugh Cholmley II (1632
- 89) did much to restore the family estates and added a grand
(c 1672), known locally as the Banqueting House, to the Abbey House. He
laid out a new entrance courtyard to provide a formal approach and
In the 18th century the Cholmleys moved away, abandoning
the Abbey House. The roof of the 1670s wing is said to have been removed
after storm damage in the late 18th century.