Whitby Jet is a type of brown coal, a
fossilised wood of an ancient tree which similar to our present day
"Araucaria", or commonly known as the monkey puzzle tree. These trees
flourished in the Jurassic period, about 180 million years ago. When
the trees died, they fell into the swamps, rivers or eventually found
their way to the sea. The trees would become waterlogged and sink to
the bottom, where they lay for millions of years. Dead and decaying
organisms, mud and detritus falling on top of the already decaying
monkey puzzle tree, causing great pressure, flattening the trunk and
branches, together with chemical changes, created what we see today,
"Whitby Jet" . Jet has been used as a jewel and talisman for over 4000
years. The ancient Greeks and Romans called the black stone "Gagates"
and in the first century AD, Pliny wrote in his natural history
notes:- " Gages is a stone, so called from the town and river Gages in
Lycia. It is black, smooth, light and porous and differs but little
from wood in appearance. The fumes of it, burnt, keeps serpents at a
distance and dispels hysterical affections, they detect a tendency
also to epilepsy and act as a test to virginity. A decoction of this
stone in wine is curative to toothache and in combination with wax, it
is good for scrofula." Since the times of Pliny, we have come a long
way and improved our knowledge of its chemical and physical
properties, taking all that was noted with a pinch of salt.
Analysis of the oil contained in "Hard Jet", confirms that it was formed
under sea water, while the "Soft Jet", was probably under fresh waters. There is
little difference in appearance between hard or soft jet, but hard jet is a tough and
durable material, whilst soft jet is far more brittle and having a tendency to crack when
worked with or subjected to heat. Nineteenth century workers of jet in Whitby were
convinced that jet like amber was a solidified resin. Both were light materials in weight
and had the fascinating property of picking up bits of paper as they developed static
electricity when rubbed on wool or silk. Studying slices of jet under a microscope gives
conclusive evidence of its woody origin, for the annual rings of the original wood can
often be seen.
Jet is found throughout the world, although not all of it is the hard jet. Differences
between hard and soft jets, lignite and cannel coal is so small, we can say that a type of
jet is found in, Russia; Turkey; Germany; France; Spain; Portugal and North America, as
well as in England. Works of art from Germany and Spain, show that hard jet was in these
two countries at sometime. However, there is no doubt in the minds of our Yorkshiremen and
Whitby jet craftsmen, that the best hard jet of all the world comes from Whitby.
Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
( 1853 - 1941 ) A nationally and internationally acclaimed pioneering photographer who helped to
develop photography as an art form.
Sutcliffe worked in Whitby from the mid 1870`s until
his death. Most of his photographs for which he is now famous, were taken out of season.
They include many of the harbour, fishing boats, children at play and fishermen.
Sutcliffe`s equipment ranged from the cumbersome brass and mahogany full
plate camera, with their wet collodion process of the late nineteenth century, to the hand
held bellows type of camera, of this century, using celluloid negatives. The Sutcliffe
gallery in Flowergate, Whitby, publish several volumes of his images and can be purchased
by the visitor to Whitby.
Frank Meadow Sutcliffe started his photographic career using wet collodion in 1875,
but soon turned towards the dry plates. He followed in the wake of Emerson, whose fame
lies in the photographing of Whitby scenes. Sutcliffe`s most famous picture image, called
" Water Rats ", caused considerable wrath of the Whitby church and clergy, for
the corruption of the young. It is said, that they excommunicated Sutcliffe, for
exhibiting what they felt to be indecent. By the same contrast to these clergy, Prince of
Wales ( later to become Edward VII ), purchased the very same image.
Sutcliffe retired from the photographic world he loved so much in 1922, but remained a
curator of the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society from 1923 until shortly before
his death. The Society still operates today.
harbour extends to over 80 acres and is well worth taking a look around. The famous port
of Whitby, steeped in history, is still a working port of trawlers with their fishermen;
boat builders and of cargoes coming and going. Whitby hosted the visit of her long lost
ship that of Captain James Cook, the "Bark Endeavour". A visit that will be
remembered by all who saw her enter the pier ends of the harbour, sailing proudly back to
her place of birth.
On Whitby's East and West piers, are two lighthouses placed at the harbour entrance,
dating back to 1835 and 1855. The lighthouse on the West side of the River Esk is worked
manually and only used when vessels are expected, to indicate that it is safe to enter the
harbour. By day, a black ball is hoisted on the 83 feet high lighthouse. In the summer, it
is open to the public and when you reach the top, there is a fine view. The light from
this lighthouse shows green and has a range of ten miles. The lighthouse on the East side
of the River Esk is 54 feet high and shows a divided red and green light, the red light
showing when the vessel entering the harbour is on an unsafe course, (although in the
main, this light is now discarded, due to the placing of a new red light on the church
steps, serving the same purpose). Whitby has a permanent dredger working daily during the
summer months, keeping the River Esk free from the silt, so the trawlers and smaller craft
have clear passage to their berths. The marina in the town was built in 1979 and has
moorings for 200 craft.