The parish church of Whitby in North Yorkshire, is one of the most unusual churches in the country. This 12th century church on the windswept heights of the east cliff is reached by the unique 199 stone steps – The church stairs, mentioned in 1370, the steps were described in 1717 as wooden stairs. Most of the older Whitby folk wanted their coffin to be carried up the steps and there are still resting places at various intervals on the climb. A ‘donkey track’ runs steeply up alongside the steps.
The church itself has been variously altered and extended over the years and is still lit by candlelight and heated by a huge stove. The galleries, boxed pews and the three decker pulpit, with its old ear trumpets provided for a former vicar’s wife, present a fascinating picture and the Cholmley Pew is quite unique. This all powerful family, Lords of the Manor in the 17th century had a social status which had to be recognised and their curious gallery was built across a very fine Norman arch in front of the chancel, the most conspicuous spot in the church. This gallery, which rises on slim pillars that look like sugar twists, was built between 1600 and 1625 and has a separate entrance from outside the church in the form of a covered stairway. There is much of interest in this church which has been likened to the between decks on a ship.
Don't miss a very unusual memorial on the south east side of the church, close to the outside entrance to the Cholmley Pew. It is the Huntrodd’s Memorial 1600 – 1680. The inscription tells us :
‘ Here lie the bodies of Francis Huntrodds and Mary his wife who were born on the same day of the week, month and year (viz) Septr ye 19th 1600,
marry’d on the day of their birth and after having had 12 children born to them died aged 80 years on the same day of the year they were born, Septr ye 19th 1680 the one not above five hours before ye other.’
‘Husband and wife that did twelve children bear,
dy’d the same day; alike both aged were. Bout 80 years they liv’d, five hours did part, (Ev’n on the marriage day) each tender heart, so fit a match, surely could never be, both, in their lives, and in their deaths agree.’
Fact is indeed stranger than fiction.
The ruins of Whitby Abbey are close by.
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Photo taken in Whitby, North Yorkshire, UK