Staithes village mourns death of stalwart

Willie Wright who died this week, aged 83. Picture submitted.
Willie Wright who died this week, aged 83. Picture submitted.

Staithes was in mourning this week after the news that Willie Wright, one of the village’s best known and best loved characters, has died aged 83.

His body was found on the rocks in Staithes harbour on Monday evening after he had been reported missing from home earlier in the day.

Willie Wright

Willie Wright

Born and bred in Staithes, Mr Wright was a prominent figure across many fields as lifeboatman, choir singer, fisherman, local historian and village caretaker.

He spent 17 years on the lifeboat, earning a long service award and was at sea aboard the Staithes and Runswick RNLI lifeboat Royal Thames when he received the message that his wife Lucy had given birth to their daughter Elizabeth.

As a founder member of the Staithes Fishermen’s Choir and later the Men of Staithes Choir, he sang at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London for a BBC broadcast and alongside the actress Patricia Routledge in an episode of the TV drama Hetty Wainthropp Investigates at Staithes Wesleyan chapel.

He had a deep knowledge of seafarers’ hymns and songs, never needing a song sheet. Right up to this year, he was still singing ‘lowering’ hymns at the graveside of local funerals.

His recording of ‘Sleep on Beloved’ is preserved for posterity in the sound archive of the British Library and the Carthy/Waterson folk-singing family of Robin Hood’s Bay came to his cottage in Staithes to collect the hymn and sing it on one of their albums in the 1990s.

His cottage was a treasure house of Staithes memorabilia, crammed with old photographs, books and some 20 model cobles and lifeboats.

More of his valuable artefacts are on loan at the Captain Cook and Staithes Heritage Museum in the village.

As a keen pleasure fisherman, he owned or had a share in four cobles and double-enders and was still going to sea in his 80s.

Last week he visited Steve Cook’s boatyard in Whitby to see progress on repairs to his double-ender Mizpah.

He was the oldest surviving member of the Staithes ‘Parliament’, the historic gathering of senior seamen, who meet daily on the harbour front and was a keen overseer of the annual boat launching in the beck.

It was said that you could set your clock by his daily visits to the Royal George and Cod and Lobster pubs in the village where he cheerfully engaged with locals and visitors alike.

Among the tributes paid, Bill Blackwell, chairman of the Staithes Harbour Commissioners, said: “He was unique, a fount of local knowledge, he loved boats and lifeboats, always available to help.

“He was one of the last residents born and bred in the old village. It's like the end of an era.”

Sean Baxter, deputy launch authority at Staithes RNLI, said: ”Everyone looked up to Willie. He was a shining light to every generation at the station, the epitome of a lifeboatman.”

Jennifer Pearson, former organist with the Staithes Fishermen’s Choir, said: “He was a lovely man. The Men of Staithes was the choir’s signature song and Willie was a true man of Staithes.”

His daughter Elizabeth, a crew member with Staithes RNLI, added: “He was my hero. Everyone loved him.”

Willie Wright leaves his wife Lucy; children Marion, Elizabeth and John; and grandchildren Katie, Arron, Gemma, Errin and Iris.