Whitby exhibit of week: drawbridge over Esk

Whitby Draw Bridge .Picture Richard Ponter
Whitby Draw Bridge .Picture Richard Ponter

Last Friday, January 17, was the 191st anniversary of the founding meeting of Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society.

This was held in the old Town Hall, in the Market Place on Church Street, and from it came the decision to establish Whitby Museum which opened in September of that year, 1823.

At this first meeting in the room above the spiral stair, 46 men signed up as founder members.

Then as now, to reach Church Street meant crossing the bridge, the earliest reference to which is probably that of ‘shops near the bridge-foot’ in a will of 1327.

Later sources refer to repairs or damage, so nothing new there.

This model shows the last of the old drawbridges which crossed the river; this one cost £3,000 and stood from 1766 until 1835 when the first swing bridge was built.

The leaves were lifted with counterweights and chains which were always tangling in rigging, and many a vessel collided with the leaves or the supports even in relatively smooth weather.

At thirty-two feet, the opening of the 1766 bridge was greater than its predecessor, which had been weakened in 1746 when pieces were removed to allow Benjamin Coates’ new vessel to pass when it was realised, at the launch, that the ship was too large to go through.

In 1830 it was from this bridge that the driver of a hearse, John Brown, was blown into the harbour, never to be seen again.

The model was made by, or for, Francis Pickernell, who was employed as surveyor of the harbour, and who would build the swing bridge in 1835 having constructed the west pier lighthouse in 1831.