Ancient pier may be oldest in the world

The wreck of the Dmitry on Tate Hill Sands, just one of the events in the area's long history
The wreck of the Dmitry on Tate Hill Sands, just one of the events in the area's long history

The forgotten story of one of Whitby’s oldest features is set to be unveiled this summer.

Tate Hill Pier was first recorded in 1190 and the beach beside it gained worldwide fame when it featured in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

A pier has stood at Tate Hill since 1190

A pier has stood at Tate Hill since 1190

However, few visitors are aware of the true history of the pier and Whitby Town Council has decided to tell its story through the installation of a new information board.

Councillor Phil Trumper has a great affection for the Tate Hill area and he hosts regular beach cleans on the sands, with another planned for this Sunday. He has played an important role in the information board project, which will appear in a similar form as to that erected besides Whitby’s war memorial on Dock End.

He explained that Tate Hill Pier is one of the most important structures in the development of Whitby as a port, adding: “You are looking at something that’s potentially older than Whitby Abbey.”

The pier marked the first entrance to Whitby harbour and a loose structure of stones, bound together by a wooden frame, is first mentioned in 1190. However, with seafarers using the port for hundreds of years prior to this, the original pier is potentially much older.

Cllr Trumper said: “If you are looking at when the Saxons and Vikings came to Whitby, they would have to have had some sort of defence from the sea if they were using that part of the port to protect the boats.”

Long before the familiar East and West Piers were constructed, Tate Hill Pier marked the entrance to Whitby Harbour. At one point it was called Burgess Pier, presumably a reference to the family which paid for its construction.

In 1632 Sir Hugh Cholmley had the pier rebuilt in stone, while it was lengthened to 105 yards in 1766.

Then, between 1822 and 1863, Whitby’s lifeboat was housed at the pier.

“The amount of pictures and paintings of the town, it’s got to be one of the most photographed piers in the country,” added Cllr Trumper. “We felt the pier was not being utilised as much as it should be, and it was being ignored. We want to bring it up to standard and highlight the fact that it’s an important part of the town in its history, and it will remain so going forward.”

In August 1885 the most famous event in Tate Hill’s history took place when the Russian vessel Dimitry of Narva ran aground on the sands.

The visiting author Bram Stoker would use the wreck as an inspiration for a horror story he was writing, which would be published two years later.

In ‘Dracula’ he renamed the ship the Demeter of Varna, and even mentions the pier directly: “It so happened that there was no one at the moment on Tate Hill Pier, as all those whose houses are in close proximity were either in bed or were out on the heights above.”

Before the storyboard can be installed, further meetings must be held to seek consent, as the pier is a Listed Building.

The exact location is yet to be determined as the pier is used in emergencies and for access.

Scarborough Borough Council’s Harbour Board has also given its support to the information board.

Information to be included on the board has been gathered from Whitby Lit and Phil Society, as well as the books ‘Whitby Time Line’ by Alan Appleton, ‘History of Whitby’ by George Young and ‘The Book of Whitby’, by Rosalin Barker.