19th Century Whitby: The Photos of Frank Meadow Sutcliffe

I found an article online about this Victorian portrait photographer. He took hundreds of photos of the English fishing port and tourist town of Whitby, in the 1880s. Whitby is in Yorkshire, and is still incredibly popular with tourists to this day. The town also inspired Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, and is the setting for Dracula arriving after a Russian ship is wrecked nearby. It was also the home of the famous explorer, Captain James Cook.

I have visited the town a couple of times, and enjoyed the delicious fish and chips sold there. Whitby is also known for the sale of Jet jewellery. Jet is a gemstone made from decaying wood under extreme pressure. It’s a type of coal-substance that washes up on the beaches of Whitby that’s approximately 182 million years old.

Here are some of Frank’s wonderful sepia photographs.
(They can be fully enlarged by clicking on them, and the detail is superb.)

Fish sellers at the harbour.

A member of the Lifeboat crew wearing a cork life-jacket.

A ‘smoke-break’.

Steam-tug towing a larger vessel into harbour.

Ships at anchor in the harbour. The abbey ruins can be seen on the hill behind.

Farming outside the town.

Local women preparing shellfish on the cobbled street.

More fish-sellers.

The view across the harbour.

A similar view in modern day Whitby. (Uncredited.)

46 thoughts on “19th Century Whitby: The Photos of Frank Meadow Sutcliffe

  1. As you know, Pete, I live just outside Whitby, so I have seen these photos many times! There used to be a shop in the town dedicated to selling reproductions of Sutcliffe’s photos but, somewhat surprisingly, it closed a few years back. A couple of points: the hirsute gentleman wearing the cork lifejacket was Henry Freeman, the only survivor of a tragic lifeboat capsize in 1861, and this was because he was wearing the new lifejacket http://whitbylifeboat.co.uk/1861_remembrance_anniversary.php. Also, I played Bram Stoker for German television a few years back; there was a clip of it on YouTube, but they kept removing it because of “copyright violation”, even though I had express permission to use it! In the end, I gave up trying to get it reinstated, but it is very annoying. Cheers, Jon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guessed you would know these photos of course, Jon. I did read about Henry Freeman, and knew something about the famous Lifeboat disaster, but kept the captions short.
      I also saw a photo of the shop selling the photos, but was not aware it had closed down.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Notes: I’ve read “Dracula” in French translation, so I remember the setting well. I knew about Captain James Cook, obviously, but I wasn’t aware that a monument to him had been built in Kealakekua Bay on the island of Hawaii. Finally, I’d never heard of the jet-black mineraloid, but found some beautiful photos online..
    (1) I’m sold on the idea that Peter Sellers once bought coalfish from the town’s fish sellers.
    (2) If the lifeboat crew in Whitby wears cork life jackets, does the lifeboat crew in Cork wear whitby life jackets?
    (3) This may stoke the flames of controversy, but those men are taking a break between readings of Bram Smoker’s novel!
    (4) That harbor photo tugs at my heartstrings because my heart harbors fond memories of observing ships being tugged into harbors by tugboats.
    (5) From Mina Harker’s diary: “Right over the town is the ruin of Whitby Abbey, which was sacked by the Danes, and which is the scene of part of Marmion, where the girl was built up in the wall. It is a most noble ruin, of immense size, and full of beautiful and romantic bits; there is a legend that a white lady is seen in one of the windows.”
    (6) Hey! I see three horses, two men, and one boy!
    (7) Are those shellfish women generous with the fishermen’s catch?
    (8) Fine! More fish-sellers. But where are the chips-sellers? Shouldn’t they be working side by side?
    (9) Was there once an arbor in the harbor? I’m stumped.
    (10) Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer the dreamy texture of the black and white photos to the mundane clarity of the color photo.

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  3. What great photography. Front end crispness like Ansel Adams, with an ephemeral, almost synthetic depth of field. Not a bad effect for 140 years ago! I’m afraid for villages like this, though. They might flood if someone were to pee in the river.

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  4. I went there once but I didn’t know about the connection to Dracula. These pics are great….those sailing ships…I had not realized they still existed so recently. And that chap in the cork life vest…I know him! (Well his double, anyway)

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        1. I have lived here for 70 years, and there are still places in Britain that I want to visit. I hope I live long enough to do that, though I have actually been to every county in England, large parts of Scotland, and some areas of Wales. I have also been to Northern Ireland, though only to Belfast.
          Best wishes, Pete.


  5. those pics so alive & Capt Cook of course did an amazing & accurate map of NZ in 1769. He was the first to circumnavigate to do that but Abel Tasman discovered a small part in 1642. There is a suburb called Whitby here in honour. I never went there sadly but many Kiwis go there as a pilgrimage i guess.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. These are wonderful. I have been to Whitby a few times and love it. I especially love the picture of the 19th-century member of the Lifeboat crew. My hubby was a member of s LIfeboat crew off the coast of Vancouver for a number of years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well done to your husband, Darlene. He should be proud of his service. As I cannot swim, and I am afraid of deep water, I have supported our lifeboats financially for over 40 years, with regular donations as a member of the RNLI.
      (Royal National Lifeboat Institution.)
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your support is greatly appreciated. He was a member of the CNLI (Canadian National Lifeboat Institution) which was part of the RNLI and later a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary where he was the coxswain of the local lifeboat and trained its members. At one time he went to Invergordon, Scotland and purchased a boat from the RNLI and organized to have it shipped to Vancouver. He did all of this on a volunteer basis. I was very proud of him and helped with fundraising.

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