Explore #234 on 18-09-12
Another offering from our recent visit to the East Coast of North Yorkshire, this is a wider view of Robin Hoods Bay.
The origin of the name is uncertain, and it is doubtful if Robin Hood was ever in the vicinity. An English ballad and legend tell a story of Robin Hood encountering French pirates who came to pillage the fisherman's boats and the northeast coast. The pirates surrendered and Robin Hood returned the loot to the poor people in the village that is now called Robin Hood's Bay.
By about 1000 the neighbouring hamlet of Raw and village of Thorpe (Fylingthorpe) in Fylingdales had been settled by Norwegians and Danes. After the Norman Conquest in 1069 much land in the North of England, including Fylingdales, was laid waste. William the Conqueror gave Fylingdales to Tancred the Fleming who later sold it to the Abbot of Whitby. The earliest settlements were about a mile inland at Raw but by about 1500 a settlement had grown up on the coast. "Robin Hoode Baye" was first mentioned by Leland in 1536 who described it as, "A fischer tounlet of 20 bootes with Dok or Bosom of a mile yn length.
In the 16th century Robin Hood's Bay was a more important port than Whitby, it is described by a tiny picture of tall houses and an anchor on old North Sea charts published by Waghenaer in 1586 and now in Rotterdam's Maritime Museum. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, Whitby Abbey and its lands became the property of King Henry VIII with King Street and King’s Beck dating from this time.
The town, which consists of a maze of tiny streets, has a tradition of smuggling, and there is reputed to be a network of subterranean passageways linking the houses. During the late 18th century smuggling was rife on the Yorkshire coast. Vessels from the continent brought contraband which was distributed by contacts on land and the operations were financed by syndicates who made profits without the risks taken by the seamen and the villagers. Tea, gin, rum, brandy and tobacco were among the contraband smuggled into Yorkshire from the Netherlands and France to avoid the duty.
In 1773 two excise cutters, the Mermaid and the Eagle, were outgunned and chased out of the bay by three smuggling vessels, a schooner and two shallops. A pitched battle between smugglers and excise men took place in the dock over 200 casks of brandy and geneva (gin) and 15 bags of tea in 1779.
Fishing and lifeboats
Fishing and farming were the original occupations followed by generations of Bay folk. Fishing reached its peak in the mid 19th century, fishermen used the coble for line fishing in winter and a larger boat for herring fishing. Fish was loaded into panniers and men and women walked or rode over the moorland tracks to Pickering or York. Many houses in the village were built between 1650 and 1750 and whole families were involved in the fishing industry. Many families owned or part owned cobles. Later some owned ocean going craft.
A plaque in the town records that a brig named "Visitor" ran aground in Robin Hood's Bay on 18 January 1881 during a violent storm. In order to save the crew, the lifeboat from Whitby was pulled 6 miles overland by 18 horses, with the 7 feet deep snowdrifts present at the time cleared by 200 men. The road down to the sea through Robin Hood's Bay village was narrow and had awkward bends, and men had to go ahead demolishing garden walls and uprooting bushes to make a way for the lifeboat carriage. It was launched two hours after leaving Whitby, with the crew of the Visitor rescued on the second attempt.
The main legitimate activity had always been fishing, but this started to decline in the late 19th century. These days most of its income comes from tourism. Robin Hood's Bay is also famous for the large number of fossils which may be found on its beach.