Whitby is a town in North Yorkshire on the north-east coast of England. It is a fishing port, has a large tourist trade and it also holds the Whitby Gothic Weekend event twice a year.
Whitby is situated at the mouth of the River Esk and spreads up the steep sides of the narrow valley carved out by the river's course. Many fossils have been found in the Whitby area including entire skeletons of pterodactyls. It is also known for its well preserved ammonite fossils. The black mineral jet also known as black amber, is found in the cliffs around Whitby and has been used since the Bronze Age to make beads and other jewellery. Whitby jet was at the peak of its popularity in the mid-19th century, especially after it was favoured as mourning jewellery by Queen Victoria.
In about 657, Oswiu or Oswy, the Christian king of Northumbria, fulfilled a vow by founding a monastery there. Faced in 655 with the mighty army of Penda, the pagan king of Mercia, which greatly outnumbered his own, Oswiu asked God to grant him victory, promising to consecrate his infant daughter Ælflæda to the service of God and to give land to found monasteries. Penda and most of his nobles were killed in the battle. Oswiu honoured his pledges by granting 12 small estates for monasteries to be built. One of them was at Streanæshealh, later known as Whitby Abbey. This was the house that Ælflæda herself entered as a pupil and of which she later became abbess. In 867, Danish Vikings landed two miles west of Whitby at Raven's Hill, and moved on to attack the settlement and to destroy the monastery. It was only after the Norman Conquest of 1066 that William de Percy ordered that the monastery be refounded in 1078, dedicating it to St. Peter and St. Hilda. Later it became Presteby then Hwytby; next Whiteby, and finally Whitby.
At the end of the 16th century, Thomas Chaloner of York traveled to Italy and visited the alum works in the Papal States. He recognised that the rock from which the alum was made was identical to that abundant in several areas in and around his Guisborough estate in North Yorkshire. Alum was a very important product at that time, used internationally, in curing leather, fixing dyed cloths and for medicinal uses. Up to this period the Vatican had maintained a virtual monopoly on the production and sale of the product. Chaloner secretly brought some of the Pope's workmen to England, and over the following years developed a thriving alum industry in Yorkshire.
Whitby was the site of the Rohilla disaster of October 30, 1914; when the hospital ship Rohilla was sunk, either by running aground, or hitting a mine; accounts differ, within sight of shore just off Whitby. Eighty-five people lost their lives in the disaster; most of them are buried in a churchyard at Whitby. Also in 1914, Whitby was shelled by German battle cruisers Von der Tann and Derfflinger, aiming for the signal post on the end of the headland. Scarborough and Hartlepool were also attacked. Whitby Abbey sustained considerable damage during the attack.