Little Yellow Cottage – Update 17 – Demolition and the Value of the WC

So lovely peeps of Whitby and beyond.

I’ve regaled you of the wars and momentous rescues but I stopped before the greatest threat to my existence that came in the 1950s when the government passed a law that made money available for slum clearance.

“That’s good”, I hear you say!

Well, it is if the buildings that you intend to demolish are not representative of the life of the town and they are in real disrepair.

If we use the latter criteria then the last decade would have seen me off. There are no grants for listed buildings, we need someone with cash, love, enthusiasm and with the tradesmen on board with what is meant to be achieved.

Church Street

Let’s go back to when the Victorian age gave way to the Edwardians and Adalina Patti wowed the listening masses with,” The Last Rose of Summer” through the trumpet of the gramophone (well the odd few who could afford them) I, along with the beautiful houses on Boulby Bank were in our prime.

There was much in front of us of course, Church Street was flanked with houses and businesses on both sides. There were wonderful communities that thrived and supported each other in close knit units that occupied the houses in ‘yards’ where sometimes even the toilets were communal and I’ll come to that a little later.

Click on any image to see it full size.

The Esk flowed as a tidal river some two hundred yards from my door with cottages, wharves and ship repair yards on the one side complemented with pubs, forges, shops, the odd bakery and lots of cottages stretching up the bank on the other side of the street. All was well, trade and development were brisk and people happy.

As the century progressed there were wars, wrecks (and rescues), flooding, good times and Church Street went from being the beating heart of Whitby to a neglected element as money was spent at the other side of the Esk to cater for visitors on West Cliff and along that side of the river. 

As the fight between demand and money tussled with the whims of those making the decisions there was much redevelopment in the area between Church Street and the Esk which resulted in the loss of many of the buildings. The harbour swallowed up the houses and businesses as it edged towards my front door. At one time there were planks to my front that acted as a walkway over the dark water of the dock. At this time there was a high risk of flooding and my occupants would be ready with sandbags and buckets, sometimes sitting through the night ready to pale the seawater back into the dock. It didn’t happen often but I could feel the anxiety as they discussed the line-up of the moon and planets together with the crude sailors’ predictions for the weather. They knew fairly well when the tide would be high but there was less certainty with the wind direction. If the wind was strong and from the North and the tide predicted to be high then the combined pull of the planets and the push from the seaward fetch of the water combined to create major floods along the low-lying streets of Whitby.

If the gods were really angry and storms had been drenching the moors above the town for a few days or a sudden thaw was melting the snow at such a rate that the heather would generously release it together with all of the water that it had sponged and frozen throughout the winter; then the real cataclysmic floods would happen as moon, planets and wind contrived to push the sea up the Esk and the Esk countered by attempting to deliver the contents of the moors to the sea.

There’d be foam and brackish water blowing along the streets and frantic efforts by occupants to dam its path. For many, it would be futile and the following weeks would be filled with mopping, drying, removing sand, replacing wooden floors and, in some cases, looking for the source of the stench which would usually be related to the rotting corpse of some sea or river life that had been deposited under a floor or behind a wall.

When Church Street was re-established, it was made much higher to reduce the likelihood of floods and I now have three steps down to my living room. Traffic returned. In the early part of the century, it was hand-carts, horse-drawn carts, and horse-drawn carriages but they gave way to motorcars, vans, wagons and charabancs with visitors craning their necks to see the jawbones on the cliff and excited children desperate to be the one to get the first glimpse of the sea.

Boulby Bank

Boulby Bank cottages were built at a ninety-degree angle to Church Street and rose at quite a rake up the bank. They were brick built with pantile roofs and were accessed via wooden stairs and verandas. As the Victorian period became the Edwardian years the row was in good condition and the allotments in front of them were either used for food and, where they were overgrown, the children would play hide and seek in the grass and bracken.

 In the 1940s and 50s they were neglected and the weather had taken its toll but a more enlightened period may have taken a different approach to what happened in 1958. The wrecking ball was sent swinging against the two-hundred-year-old bricks and within a few days the rubble was ready for carting away.

I managed to escape the swinging ball of destruction by virtue of a water closet. Apparently, one of the criteria for the decision to demolish was whether the building had mains sewage and as I had been a pub, I did meet the criteria and was saved. Many of the cottages had a plank with a hole cut in it.

Under this wonderful toilet seat there would be an oblong tin about the size of a tin bath. It was housed in a small, unheated brick building at the end of the yard and may well have been shared with the other houses. This was clearly the reason for the pot under the bed (sometimes referred to as a guzzunder) after all, who would want to leave the house in the middle of a cold and snowy winter night in a dressing gown with a storm lantern to light the way! Even a gentleman of generous dimensions would find it difficult to find his object of attention in temperatures of minus ten with snow and sleet blowing in under the three-quarter length door. I would add that the more sophisticated of these planks had two holes cut in so that both you and a friend could sit together and chat whilst errr, ‘sitting’, well I think that’s how it’s spelt! At least it would cut down on queuing.

Anyway, I’m still here in 1959.

…and still enjoying life in this picture with the shop next door and Majors’ Bakery next to that this time in the 1960s.

During that decade and after another change of hands I had a new fireplace fitted with a back boiler and the family now had hot water on tap, so to speak. There was also a lot of activity on my interior walls when plastic and cement were used to try to stem the moisture that was beginning to permeate what had been an internal wall but after the demolition of the forge next door it was left exposed to the elements.

The temporary cement fix had the desired effect but only for a short period of time as the cement stopped my walls from breathing and the plastic hid the smell for many years. There was also a fashion for the use of plywood faced with a fake wooden veneer that gave the impression of stylish and sophisticated wood panelling, all of this combined to hide what was becoming an issue especially after the new apartments were built next door.

During the 1970s more building happened and demolition seemed to abate and I get new neighbours.

To be continued…

Please feel free to share or comment, I love comments.

With love, The Little Yellow Cottage xx

3 thoughts on “Little Yellow Cottage – Update 17 – Demolition and the Value of the WC”

  1. I spoke to you yesterday outside the cottage and you suggested I read your posts and found them informative and inspiring as I own 21 Church Street. You are doing a great job not only with the building but the social history too. I look forward to reading more.


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