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Betwixt and Between

Updated: Oct 26, 2022

We are wrapping up loose ends in Littlebeck, and as usual we’re disappointed by all the things we didn’t get to visit during this sit. I had Big Items on my sightseeing hit list that simply couldn’t fit in amongst all the other obligations we had: Robin taught quite a bit; the car went into the shop three times for trivial repairs; I took classes, attended Zoom lectures, made two Zoom presentations of my own that demanded a lot of prep, and moved the latest issue of Psychological Perspectives off my plate. It’s all been a handful, and an annoying distraction from my hit list. Harrumphhh!

I’ve broken out my Halloween headbands to wear as we move betwixt and between—the next couple of weeks are going to be bumpy and interesting (stay tuned!). We’re including quite a few bonus video links this week in an experiment to broaden our media range.

A few local sights needed to be taken in at Littlebeck before departing.

I decided to break out my gimbal as we took a stroll down the hill into the village. Robin narrated a 20-minute video as we walked down the hill and took in the sights. You can view the whole thing here:

Our ultimate destination was the tiny Methodist church. I wanted to take a look at a wood carving above the altar.

The secret of the woodcarving is in the little gnome tucked down in the right-hand corner. It’s the “signature” of Thomas Whittaker, a woodcarver, who lived in Littlebeck in the mid-20th century. Referred to as “gnome-man,” he included the gnome in all of his carvings to honor the Celtic myth that a gnome was born every time an acorn sprouts to grow into a new tree.

I narrated a short 2:28 video inside the church, which includes a nice closeup of the gnome:

The studio of these woodcarvers is en route to the church:

A 1:35 section of an old British Pathé documentary featuring Whittaker implies this was indeed his home. If you want to see the man at work, the YouTube link is here:

I also snapped a picture of the famous “blue plaque” on the front of the home where we’re staying:

The plaque commemorates Nicholas Postgate, a Catholic priest, who was executed for practicing Catholicism in the 17th century. He was staying in this farmhouse at the time of his capture. Here’s Robin giving a 2:38 guided tour of the site:

During the week we made a special trip into Whitby to see the swing bridge in operation. This bridge was built in 1909 to allow ships to travel up and down the river Esk as well as allowing vehicular traffic to cross it. The bridge opens for ships every half hour around the time of high tide but stays closed most of the time to allow cars and pedestrians free access to both halves of the village.

Here is the boat, and here is the bridge…

And here is a 4:07 YouTube video Robin narrated of the boat going through the bridge!

We made another trip into Whitby on Saturday to catch a few things we’d missed. On the way into town, we made a point of shooting a 1:53 video of Robin’s favorite scenic drive. I learned to use my gimbal in preparation for this documentary, and you can take the ride along with us here:

I was interested in learning about Whitby jet, so we took a stroll through the “shambles.” (I’m not a hunchback; the wind was blowing my hoodie up behind me.)

I learned the regard with which royalty and aristocracy held jet during the early modern period was akin to that of pearls and diamonds. It was worn with class and elegance by noblewomen who were keen to portray a pious and modest image during a period of conflicting religious views and political unrest throughout 16th century England. Black jet jewelry conveyed dignified elegance in a troubled age when warring religions were tearing the country apart.

Whitby jet was used prolifically as mourning jewelry throughout the 19th century, and the trend was increased by Queen Victoria, who chose to wear it to represent her feelings of loss after the death of Prince Albert. When George IV died in 1830, the Lord Chamberlain's office issued a decree stating the exact type of mourning attire to be worn by the court, and it ended with the categorical statement “the ornament will be jet.” At this point, Whitby jet went from being something worn because it was fashionable to something worn as part of an almost obligatory uniform.

Often large jet jewelry items were carved with the ornate letters IMO—no, not “in my opinion,” but rather “In Memory Of.”

This little mannequin gives one a sense of what a lady in mourning from that era would be dressed in, not to overlook her petite size. Unfortunately, she is not adorned with any jet. Instead, the jet is all arrayed inside the wonderfully educative museum exhibition to my left.

Jet is a form of fossilized wood from the Araucaria tree that flourished in what is now Europe over 180 million years ago. Age and pressure turned the wood into a jet-black gemstone-like material that can be carved, polished, and made into jewelry and other items. Although it is found in other parts of the world, Whitby has particularly abundant seams of it in the shale cliffs that overlook the North Sea.

During the Victorian era, some 1,400 men worked in jet-related businesses when the population of Whitby was barely in excess of 4,000, meaning the industry employed one third of the population. With employment figures so high it was obviously a huge industry for Victorian Whitby; and with an equivalent turnover of over 3 million pounds in today’s terms, it was a major economic force in the community.

The signage below displays the multiple phases jet jewelry manufacturing goes through in a workshop before each product reaches completion, and the sign is mounted on a building containing the last Victorian jet workshop of the 200 that existed in Whitby at the height of the jet industry.

This workshop was discovered by chance in the attic of a derelict property when a local builder purchased the property and knocked a wall down for the purpose of renovation. To his amazement, he discovered the perfectly preserved workshop in situ, which had been completely sealed inside the building.

It is the only complete workshop to have been discovered, and provides unique insights into the working conditions and methods of the day. We can see the order of work or production line (as shown by the sign), the tools and compounds that were used, and also gain insight into the social history through the artifacts that were present in the workshop. The whole shebang was carefully moved to the current premises in 1996 in order to make this important piece of heritage accessible to the public.

Because it was nearby, we decided to grab a photo of the famous 199 steps that lead up to Whitby Abbey. These are the 199 steps that were portrayed in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Faithful Christians living in Whitby would climb these steps every Sunday to worship at St. Mary’s church, adjacent to the Abbey. Funeral processions would also carry the coffin up these steps, which was quite a tiring process, so there are several rest stops along the length of the stairway. Each rest stop has a broad wooden bench upon which the coffin could be rested while the pallbearers regained their strength ready to tackle the next section.

Departing the 199 steps, we hightailed it back over the swing bridge to the other side of town to visit our next site. The wind was blowing so hard on the bridge that I nearly mooned everybody in a “Marilyn Monroe moment.”

Our next destination was the Whitby Museum, which I had heard was small but mighty, a conclusion I quickly came into agreement with.

To get there, we meandered our way through the attached Pannett Art Gallery first, which features a fine selection of beautiful art, including a couple of charming Pre-Raphaelite tapestries.

I was especially taken by this view of Whitby as executed by Richard Weatherill titled “The Haven under the Hill.” The sight of the abbey ruins looming in the background makes it a magical landscape in my opinion.

The whole family were artists, the children trained by their father, and their combined paintings document Whitby’s evolution over time.

More of the Weatherills’ works may be found here:

From the gallery, we ambled on into the museum.

As one might expect, the museum had an extensive exhibition of Whitby jet in various forms. This was one of 3 enormous cabinets displaying examples, not to mention elaborate chessboards and other items too large for a cabinet.

Upstairs, one corner of the museum was dedicated to showing the renowned woodworking talents of both Robert Thompson and Thomas Whittaker. Robin narrated a 2:06 video about it here:

This eccentric little museum had a magnificent collection of dinosaur fossils, which I found quite impressive. For instance, they featured the most perfect specimen known of a crocodile fossil (Teleosaurus Chapmani) that had been found in the year 1824 near Whitby.

A couple of huge Ichthyosaurus fossils line the walls on display amongst other artifacts as well—a remarkable collection of prehistoric life.

The museum claims the first dinosaur tracks recorded in Great Britain were found near Whitby in 1907, and a slab showing these footprints has now been on display in the Whitby Museum for over 100 years.

Perhaps the most interesting (read “notorious”) item in the museum is the “Hand of Glory.” This unusual item came to the museum in 1935. A Hand of Glory is basically a mummified hand—usually severed off a hanged felon, cut off while the body was still hanging from the gibbet.

They were used for nefarious purposes. When used as a holder for a lighted candle, it was supposed to put sleepers into a trance from which they could not be awakened until the candle went out—something any burglar would find advantage in!

Let those who rest more deeply sleep; Let those awake their vigils keep; Oh, Hand of Glory, shed thy light; Direct us to our spoil tonight.

Examples of Hand of Glory usage have been noted all over Europe for around 400 years, and several local legends of attempted burglaries have survived, although one young man was caught stealing into his unwilling girlfriend’s bed using a hand of glory.

Once again, Robin narrated a 1:36 video about the Hand of Glory here:

We hoped to make one final visit to York for a last hurrah on Sunday, but Robin had some commitments blow up at the last minute, so it doesn’t look as though that will happen. We are devoting the day to cleaning, packing, and tying up loose ends.

It has been an honor and a privilege sitting for this homeowner, who has embarked on a heroine’s journey of her own as the costume designer for the opera Asrael that is being put on in Bonn, Germany.

If you would like to view some marvelous photos from their rehearsals (and enjoy Sue’s remarkable costuming work), click the right arrow in the top right to access the slideshow through 25 images, or click the arrow on the right mid-screen to page through the images manually:

My own proudest accomplishment during this sit was that of domesticating the cats in my care. Here is a wonderful example of what I achieved with these semi-feral creatures:

I love how two of the cats are looking at Mackerel as if to say, “Geez, you look like a dork!”

That gray furry throw is a present I bought for them and shall leave behind when we go. Mackerel fell in love with my terrycloth bathrobe during our last visit and I couldn’t bear to deprive him of it. So I bought him one to be his very own. (I hope he likes the throw as much as he liked my robe!)

Because this is our third time sitting at this location, I didn’t want to make yet another “Welcome Home” sign… so I changed it up and did something different:

In case it isn’t obvious, that’s one “Mom!” per cat (with a cat outline sketched on each of them).

Robin let me know I should have put “Mum!” instead, since that’s what the UK uses, but supposed the owner will forgive me because she knows I’m American.

We should be busier sightseeing in the next couple of weeks as we move through our Betwixt and Between time. It will be interesting to see how many balls we can keep up in the air.

Check in next week to see how we do.

warmly, -Dr. Vicky Jo

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