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Charles Dickens and Whitby

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We thought it was the perfect time of year to explore Charles Dickens’ connection to Whitby with 'A Christmas Carol' being a very popular novel of his. As you are probably already aware, Whitby has inspired many famous writers and poets such as Bram Stoker (Dracula) and Lewis Carrol (Alice in Wonderland) to name just a few. Dickens may have a little less association with our seaside town but there certainly is evidence that he travelled to North Yorkshire, which definitely made a striking impression on the writer. Let’s investigate further. 



His Appreciation For Yorkshire


Due to his success, Dickens had the opportunity to travel the country. His time on the road was a constant source of inspiration with his pen and notebook never far from hand. It is thought that Squeers a character from ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ was influenced by a headmaster he came across during a visit to Yorkshire to look into the conditions of schools - he was very concerned about the issues that the working class faced and regularly raised them in his novels. 


He became friends with Charles Smithson whose family practised law in Malton (a short distance to Whitby). When his older brother and father sadly passed away, Smithson returned to the market town to run the business. It is believed that this building inspired Scrooge’s counting-house in ‘A Christmas Carol.’ In 1843, Dickens enjoyed a three week visit observing the North Yorkshire countryside - “all day long I cantered over such moss and turf that the horse’s feet scarcely made a sound upon it” 


Upon Smithson’s death, Lord Normanby invited him to stay at Mulgrave Castle where he was shown the sights including a visit to Whitby Abbey. He was truly fond of the beautiful sights that North Yorkshire offered and a much needed respite from busy London life. 



A Letter to Wilkie Collins


“In my time that curious railroad by the Whitby Moor was so much the more curious, that you were balanced against a counter-weight of water, and that you did it like Blondin. But in these remote days the one inn of Whitby was up a back-yard, and oyster-shell grottoes were the only view from the best private room.”


In his letter to his good friend English novelist and playwright, William Wilkie Collins, Dickens mentions his time spent at Whitby. Historians believe that the  A Tale of Two Cities author is writing about the ‘North Yorkshire Moors Railway’ and how it made him feel uneasy. He compares it to the act of daring French tightrope walker and acrobat Charles Blondin who was famous for his impressive stunts one being crossing Niagara Falls. At the time the carriage was horse drawn and as he describes it quite the experience. The inn where he stayed is believed to have been The White Horse and Griffin, one of the oldest properties still in operation on the Old East Side of Whitby. 


The White Horse and Griffin 



If you are visiting our unique town, lunch at The White Horse and Griffin is a must. Sit in the same four walls as famous literary names and explorers such as Captain James Cook and William Scoresby. It was here that adventurers would hire their crew for their latest expedition and the likes of Charles Dickens booked the best private room after a nerve wracking journey on the train. We have local builder, Stewart Perkins to thank for his sympathetic restoration of a derelict building that closed decades earlier in 1939 on the day of the Battle of the River Plate during a Naval Battle in WWII. For many years it was mostly used as storage for local fisherman’s nets and pots. In 1982, Perkins acquired the building and honoured it’s heritage during the 11 year restoration process capturing the authentic feel of what the inn once was. 


Opening in 1993, the White Horse and Griffin is built around an impressive restaurant that is well known for its delicious menu. As you enter take a chance to admire the restored central porch entrance that features it’s original decorative panels and the exposed Victorian signage through the cobbled alleyway. 


...and whilst you're on Church Street pop in and see us! Our Whitby Jet jewellery is the perfect treat whilst visiting the town. 


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