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Dora Walker and Whitby

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Skipper Dora was an extraordinary woman. She refused to let her gender or rules stand in her way becoming the first female fishing boat skipper on the North East coast. An inspiration to many, she stands weaved in steel on the West Cliff as part of Emma Stothard’s Sculpture Trail, an artist who designed our stunning Silver Darlings collection. Defying all stereotypes, she earned respect and admiration from fellow male seafarers who initially thought she wasn’t up for the gruelling task. Proving them wrong she is a remarkable person who lived an impressive life of courage, determination and kindness. But how did Dora end up in Whitby and living the life of a skipper? Let’s find out. 


About Dora Muriel Walker


Born in the summer of 1890 to John and Mary Walker in Mirfield, Yorkshire, her wealthy family were in the textile manufacturing business. Following her own path, Dora bravely signed up as a volunteer nurse to care for the soldiers fighting in France and Belgium serving at the Queen of the Belgians Hospital at La Panne and the Duchess of Sutherland’s Hospital at St Omer where she looked after the injured until the war came to an end. 


Her relocation to Whitby was due to her diagnosis with bronchial problems. The doctors advised for her to live closer to the sea and our fishing town was the chosen coastline, which held many happy memories from her childhood. After buying a cottage in Whitby she became very interested in fishing and would regularly join her brother James and local fisherman, Bobby Harland and John Robert Storr as they went about their duties. 




Dora and Whitby


It wasn’t long before Dora commissioned for her own boat to be made at William Clarkson’s Dock End Yard. She named her Good Faith and soon fished as a skipper with Lawrie Murfield. Initially, the respond to a female skipper wasn’t positive yet they soon believed in her capabilities. Her impressive navigational skills and the way she handled long lines and crab pots was admired by the community. 


The threat of World War II didn’t stop her from heading out to sea. Armed with a pistol in her belt and a tin hat left unused on the bench, Dora continued to fish and was the only woman skipper who had a license in the north Sea during the second war. Her contribution was very much needed with many fisherman called into the Royal Navy during this time. 


Her dedication to the fishing industry and the Whitby community was strong. After the war when families were struggling, she secretly set up a fish company with her two brothers with the aim of buying fish from the locals at a reasonable price. They regularly sold at a loss but it was important to her that these families didn’t lose their honour and pride. It was only after her death in 1980 aged 90, that this act of kindness was uncovered. Her ashes were scattered at sea, where she belongs. 


Throughout her life, she authored three books with one sharing her experiences in WW1 and two focusing on fishing in Whitby, which are They labour Mightily and Freemen of the Sea. 




In 1946, she was offered the role of curator of the Shipping section of Whitby Museum. Six years later, she became Vice President of the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society and President of the Ladies Lifeboat Guild. She didn’t stop there and in 1953 she became the Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and then the Keeper of the Whitby Museum.


Is there anything this remarkable woman couldn’t do. She was and still is an inspiration to everyone who is told they can’t do something. Not only did she do it but she did it so well and we couldn’t prouder of her link to our seaside town. You can now find a blue plaque in her honour at No 36 The Cragg which Dora once called her home. 


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