Some history on Bakehouse Cottage
In present Form 1952
In England, there is nowhere else quite like the town of Whitby. In Whitby, there is no yard quite like Bakehouse Yard and in Bakehouse Yard there is no other cottage quite like Bakehouse Cottage. In and around this modest but dignified house, history has swirled and eddied as the tides of fortune and disaster have ebbed and flowed. What follows is an attempt to recreate something of the history of this cottage.
In 1777, just behind the sandbank, where the coal ships known as colliers are beached, a road has grown up lined with houses selling beer to the ever-thirsty coal haulers. Because it runs towards a cleft in the rocky cliffs behind it, known as a Hag, it has been called the Haggersgate. It is behind one of these inns that a barrel maker, Francis Hart, and his wife Esther, purchase a large strip of land that already has an old Hall-House built on it. The structure is ideal, as the living accommodation is on the first floor, with an open ground floor.
Things are going well for Whitby, and that means business is also flourishing for Francis and Esther. Whitby ships are increasingly sought after and their ever-lengthening voyages require ever increasing quantities of casks and barrels from the coopers of Whitby.
Francis and Esther’s daughter, Margaret, falls in love with a shoemaker and the kind-hearted parents not only build them a house but also a shop where young Henry Meadows can sell his wares. Esther then had the idea of building a tunnel directly from the yard to the harbour and in the floor of the shop a cellar was cut from the rock. Many others cut similar tunnels for various uses; it was not an unusual construction for Whitby at the time.
It seems that Margaret has little in common with her parents. In her new house that her father builds for her she insists on a grandiose fireplace in the west gable wall. It remains today, standing behind the west wall in the basement room of No. 2.
In 1792 John Galilee, the owner of the Star Inn and from whom Francis and Esther had both borrowed money and purchased the land and the Hall-House, dies. The new owner of the Inn is not like old John; he’s a brash man with an eye to business and it is not long before the Press Gang had made the Star their base of operations. The tunnel from Henry’s shop was ideal to spirit the unfortunate men away to the harbour and off to sea without too much fuss in the street. However, this cosy little arrangement did not last for long and one night in 1793 a riot broke out at the Star Inn. The landlord was lynched and his Inn set fire to.
This was a major disaster for the close-packed Georgian town of Whitby. Soon not only the Inn but the Bakehouse and Henry’s shop were going up in flames. The fire quickly spread across the narrow Haggersgate, fanned by the wind. Margaret and Henry get Francis to re-build their shop, but Margaret feels that her station in life as an heiress and a shopkeeper’s wife requires a far more substantial structure than she had before. Using the remains of her fire-damaged first home, she sees to the building of a fine two-storied house with her grand fireplace forgotten in a tenement cellar to be rented out.
In all the drama and emotion of the riot and re-building, the little matter of £450.00 still owing on the mortgage for the property seems to have been forgotten by all but John Galilee’s successors.
In 1811 old Francis dies, Esther having passed away before him. Margaret is now mistress of all, along with Henry of course. However, she is not her mother’s daughter and, while Esther watched over her husband’s steadily increasing fortunes, her daughter seems oblivious to current trends. The war has ended with France, “the trade” is decreasing, the whole town is depressed and things are going from bad to worse.
Then, one terrible day in 1840, the end arrives. The trust fund for the child by the name of Appleton Stephenson has inherited the mortgage that Margaret has now completely forgotten all about. If times had been hard before, they are far worse now and the trustees of the fund press the Meadow’s for repayment, the mortgage having grown with interest to £500.00. The ageing Meadows’ lose their house, their shop and even their treasured pew in the local church.
However, Stephenson’s trustees themselves are still in trouble for, although they sell off the shops and a garden, they cannot find anyone with enough money to purchase Margaret’s fine house and the old Hall-House belonging to Esther and Francis. After Margaret’s death, when things are once more improving in Whitby, Stephenson manages to sell the property to George Brown, a plumber and glazier. He turns the old Hall-House into a modern home, and builds a new cottage on the parcel of ground at the western end of the old Hall-House, but No. 2 he largely leaves as it is.
Unfortunately, George Brown dies in 1859 and his widow sells the property to John Cuthard, a grocer, who subsequently sells the house in 1870 to Ann Brown Salter.
Ann, a widow, then married a Welshman by the grand name of David Cynwyd Davies who soon approached the shipbuilding heiress, Harriet Langbourne, for a loan of £200.00. With this loan, Davies improves Nos. 3 & 4 Bakehouse Yard; he re-roofs them, re-floors them and puts in new windows and doors. After borrowing another £100.00 from the Langbourne family, he is pressed for repayment and subsequently declared bankrupt with the result that Ann loses the house and the Langbournes insist on an immediate sale.
The new owner is William Coates, a member of another wealthy shipbuilding family. He however, has not followed the family into shipbuilding but manufactures the new, highly fashionable jet ornaments. Unfortunately, the prosperity of the jet trade did not last far beyond the death of Queen Victoria and when, some thirty-five years later, William’s widow sells the property to the wife of a man working for the railway company, it is less than half the price her late husband had paid the Langbournes.
Still, it is another Whitby woman who purchases Bakehouse Cottage, namely Mary Elizabeth Miller, who has a legal deed drawn up making it abundantly clear that she was the owner and not her husband. They remained living there until their deaths and in 1952 she passed away leaving the house to her son and his wife. The days of dramatic rises and falls in personal situations have now passed and Bakehouse Cottage is sold on.