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Nostalgia: Cholmley’s amass a huge estate

Scarborough Castle still bears the scars of Cholmley's decision to switch sides in the Civil War.
Scarborough Castle still bears the scars of Cholmley's decision to switch sides in the Civil War.

The relations between Whitby and Scarborough were rarely cordial, usually grudging, and sometimes outright hostile. During the Middle Ages, when Whitby was under the thumb of the Benedictine abbot and Scarborough borough prospered commercially under the wing of the Crown, there was no obvious reason for rivalry between them. However, after the closure of the abbey and the confiscation by Henry VIII of all its extensive landed properties from Sandsend to Seamer, the two towns, both in decline, lived uneasily side by side; and the clash of interests became evident only after both began to recover and the Cholmley family effectively succeeded to most of Whitby abbey’s former estate and local authority.

Between 1540, when young Richard Cholmley of Roxby castle (now in Thornton-le-Dale) took out a 21-year lease from Henry VIII of Whitby abbey’s buildings, precinct and demesne, nearly 500 acres on both sides of the Esk, and 1563, when he made his final purchase of the former abbey’s remaining properties, which included Robin Hood’s Bay, Fyling Raw, Fyling Thorpe, Normanby, Thorny and Stoupe Brow, in all about 26,000 acres, he amassed a huge, compact estate for his family.

The Whitby lease of 1540 had been converted into freehold; former monastic lands at Grosmont, Ugglebarnby, Sleights and Aislaby added to them in 1545; and Whitby Laithes, Larpool, Stainsacre, Hawsker and the former abbot’s deer park at Fyling Old Hall followed between 1555 and 1557.

When he died at Ellerburn in 1583, “the great black knight of the North”, Sir Richard Cholmley, controlled virtually all the land and shore-line between Sandsend and Hackness.

Sir Richard’s eldest son and heir, Francis, was the first Cholmley to make Abbey House on Whitby’s windswept East Cliff his family home. After his early death, his widowed step-mother and her son, Henry, finally moved out of Roxby castle and took up permanent residence at Whitby. In effect, Roxby and the Cholmley possessions in Ryedale were abandoned in favour of this new, enormous estate in Whitby Strand.

Only one substantial parcel of the abbey’s lands, the Hackness manor, did not fall into the hands of the Cholmleys. Eventually, Hackness and its dependencies, Silpho, Suffield, Broxa, Langdale End, Everley and Harwood Dale, came into the possession of a southern “carpet-bagger”, Sir Thomas Posthumous Hoby, by way of his marriage to Lady Margaret, its heiress. During his lengthy lordship of Hackness, from 1596 until 1640, Hoby fought a running battle with three generations of the Cholmleys for supremacy in the region, but lost. In 1597, he won one of Scarborough’s seats in the House of Commons yet failed to keep it; subsequently, he had to settle for one of Ripon’s. In Sir Hugh Cholmley (1600-57), grandson of Sir Henry, on the magistrates’ bench and in the Commons, Hoby met his match. From 1620 until 1643, the Cholmleys, not Hoby, represented Scarborough in Parliament when the king chose to call it.

Living in and owning much of Whitby and its hinterland, yet answerable to the electors of Scarborough, presented a problem for the Cholmleys. Twice the alum lobby at Whitby asked both Sir Richard and his son, Sir Hugh, to endorse their petition to parliament for a harbour pier to protect their shipping and riverside warehouses, and on both occasions, under pressure from Scarborough’s Common Hall, they refused. Only when Sir Hugh saw that his own property and economic interests would be advanced by such a pier, did he seek and win approval for a nation-wide collection to finance it. His own son, the second Sir Hugh, eventually designed and built it in the 1650s.

The Civil War between Parliament and King Charles I, which began in 1642, again presented Sir Hugh with an agonising dilemma. Should he stay in Whitby to defend his home, his family, his lands and his tenants, or must he take up a defensive position as military governor of Scarborough and its strategic importance of harbour and castle? In the end, he chose the latter, yet because it turned out to be the losing royalist side he ruined himself and brought down destruction and misery on Scarborough’s people.

To this day, Scarborough still bears the scars caused by his decisions: its great, medieval castle keep is a gaping hole; its parish church, St Mary’s, is only a remnant of its former splendour; and St Thomas the Martyr has only a street and not a church named after him. All three were victims of the siege of 1645 caused by Sir Hugh’s forlorn loyalty to the King and refusal to surrender to Parliament until the last resort. As for Whitby, it never forgave him from deserting it in its hour of greatest need.

The long-term result of Sir Hugh’s stubborn, sacrificial courage was Scarborough’s undying antagonism to him, his family and his Whitby home. At the Restoration in 1660, the Common Hall on Sandside rejected outright an endorsement of any more Cholmleys to represent them in Parliament, so that Sir Hugh’s descendants had to look elsewhere and find seats in Hedon, Aldborough and Boroughbridge. No Cholmley was ever again welcome in Scarborough.

Because Sir Hugh had changed sides during the war from Roundhead to Cavalier, in Scarborough he was called the “Whitby wobbler” and because his son, the second Sir Hugh, designed and built an enormous sea pier at Tangier with Whitby workers, henceforth they were known as “Tangerinos”, which was not intended as a compliment.

By 1700, the commercial rivalry between Whitby and Scarborough had begun to intensify. Whitby had become a serious competitor with Scarborough as a harbour for the sea-coal trade and a ship-building port. In January 1697, a petition to the House of Commons from Scarborough’s bailiffs and burgesses successfully scuppered the passage of a Bill which would have repaired and extended Whitby’s crumbling river piers. However, sponsored by Hugh Cholmley, the third of that name, who was one of Yorkshire’s two county MPs, the House of Lords finally consented to a crucial Act providing Whitby with a perpetual tax on coal exports from Newcastle. In the end, this tax, which continued until 1861, gave the trustees of Whitby piers an annual income of £5,000, the means to construct and maintain two gigantic stone piers, which ran from the west and the east river banks deep into the open sea.

(to be continued)