Sculpture of whale tail could be installed in picturesque Yorkshire coastal town

A proposed public artwork could a see the creation of an upright whale tail sculpture, marking the contribution of the animal and the whaling and tourism industries to the area’s past and present economy.

York Housing Association has commissioned renowned artist and blacksmith Katie Ventress to reinforce the cultural heritage of North Yorkshire’s coast beside its affordable housing development in Staithes, north of Whitby.

According to the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre, between 1753 and 1837 a total of 58 whaling ships sailed from Whitby alone during this period, on a total of 577 voyages.

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Some 17 ships, each of which carried between 40 and 50 seamen, were lost, while others brought back a total of 2,761 whales, which were butchered for their oil, fins and bones, as well as 25,000 seals and 55 polar bears, mainly from the Greenland area.

Staithes on the Yorkshire coast

The association’s Endeavour Close development has been named in homage to the village’s most celebrated former resident, Captain James Cook, and planning application documents lodged with the North York Moors National Park Authority emphasise how local identity is part determined by “special features”.

Agents for the housing association state references to local character and cultural heritage are widely acknowledged as being a key aspect of the planning and design process, while enhancing cultural heritage is a key role of the national park.

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The papers state how Staithes’ links to Captain James Cook are one such feature of social and cultural importance, but add as “a sculpture of the man himself would be somewhat prosaic, the artist has chosen to combine this with her love of nature and other aspects of local maritime culture.

Explaining her concept in the documents, Ms Ventress states the statue would be fashioned from steel sheets and be 1.8m tall and 1.75m wide, paying homage to humpback whales.

She said: “Whaling is a prominent part of the history of the Yorkshire Coast and although whales where not processed in Staithes, boats from up and down our coast often went on expeditions further north to take part in whaling trips, building the local economy.”

Ms Ventress said: “Times have changed, but whales continue to provide revenue to the local economy through the much more environmentally-friendly activity of whale watching!”

The artist, whose workshop is located less than two miles from Endeavour Close in Hinderwell, said visitors and locals alike could be found along the cliff tops at Staithes with binoculars watching the minki whale at sea.

She added: “The whale is a very important creature to save and cherish, not only for the ecosystem, but also for our heritage and our shared values.

"I feel that this is of similar importance to respecting the local people of Staithes, protecting the character of the area by making sure that local people have access to secure, affordable homes such as the ones built at Endeavour Close.”