You can now see inside the 'secret' ballroom at one of Whitby's most famous cafes

Cafe owner Lois Mee inside the newly-restored ballroom at Hetty & Betty
Cafe owner Lois Mee inside the newly-restored ballroom at Hetty & Betty
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For generations of Whitby families, the ballroom at Mill's Cafe was the place where memories were made.

From 1928, the beautiful upstairs room in the Grade II-listed Georgian building on Baxtergate hosted wedding, christening, birthday, anniversary and Christmas parties.

The old Mill's Cafe building on Baxtergate has served food since 1928 and has now re-opened as Hetty & Betty

The old Mill's Cafe building on Baxtergate has served food since 1928 and has now re-opened as Hetty & Betty

It was the best place in town to hold a private function during its 1940s and 50s heyday, but when the original owners, who also ran a cafe and restaurant on the ground floor, retired, it gradually fell into disuse and was forgotten about.

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Now, after several years of changing ownership and sporadic opening, the business has been taken over by Lois Mee, who has renamed the iconic cafe with its harbour views Hetty & Betty and plans to restore the ballroom to its period glory.

It will be open to the public on the weekend of September 14 and 15 from 10am-4pm as part of the Heritage Open Days festival. Visitors can see the renovations and an exhibition about the room's past.

Lois, a former hotel manager and education consultant from Ackworth, near Wakefield, fell in love with Whitby and the cafe's history during visits to the town, and intends to move to the coast with her husband, teenage son and three-year-old daughter Harriet - whose name inspired the Hetty in Hetty and Betty. Betty is Lois's niece, Molly Elizabeth.

The building is famous in Whitby for it stunning harbour views

The building is famous in Whitby for it stunning harbour views

"The cafe has such a lot of history - it's the oldest cafe serving fish and chips in Whitby. It opened in 1928, 11 years before the Magpie. After the owners retired, their daughter, a Mrs Ackers, ran the business, but the family's involvement ended in around 2000 and it's had a lot of owners since then. The ballroom became a place that was forgotten about.

"People who have seen the ballroom tell me they had no idea it existed - but it's likely that their grandparents had their wedding reception here!"

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Lois took on the cafe, which is located in a building that was once two 18th-century dwellings knocked into one, in 2018 and hasn't looked back.

"The ballroom is so much bigger than people expect it to be from the outside, and it's a real 'wow' moment when you see it. It has lovely views of the harbour. The previous owner had used it for overspill seating occasionally but I'd say it hasn't been properly used for around a decade."

Lois hopes to attract goths to book alternative weddings at the venue, which can seat 80 guests

Lois hopes to attract goths to book alternative weddings at the venue, which can seat 80 guests

Since announcing her plans to re-open the ballroom for functions, Lois has been contacted by Whitby residents keen to share their stories of the role the venue played in their families' milestone occasions.

"I've been given a receipt from a wedding party in 1949, a menu from a golden anniversary in 1970, and photos of children's Christmas parties for Royal Mail staff and their families in the 1950s.

"We've furnished it in 1920s style, with tablecloths and vintage china. Our first wedding is on Christmas Eve and we can seat up to 80 for parties."

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The focal point of the room is the two original Georgian fireplaces that once stood in separate rooms before the neighbouring properties were merged.

"A lot of memories were made in this room, and that's why we wanted to bring it back into use in a way that would create new memories.

"I was really intrigued by the cafe's history and its potential - I was hooked as soon as I saw it!

"Running the business has been a learning curve so far. Whitby has its own quirks, and the town is very diverse - one weekend you'll have a regatta, the next it'll be the goths. We're trying to appeal to that alternative scene - the ballroom is a blank canvas and it has a real period feel."