Inside the historic Whitby pub where Captain Cook and Charles Dickens once drank

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The White Horse & Griffin is so ingrained in Whitby's past that Captain Cook even recruited his sailors in its smokeroom.

The old coaching inn was built in 1681, the very first tavern in the town dedicated to serving the stagecoach traffic from London and York.

The entrance to the White Horse & Griffin

The entrance to the White Horse & Griffin

It still has its carriage entrance and courtyard where passengers would disembark, hidden away behind a narrow frontage on the historic east side of Whitby.

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With its exposed beams, flagstone floors, original Victorian signage and candlelit corners, the pub's interior evokes the days of smugglers, explorers and seamen, and it appears to have changed little over the centuries.

Yet to many visitors' surprise, it actually closed as an inn in 1939 and didn't operate as licensed premises again until 1993. It spent the best part of 50 years neglected and crumbling, and at one stage was threatened with demolition. It was even used for storing fishermen's nets - an affront to a hostelry whose patrons once included Captain James Cook, the town's most famous son, and Arctic explorer William Scoresby, who found their crews among the drinkers, as well as railway king George Stephenson, who held meetings with investors in the Endeavour room. There was even a developer who proposed converting it into apartments.

Its historical authenticity and preservation are thanks to an ambitious restoration programme begun by former owner Stewart Perkins in 1982. It took him 11 years to save and transform the White Horse & Griffin, which re-opened with 10 en-suite bedrooms above the bar and restaurant. Each room is named after a well-known Whitby mariner or ship.

A plaque commemorates the inn's heritage

A plaque commemorates the inn's heritage

Six years ago, the Perkins family sold up to new owners Ed and Kate Henebury, who have continued to develop the business and while riding the wave of Whitby's tourism boom.

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They've welcomed celebrity visitors such as Michael Caine, Bryan Ferry and TV chefs Ainsley Harriott and Gary Rhodes to sample their food, while overseas tourists flock to experience its heritage as Whitby's appeal grows all over the world.

"We've kept it as close to the original state as possible, and we want it to remain in the style of the period - there are no plans to change," explains general manager Andy Smith.

"There are challenges with such an old building - there is always something that needs fixing. We've got so many original features - flagstones, wattle and daub walls."

Owner Ed Henebury

Owner Ed Henebury

The pub is also well-known to those with an interest in the paranormal, as it's one of the main calling points for the local ghost tours.

"Historically, we're the most haunted place in Whitby. We have several ghosts, including the first landlady, who died after falling down some steps. There's also a screaming woman who walks up and down the coachyard."

The pub's clientele now includes visitors who come from as far afield as the USA, Australia and the Far East.

"We get a real mix now. They love the quirkiness, particularly the funny staircases and wonky floors.

Original signage that points to the pub's past as a coaching inn

Original signage that points to the pub's past as a coaching inn

"You could say Captain Cook was our first celebrity visitor, and Charles Dickens stayed here too. The lounge used to be the smokeroom, where Cook recruited his men."

The White Horse & Griffin's accommodation is now so popular that is it booked up over a year in advance.

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"Whitby has got so much busier now, and it's known all over the world. Tourists love the east side, the place hasn't changed much and they like the charm. There are year-on-year increases in visitor numbers.

"There are a few challenges that come with that - it can be hard to get deliveries through in the summer, and parking is a nightmare. The swing bridge is often closed on weekends now as there are so many people. We put warnings about parking on our website so people know what to expect.

"The goths love staying here - it is fully booked for every goth weekend, and we are even booked for next year's too. That's the same for most places in Whitby now."

The restaurant focuses on fine dining, with seafood supplied by local trawler crews

The restaurant focuses on fine dining, with seafood supplied by local trawler crews