ROBIN HOOD’S BAY, THE SHIPS AND THE SEA during the 19th Century.

An edited account copied from the notebook of James Bedlington Harrison of Sunny Place, Robin Hood’s Bay, Yorkshire. Probably written in the 1940s.

Robin Hood’s Bay goes back to the time of the Domesday Book and is mentioned as a mile of harbour of twenty boats. The saying at the present day of "under the mile", which is to the north of Way Foot, has no doubt come from that entry.

Robin Hood’s Bay Luggers Registered at Whitby from 1787:

Three Brothers , 47:Tons, built Scarborough in 1774. Owner Matthew Storm, Robin Hood’s Bay 1787

Three Brothers, 47 Tons, built Scarborough in 1805. Owners Isaac and William Storm Robin Hood’s Bay 1805

Isaac & Isabella, 33 Tons, built Scarborough in 1830. Owner Oliver Bedlington & Isaac Storm, Robin Hood’s Bay 1830

Friends, 60 tons, built Scarborough in 1929. Owners John & William Harrison, Robin Hood’s Bay in 1829

For many centuries Robin Hood’s Bay was famous for the fishing trade and merchant service sailors; also some were engaged in the Greenland whale fishing industry. At the early part of the 19th century Robin Hood’s Bay became famous for its merchant ships. It became most famous for Merchant Service tonnage in the early 1800s when men joined the Merchant Service and left the fishing trade; although some fishermen went to sea for a certain part of the year and returned to their fishing for the other part.


In 1800 John Harrison was drowned somewhere near Castle Chamber Scour. Nine weeks later on December 26th one of three men was found in Thomerill Hole. His watch was found in his pocket.

About the year 1814 a school was kept in a house in Chapel Street by Thomas Smelt. The school was attended by the sailors of this period mostly to learn navigation. Other schools in existence between 1830 and 1840 were known as Parkins School and Watsons School. Goose quills from a local farm were supplied to be made into pens.

In 1815 James Storm was mate of the brig Juno; his brother William being master. The Juno belonged to their father William Storm senior. At this time Napolean was in prison on the island of Elba in the Mediterranean. About the middle of the year he escaped and got to Lyons and continued making his way to Paris. At this Louis the Fifteenth left Paris for Belgium. The Juno being at Ostend at this time the shipping broker asked them to bring a passenger over to England. The passenger turned out to be King Louis. William offered him the captain’s bunk but the king preferred to sit in his chair all the way to England because he had a lot of writing to do. They crossed to Harwich. On arrival they were met by a man on horseback leading another horse for King Louis to ride. They went off somewhere inland.

During that day his pocket book was found on the quay and was taken care of by my great grandfather James Storm. Sometime afterwards the man returned on horseback and it was given to him. He said there were some very valuable documents in it. On board the ship he left behind a chest containing four brass candlesticks, two guns and a blunderbuss and four large gin bottles. These were kept aboard the Juno for some years until she was going to be sold. The chest and its contents were brought home, and are still in our possession one hundred and twenty five years after. This story is often told by my grandmother Rebecca Bedlington who was the youngest daughter of James Storm.

An account of Matthew Storm drowned at sea October 3rd 1823 aged 30 years: Matthew Storm was master of the brig William, and his mate for some time was Matthew Bedlington, senior. On this occasion the latter left the boat to allow the owner’s son to go in his place. Just before the date mentioned the William sailed from Shields bound for London. She called at Robin Hood’s Bay on October 23rd 1823. Matthew Storm came on shore to see his relations. After they had sailed for London the weather came on bad and the William was never heard of again. It was thought she was lost between Scarborough and Flamborough Head. A water cask was washed on shore at Scarborough which had been repaired with a new end, but still had the old end left in with the name on, William, Whitby. If Matthew Bedlington had not left that voyage for the owner’s son to go he would have lost his life also.

The fishing boats, some 33 tons each, which belonged hereabouts went to Yarmouth in the herring season commencing on the 11th October and returned home just before Christmas, thus making the fishing industry a great success at Robin Hood’s Bay. The names of the boats were Speedwell, Friends, Laurel, Isaac and Isabella.

Account of my Great Grandfather James Storm in the brig John and James : In the year 1829 my great grandmother Damaris went on a voyage to London. After leaving London he was bound for the Baltic but landed Damaris at Yarmouth as her four brothers were there, Thomas, John, William, and Boyes Harrison for the herring season. He got on the way from Yarmouth Roads and went to Elsinore in four days. He went further up the Baltic and back to Leith before he knew that Damaris had arrived home.

Somewhere about the time of 1831 the Friends fishing boat was laid in the landing at Robin Hood’s Bay getting her stores aboard to sail for Yarmouth Before the tide flowed, a Staithes boat came round Ness bound for Yarmouth when the Friends was hard and dry in the landing. When the tide flowed the Friends set off and was the first boat to arrive at Yarmouth. All her eye-bolts were loose when she arrived. The Friends was built in Scarborough in 1829 for John and William Harrison of Robin Hood’s Bay.

Account of my Great Grandfather William Harrison who was drowned near to Robin Hood’s Bay in 1833: They launched down at four o’clock in the morning; their coble was called Yorkshire Lads. The wind got up and a nasty sea grew during the day, but they were unable to return to the shore. The wind, being in a south easterly direction, seemed to blow from the West later in the day although the boat was seen to sail southward and back northwards during the morning, past Robin Hood’s Bay and no assistance could be given them from the shore. In the early afternoon they anchored off the Bottom House with their stern tow.

While they were at anchor a schooner belonging to Malden in Essex commanded by John Parkes of that place sailed within talking distance, and wanted them to leave their coble and go aboard the schooner but my great grandfather thought the weather would fall down. Just before dark their stem tow broke and they were seen to sail to the south and were never heard of again, except a coble was seen to disappear off Stainton Dale or Hayburn Wyke.

The other two in the boat were Thomas Storm, brother-in-law to William Harrison, and Thomas Hodgson Storm, a boy of 19 years of age.

Mr John Parkes of Malden knew my two grandfathers William Bedlington and Isaac Storm Harrison very well and told them all this story in Crawfords Parlour nearly 50 years after.

Another incident which occurred was in the launching down in the morning. The coble knocked her rudder gudgeon off which would mean the coble would not steer. This was due to the Way Foot finishing off square at the bottom. The gudgeon was found by William Pinkney, father of Richard Pinkney who I remember.

There was also one boat lost in the year 1835 belonging to John Hewson.

The fish landed in those days from the cobles was taken to York by road in the fish wagons. Before the fish was packed, or directly it was brought on shore, there was a government official sent to take what was called the "Bounty". This being that bit of skin an inch square was cut from each fish. On their journeys across the moors to York they were often stopped by a highwayman called Greenberry, but after a number of years he disappeared. And, strange to say, after many years he appeared on Wayfoot one Sunday morning and recognised one of the men he used to way-lay. He had reformed and was going about the county as an Evengelist, and took the service at the Wesleyan Chapel that evening.

Between 1830 and 1840 trawling for fish began. The fishermen of Robin Hood’s bay said the time would come when this would do the coble fishermen harm. They consulted Mr Aaron Chapman who was the Conservative member for Whitby at the time. At the next sitting of parliament Mr Chapman spoke on the subject, but the bill was too far through parliament for anything to be done.

About the time of 1837 or 1838 the lifeboat, which belonged to the local coastguard at that time, was instrumental in saving the crew of a Dutch Galliot. ("GALLIOT or GALIOT= a small galley or brigantine built for chase; a Dutch vessel carrying a mainmast and a mizzen and a large gaff-mainsail". Nottall’s Standard Dictionary).

On the Whitby Life Boat subscribers list for 1838 the Life-Boat stationed at Whitby was supported by Whitby shipowners and also one or two Robin Hood’s Bay shipowners. They all subscribed two shillings and sixpence a year.

February 4th 1843 was the occasion of the Ann disaster described separately.

The last voyage of the fishing boat Isaac and Isabella was in the year 1847. It was a 30 ton boat that had been built in Scarborough in 1830 for Oliver Bedlington and Isaac Storm. She was brought round from Whitby on the Saturday into Grunick (or Ground Wyke) and she stayed there until Monday when she sailed for Yarmouth. She went out on the ebb tide from Robin Hood’s Bay to Flamborough Head in four hours without a sail set. They were one hand short so Uncle Isaac Storm went himself as far as Bridlington till they got another hand there to make up the crew.

Travelling was very bad in those days so Isaac Storm had to walk back from Bridlington to Robin Hood’s Bay. In rounding Flamborough Head the boat shipped a sea and washed the mizzen and boom away, and filled the coble on deck. On returning home from Yarmouth they had to put into Scarborough with bad weather, and the women who had been on this trip walked home from Scarborough to Robin Hood’s Bay. It was dark before they arrived home and had to come by the cliffs and down the Flag staff carrying a big lantern. People living in the Fisherhead houses saw the big light before they arrived home. This was the last time that a fisher boat went to Yarmouth. When the sailing ships were having to beat off at Cromer, the Boats could sail right in under the land, and soon get down across the deeps.

In the month of August 1859 there were twenty four sailing vessels on shore at Ness Side at once; the weather being fine at the time all were refloated. This incident occurred on the night and morning following the lighting for the first time of the lights at High Whitby. It was assumed that they had been mistaken for Flamborough Head, and Robin Hood’s Bay for Bridlington Bay.

In 1860 there were one hundred sailing ships or more belonging to Robin Hood’s Bay. The old Bay Club or the better known Robin Hood’s Bay Marine Insurance Association which was established in 1805 and reigned until the year 1880 when the big gale in the month of October which resulted in a big loss of sailing vessels, the club was broken up. It was kept for many years by John Estill Esq who retired from the post as Secretary in 1857 and afterwards by Matthew Bedlington Junior until 1880.

Account of Uncle John Coggin drowned in the Black Sea in December 1861: The Brig Fanny sailed from London in September for the Black Sea. In making for the Bosphorus homeward bound she encountered heavy weather and was lost at Sinope, Turkey with all hands. They were bringing a shipwrecked crew home and her cargo consisted of grain with barrels of cement on the top. This was a great mistake as she capsized with having the weight on top. They were a long time in looking for news at home. His father, Thomas Coggin, asked Mr Robert Barry, who was going up to London, to make enquiries at Lloyds. In doing so he found what news had been received there and copied it out and sent it home to Mr Thomas Coggin. This was the only news that was ever received at home. The Fanny was a new ship, built at Hopkins Shipbuilding yard at Whitby near the old railway station.


"Any vessel which leaves Bay on the ebb and reaches Flamborough in 4 hours without setting sail must have the benefit of a large number of Seagull Outboards along her transom - The ebb sets to the Nor'd"!!