Staithes is a little fishing village and harbour in North Yorkshire, nestled under a cliff famous for its ammonites. I first discovered it on a book and story telling tour I did for the North Yorkshire Library Services a few years ago and I have been back regularly since. It’s the perfect hideaway when you want time out to concentrate on finishing a project or just spend a few days thinking up ideas.
A hundred years ago the village had a fishing fleet of some eighty boats, many of them traditional Northern England craft called cobles. The arrival of steam trawlers virtually finished off the local fish in industry; Staithes’s harbour was not big enough to accommodate them Today only a few cobles remain, mostly used for tending lobster pots or taking visitors out fishing for the day. Despite this, and the shift to tourism as the main industry, Staithes retains its own identity. Walk along the high street and you might see a local woman wearing a Staithes bonnet. Except for a co-op at the top of the cliff, the franchise outlets have not made it here yet, and hopefully never will. The handful of restaurants, cafes and shops are all locally owned and managed.
Staithes has had some famous residents in its time. The explorer James Cook worked as a grocer’s assistant at William Sanderson’s Shop on the High Street from 1745 to 1746 before moving to Whitby. It is said Staithes is the place where he fell in love with the sea.
In the early twentieth century a group of artists set up a colony in the village, creating the Northern equivalent of the St. Ives group. Their most famous member was Dame Laura Knight who had a studio very close to the seafront which she shared with her husband, Harold Knight. According to gossip still rife in the village, Dame Laura was a pushover for the locals. Crafty fishermen’s wives were known to turn up at her house pretending to be sick with worry about husbands at sea. The artist would give them a tot of whisky to calm them down. It was a mere prank for the locals but the painter was often distraught for days.
Today, Dame Laura Knight’s studio has been transformed into a holiday apartment run by the owners of the Staithes Gallery next door. There was even an arts festival last September that may turn out to be an annual event. Let’s hope it does, Staithes is a little paradise and I’ll be a regular visitor for years to come.
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