Whitby Museum Banner

About us

The Museum, our library and archives are run by our parent organisation. This is The Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society. The Society was founded in 1823 by a group of leading Whitby citizens led by the Rev. George Young, the author of the classic nineteenth century "History of Whitby" (1819) and minister at the Presbyterian Church. The chief object of the Society was to setup and maintain a museum, specialising in fossils, since "Whitby is a chief town of a district abounding with petrifications and containing not a few Antiquities". Ever since Whitby Museum has been run for the people of Whitby by the people of Whitby.

The Museum opened in 2 rooms over a shop in Baxtergate, moving within four years to the top floor of the waterfront building now known as Fusco's Quayside Fish Restaurant. On the ground floor were the public baths with a subscription library on the first floor. This strategic site on the fashionable promenade of the Victorian resort brought in many famous visitors : Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Wilkie Collins.

In the last quarter of the 19th century collections of local plants, shells and butterflies, beetles and fishes were assembled. The same period saw the addition of many exhibits illustrating the history of Whitby, some of sizeable models of buildings and ships.

By the end of the 19th century the main anxiety of the Society was how to provide more space for the ever-growing collections. Various proposals for achieving this were considered over the next 25 years and the final decision was to build a completely new Museum building in Pannett Park adjoining the municipal Art Gallery.

General view
Winner of Whitby Photographic Society
2012 Competition

The Museum building was built at the Society's cost and was subsequently given to Whitby Town Council who are responsible for the upkeep of the fabric. It was opened in 1931 and forms the central hall of the present Museum. The new building cost £6577 and was financed by the Society who had difficulty in raising the full amount. They therefore decided to sell a collection of gold coins, two mummies, one Egyptian and one Peruvian to Hull and Halifax Museums for £10 and £7 respectively. It is rumoured that the Egyptian mummy left in the passenger seat of an open top car. The building also houses the Society's library of over 7500 volumes, largely dealing with the topography and history of Whitby and district. These, together with a small but growing archive are available to researchers as well as members.

As exhibits have continued to come in, there have been several major additions to exhibition and storage space over the last 60 years. The Chapman wing and Kendall Library were added later. In 2005, thanks to local fundraising and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, a new wing has increased our capacity to meet what is required of a Museum today, without spoiling the valued 'Edwardian' character of the main Museum. The new wing contains a modern lecture theatre, galleries for Clothes and Exhibitions, a range of modern workrooms and a tearoom.

General view
Whitby Photographic Society
2012 Competition Entry

Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society is a charitable trust (Charity Commission No. 529699) with four trustees. It has an elected committee which meets every 2 months or when necessary to review and oversee its activities. A joint management committee with the Whitby Town Council oversees the building itself and the custodians who are paid employees of the Town Council. This committee meets every 3 months. On a day-to-day basis the Museum is run by a Keeper, who reports to the committee, with Curators for the individual areas of the Museum. With the single exception of a paid part-time Registrar all Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society staff; Keeper, Curators, Publicity and Publications Officers are volunteers. In accordance with a 1948 High Court Order and ancient tradition, all exhibits are held by the Society "in trust for the people of Whitby". Residents of Whitby Parish have the right of free admission. The Museum is financed (with the exception of the fabric which is the responsibility of Whitby Town Council) by admission fees (60% of which go to Whitby Town Council), Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society members' subscriptions, donations and bequests. In 1991 the Museum was successful in becoming registered with the Museums and Galleries Commission (Registration No.1158) and will renew this registration at the appropriate intervals.

Under the section on getting involved we state that anyone is welcome to apply to join and membership is not only for those of a literary or philosophical nature! The annual subscription for an individual member is currently £15 (payable in October each year) or £25 for two persons living at the same address. Aspiring members have to be proposed and seconded by existing members or provide references (consult the Hon. Membership Secretary). The Hon. Membership Secretary can be contacted as follows :

                Hon. Membership Secretary
                Whitby Museum,
                Pannett Park,
                N.YORKS  YO21 1RE