I travel as much as possible at home and abroad. I'm always ready for new experiences
Published August 18th 2019
Step back in time to a 19th-century seafaring community
Old St Stephen's Church sits on a gentle hill just outside of Robin Hood's Bay. It is a beautiful spot surrounded by sheep fields, countryside, and views of the sea. It is not an old church (rebuilt in 1822), but it has remained largely untouched since its construction in the 19th century for use by the local seafaring communities.
The official website for the church refers to itself as 'dead interesting' in reference to the many weathered gravestones and memorials of its churchyard. The church itself is small and unadorned, as would befit a hardworking Victorian seaside community, but the churchyard is an interesting place to walk around. As Thomas Gray alluded to in his famous poem 'Elegy in a Country Churchyard,' the character and history of a community may be read in its gravestones.
Unsurprisingly for a seafaring place, many memorials recall the tragedies of lives taken by the sea both near to home and far abroad. These sit alongside many stones for infants and children which demonstrates the severity of life common for the period and location. The grasses and plants (beware the nettles) of the churchyard are allowed to grow as they please, and they provide cover and food for the sheep that roam casually amongst the stones.
The influence of the sea extends beyond the churchyard into the church itself. Inside, there are memorials to shipwrecks and sea rescue missions. In remembrance of the ever-present harshness of the sea life, there is also a display of Victorian maiden's garlands, which were used in the funeral processions of young women.
The church has links with the Robin Hood's Bay History and Heritage Trail, a free tour provided by volunteers. The tours are only available in the summer and must be arranged in advance. It is a spot that can be easily visited on walks around Robin Hood's Bay or Whitby or there is parking available at the nearby Scarborough-Middlesbrough bus (No. X93). We parked by the bus stop and had no problem with access. The Church Conservation Trust has provided tour guide books of Old St Stephen's Church and other local historical churches in the area, which may be downloaded for free.