The Abbey and Cholmley Estate
The earliest Whitby records held by the Record Office date back to the medieval period, when the Abbey held substantial power and extensive land holdings in the local area. The Whitby Abbey cartulary, which is on display at the Abbey Visitor Centre, contains copies of title deeds, charters of privilege and other documents kept by the Abbey as evidence for the rights and privileges it had obtained.
Whitby Abbey surrendered its possessions to the crown in 1539 and shortly after this date the Cholmley family began to acquire the lands and privileges formerly held by the monastery. By 1565, the Cholmleys owned the manors of Whitby and Fylingdales and had amassed vast estates in the area, including a great number of properties in Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay. The Cholmley and Strickland family archive (ref: ZCG) holds a variety of records relating to the ownership and management of their estates.
It is thought that the Cholmleys lived at Whitby Abbey House from the 1540s until the 1740s when their principal residence became Howsham Hall. A new house (later known as the ‘banqueting house’) complete with a front courtyard was built in the 1670s or 1680s and created a quadrangle with the existing house. The County Record Office holds a contemporary plan showing the layout of the new and old buildings. The new house, which lay in ruin after 1790, now forms part of the visitor centre at the Abbey, being opened in 2002.
During the 17th century, the Cholmleys amassed great debts and sold a number of their smaller properties in Whitby and Fylingdales by 999-year lease, with each subsequent conveyance being an assignment of that lease. In the 18th and 19th centuries these leases were recorded on parchment rolls and in ‘lease books’ as well as on a key-map, which provide a great resource for researching the people and properties of Whitby.
Next time in Focus on Whitby – Part 3 we’ll take a look at Court Records