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29 October 2014
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Royal Crescent

Point 9 - Royal Crescent

The introduction of railways became an integral part of Whitby's prosperity. And it was largely down to the vision of one man - George Hudson.

The building of Royal Crescent was also the inspiration of the same man too, heralding a new source of income for the town through tourism.

George Hudson was born at Howsham, in the East Riding of Yorkshire on 10 March 1800.

Train station
Hudson's railway is an arterial link

After attending the local school, he was apprenticed at a draper in York, quickly making his mark and fast becoming a partner in the business.

In 1827 he was the beneficiary of £30,000 in the will of a distant relative. This was to be the start of both his entrepreneurial exploits and his eventual downfall.

Hudson bought shares in the newly established North Midland Railway. It was the success of this venture that spurred him to set up his own railway company to link York with towns in the West Riding. He raised £446,000 and the line was completed on 29 May 1839.

Lifeline to Whitby

Before the arrival of the trains in Whitby, transport was limited to horse and carriage. Trade was slow, and the town's fish was taken daily only as far as York on a series of pack horses staging from pub to pub, en route.

The healthy delights of Whitby, as a holiday destination - the sea air and  bathing, were enjoyed by only a few determined people using horse transport from the immediate surrounding area.

But the railways changed everything.

Train pass in Whitby
The Khyber pass

Hudson's railway link to Whitby opened up the town as a favourite destination for large numbers of factory workers from the West Riding and beyond. Day trips became possible and affordable. Longer stay holidays were becoming popular too.

Guest houses and hotels were developed on the west cliff and Hudson had the Khyber Pass engraved into its face to transport the building materials for the development of his Royal Crescent.

It can be noted though, that the crescent is only "half built". Its full development was cut short at a time when Hudson's simply ran out of money.

Hudson's downfall

Hudson had been involved in promoting one railway after another, often using the paper assets of one to underpin another.

Eventually he controlled lines from London to the North East with extensions to Bristol. His exploits even earned him the name of "Railway King". But it was his control over their accounts that became his nemesis.

A number of financial irregularities eventually found him out.
Hudson had been MP for Sunderland, and despite his admission of corruption, he remained one. He did not pay back the money he owed to shareholders through his malpractice, and in July 1865, was imprisoned in York Castle for debt.

Friends raised a substantial sum of money to pay these debts and Hudson was released in October 1866.

But his legacy for tourism lived on.

Whitby became especially attractive to artistic tourists. Amateur and professional photographers joined their number too. The fishing industry and the harbour environment were their key subjects.

The photographic work of Frank Meadow Sutcliffe is perhaps the most celebrated, and much of his work can be seen in the Sutcliffe Gallery in Flowergate.

Quaintness developed a tourist market of its own, and the Victorian desire for the healthy qualities found at seaside resorts found a growing outlet in Whitby. Even today, tourism is essential to Whitby's fortunes.

From Royal Crescent, head towards the whalebone arch, and take the first right. Keep walking straight down, towards the church, and turn left when you reach the end of Skinner Street. Walk past Silver Street, and take the next right - Brunswick Street. Walk down Brunswick Street until you reach three churches all on one corner.

last updated: 29/09/06
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