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Family and maritime community : Robin Hood's Bay, c.1653-c.1867

By Alan Storm


This study of a coastal settlement, in challenging its traditional classification as a "fishing village", may strengthen the case for more investigations of the kind. Coastal erosion at Robin Hood's Bay created a compactness which contributed to the cohesion of the population. Confined between Highland and the North Sea, the settlement shared the remoteness, cultural even more than geographical, of seaward-looking Whitby. With enclosure as a detectable factor, population was probably drawn from the adjacent countryside in the fifteenth century, to accumulate around a fishing-farming nucleus. In the seventeenth century the traditional manorial situation in Fylingdales began to change, with the introduction of 1,000-year leaseholds in Robin Hood's Bay. This contributed to relative immobility of the settlement's population. Servicing by sea of the local alum industry, and the rise of the east-coast coal trade, became the means of extending the equalitarian and co-operative order of fishing to seafaring and shipping enterprise. The return on this, assisted by the unusually long tenure, was sufficient to support the growth of networks of kin so forbidding in their complexity that family reconstitution, from parish registers and wider genealogical sources, became essential to the study. Concern to protect the family is observable, but the growth of strong, puritanical Nonconformity did not frustrate opportunities presented by smuggling. Attitudes, traditional skills and the economic and social order enabled great advantage to be taken of the increase in nineteenth-century shipping, until steam-power intervened. At the heart of both enterprise and resistance to change was the finest mesh of long-standing, entrepreneurial kin testifying to the powerful socialisation that had fostered continuity of residence and maritime employment. The ethic, and the social and economic order by which this obscure community made the description "fishing village” inadequate, suggests that further scrutiny of the coast, not only for the history of merchant shipping, but for people conditioned to the ordering of their own lives, might be profitable

Publisher: University of Leicester
Year: 1991
OAI identifier: oai:lra.le.ac.uk:2381/7668

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