Captain Cook, you can’t get away from him around here, it occurred to me as I cycled to Staithes, Yorkshire’s most picturesque fishing village, along what would have been the route taken by the 16-year-old Cook to his new apprenticeship in William Sanderson’s haberdashery shop on the seafront. Kildale, Commondale and Job Cross, the old toll road from Stokesley to Whitby, before probably descending to the coast via Scaling or Borrowby.
When Cook arrived, Staithes was the busiest fishing village on the Yorkshire coast. Busier than Whitby which, although the centre for shipbuilding and trade, had not yet established its whaling industry. There are records of Staithes fishing fleet: 14 luggers and 70 cobles. Luggers were used to chase the seasonal herring. They were fully-decked with three masts, capable of being able to stay out in all weathers long-distances from shore. Luggers were nominally referred to as five-man boats although there were typically crewed by six and a boy. The cook and boy did not share in the boat’s catch of herring.
So Cook would have been quite familiar with this view, the classic view of Staithes. When not at sea the luggers and cobles would have been moored up in Staithes Beck, such that crossing it could easily be done by stepping from deck to deck. William Sanderson’s shop was next to the Cod and Lobster but has long been lost to the sea. It may have been on the land referred to in this 1843 report in the Cleveland Repertory and Stokesley Advertiser:
“During the storm of Monday and Tuesday fortnight a quantity of land at Staithes, near to the Cod and Lobster public house, kept by one, Matthew Thrattles, was broken and swallowed by the sea. Several retreats, or as they are termed by the fishermen, “Smuggler’s Gin Holes”, have been laid bare, and a pitcher or two, and three or four drinking cups found. It is not many months since two dwelling houses were completely washed away, and several others in as close proximity to the sea are expected to follow in the same track.”
Cook stayed two years in Staithes probably gazing out to before the lure became too much and he joined his first ship, a collier from Whitby plying the coal trade up and down the German Sea coast.