Robin Hood’s Bay – A History in Postcards

robin hood's bay Views from Fisherhead postcard lifeboat

By Robin Lidster

Robin Hood’s Bay is situated on the Yorkshire coast 4 miles south of Whitby and 5 miles north of Scarborough. It is located in the parish of Fylingdales and its name can be traced back to the time of Henry VIII, when it was described as a small fishing town with twenty boats.

Fishing remained the most important industry for the community until the end of the Victorian period, but the opening of the Scarborough & Whitby Railway in 1885 initiated changes that saw the village go from fishing to tourism. This was accelerated by the First World War, which saw local men, many of them fishermen, leave the village never to return.

robin hood's bay Views from Fisherhead

An area above the old village, Mount Pleasant, was developed with fine stone houses and villas, close to the railway station. Cheap rail travel brought in many thousands of day trippers and holidaymakers, and cottage owners took advantage of this influx by renting out rooms or providing bed-and-breakfast facilities. Some visitors, realising what a beautiful area of country this was, started buying cottages to let. Today over half the cottages and houses in the old village are holiday homes and the way of life here has completely changed over the last century.

“Changing scene”

robin hood's bay postcard collection book coverPicture postcards were first introduced in this country in 1894. Plain postcards had been sold by the Post Office since 1870 but these were quite small. The picture postcard became really popular from 1899 when the size was increased to 5½ by 3½ inches. Initially only the address was permitted to be on the back of the card, so space had to be left on the front for the message (see page 17 for an example). The divided back was introduced in 1902 – half for the message and half for the address. They rapidly became very popular and in 1908/9 a total of over 860 million cards were sent through the post.

Local photographers and artists realised that there was a growing market for their work in postcard form. Photographers such as W. A. Smith, Martin Howell, G. E. Crabtree, F. M. Sutcliffe, A. M. Cromack and J. T. Ross, and artists such as J. Ulric Walmsley and Harold Todd all published copies of their work as picture postcards. As they were all working during the first half of the last century they recorded the changing scene at Robin Hood’s Bay.

These cards now provide a valuable visual resource recording the streets, buildings and life in the village, and, together with the productions of the larger commercial postcard publishers, present a continuous record of the village through most of the twentieth century.

‘Robin Hood’s Bay – The Postcard Collection’ by Robin Lidster is published by Amberley Publishing, £14.99

To view a gallery of historic postcards from Robin Hood’s Bay, see below:


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