Ginnels and Snickets of Whitby

Two words which often confuse people from the south of the UK are”ginnel” and “snicket.” These words appear to be exclusively used up North, to denote an alley or cut-through between buildings.

In this part of my “Yorkshire Bits and Bobs” blog: Memory Ginnel, I want to explore old memories of Yorkshire – memories of my hometown Leeds, such as shops which no longer exist and any historical aspects of Yorkshire’s past.


Whitby is full of character as a holiday resort. Its charm lies in the Dutch style pan-tiled rooves and tucked-away alleys that suggest quick getaways for smugglers. Whitby has many concealed spots – if you know where to look.

Pier Lane and Bakehouse Yard

Take Pier Lane for example (pictured below right).

Pier Lane

Walking down Cliff Street – on the Westcliff side of Whitby – you pass ornate houses. If you turn left at the railing, you can duck down this sloping ginnel to quickly reach the seafront. 

A few doors down, running parallel with this public access alley, is Bakehouse Yard, through which you can make out the top of Whitby Abbey.

The name Bakehouse leads to the assumption that this was the site of a bakery, but a local barman at the nearby Star Inn, helpfully told me it means “Bacchus Yard.” Bacchus was the Roman god of wine and insanity – also known to the Greeks as Dionysus.

Bacchus Artist Karel Jongelinghs

It’s also the former place of residence of Henry Freeman , a 19th century lifeboat man who rescued 31 people under blizzard conditions from their wrecked ship in Robin Hood’s Bay. And it was only Henry’s first day on the job! Sadly he was the only surviving crew member of the lifeboat team of thirteen.

Tin Ghaut

Artist’s impression of the old “Tin Ghaut”

A slipway leading to the sea is known as a ghaut. Sadly the old Tin Ghaut off Grape Lane, home to the Captain Cook museum, is no more and is now a car-park. A poster board marking its former spot, shows us just how quaint it was.

Captain Cooke Museum, Whitby

Loggerheads and Arguments

There are many yards in Whitby, (most are privately owned). They retain a unique character, hardly altered since the Middle Ages.

It is said, that more than 80 named yards remain, out of an original total of over 100 such places. The names are often amusing such as these ones: 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is loggerheads-yard.jpg

In the UK, to be at loggerheads refers to being in a heated disagreement. Both titles of these alleys suggest this is the norm for Whitby!

Steps and Lanes

Feline lurking in alley off Church Street

There are also thirty or more quaint places of a similar nature named ‘steps’, ‘lane’, ‘square’ or ‘place’ such as Pier Lane above.

All in all, Whitby retains its sense of mystery. Its otherworldly charm tends to get under most people’s skin, because the element of travelling back in time is strong. Just glimpse down one of the alleys and you will know exactly what I mean!

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