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Discovering Saltburn's rich heritage ... Huntcliff.

Saltburn by the Sea has a rich and varied tapestry of historical development. Although Saltburn's most obvious features are of Victorian origin, its history goes back much further. The discovery of a stone axe head on Saltburn Sands suggests that a settlement may have existed in the area since the Neolithic period. Other evidence of early settlements around the Saltburn area include the discovery of at least 3 cremation vessels and a Bronze Age burial mound at Cat Nab and an Iron Age grinding stone or quern on Huntcliff. All of this evidence supports the theory that settlements have existed in what is now Saltburn, for much of Britain's early history.

Huntcliff, Saltburn by the Sea

The earliest evidence of Anglo-Saxons in the Tees area was found at Hob Hill, Saltburn. A cemetery was discovered in 1909 by miners quarrying for ironstone. William Hornsby, a local man, found that the cemetery contained 48 burials. Much of the material was recorded and collected as the workmen uncovered it. The finds from the cemetery include bead necklaces, pottery vessels, brooches, a spearhead and a throwing axe. Many of the burials at Hob Hill were cremations placed in urns. Saltburn is first mentioned in the register of Whitby Abbey as being the site of a hermitage given to Whitby circa 1215 by Roger de Argentum and even earlier, during Roman period, it was the site of a fortified Roman signalling station.


"And lo, Saltburn, like a doves nest, reposes beneath the huge shadow of the rocks. Hail Huntcliff - Teneriffe, rather of our Yorkshire Coast - dread of wandering mariner, where often, alas, the proud vessel hath foundered against thy iron ribs, or perished on thy cruel rocks!"

W Braithwaite in his "Rural Reminiscences".

Travelling down the coast towards Saltburn from the north, the relatively flat coastline terminates abruptly when you arrive at Huntcliff Nab, a great promontory which projects out into the North Sea. Dominating the coastline a mile to the east of Saltburn, Huntcliff is a vertical sea cliff standing some 365ft above sea level and is a site familiar to all visitors of the town. Saltburn can trace its history to at least 369 AD when the Romans were in occupation.

Huntcliff was one of a number of Roman signalling stations situated along the Yorkshire coast which were built as watchtowers to protect against the threat of Anglo-Saxon raids from Denmark and Germany. By 410 AD the Roman's had deserted Britain leaving it to the mercy of the raiders. Saltburn's Roman tower was defended by a group of Romanised Britons, who met with a sad end when it was eventually overrun in the fourth century A.D.

The raiders brutally murdered them all and dumped their bodies in a nearby well, where they were finally discovered in an excavation in 1923. The skeletons of fourteen people, men, women and children, were found and were clearly the victims of murder. The site of the earthwork remains of the old Roman fort has now disappeared through erosion, slipping into the sea, although its position is marked with a sign on the top of Huntcliff Nab today.

The Anglo-Saxons settled along the Cleveland coast and named a local stream Sealt-Burna meaning the salty stream, perhaps from its salty water or because of the salt-like alum found in the neighbourhood. Vikings came three centuries later and changed the names of all the local burns to becks. The settlement on the Salt Burn retained its name, but the stream became the Skelton Beck.

Saltburn's history continues throughout the medieval period with medieval field systems being discovered just outside of modern Saltburn, as well as a shepherd's house between modern Saltburn and Brotton, examples of late medieval pottery and documentary remains of a small hermitage just east of Skelton Beck.

William Camden William Camden 1551-1575. was an English antiquarian and historian. He wrote the first ever published topographical survey of the whole British Isles county by county and the first detailed historical account of the reign of Elizabeth I of England.
'Britannia' does not describe a particular journey but within counties it often follows the main rivers. The work, which was written in Latin, was very popular, going into seven editions by 1607. The first English language translation, prepared by Philemon Holland (probably under Camden's direction) appeared in 1610.

Neere unto Hunt-cliffe and not farre from the shore there appeere aloft at a vale water certaine rockes, about which the fishes that we call Seales, short (as some thinke) for Sea-veales, meete together in droves to sleepe and sunne themselves. And upon that rocke which is next unto the shore there lieth one, as it were, to keepe the Centinell, and as any man approcheth nere, he either by throwing downe a big stone or by tumbling himselfe into the water with a great noise giveth a signall to the rest to looke unto themselves and get into the water. Most affraid they be of men, against whom when they chase them they, being destitute of water, fling backward with their hinder feete a cloud, as it were, of sand and gravell stones, yea and often times drive them away. For women they care not so much, and therefore whosoever would take them use to bee clad in womens apparell. In the same coast are found stones, some of a yellowish, others of a reddish colour, and some againe with a rough cast crust over them of a certaine salt matter, which by their smell and tast shew of Coperose, nitre, and brimstone, and also great store of Marquesites in colour resembling brasse.
Hard by at Huntly Nabb, the shore that lay for a great way in length open riseth now up with craggey rockes, at the rootes whereof there lie scattering heere and there stones of divers bignesse, so artificially by nature shaped round in maner of a globe that one would take them to be big bullets made by the turns hand for shot to bee discharged out of great ordinance. In which, if you breake them, are found stony serpents enwrapped round like a wreath, but most of them are headles.

William Camden, 'Britannia', published 1586, translated from latin by Philemon Holland, 1610.

The little fishing village of Saltburn grew beneath Huntcliff and the prominent Cat Nab. It was a small place, famed for smuggling and fishing until 1860, when the Stockton and Darlington Railway was extended to the site and Henry Pease of Darlington began his development of the Victorian coastal resort of Saltburn-by-the-Sea.

The original Saltburn, consisting of a row of fishermen's cottages and the Ship Inn, still stands entirely alone, facing the sea on the Huntcliff side of Skelton beck. From the sands here there is little of modern Saltburn to be seen besides the pier. The rectangular streets and blocks of houses have been wisely placed some distance from the edge of the grassy cliffs, leaving the sea-front relatively unspoiled.

Research by Rebecca Hilton. Collecting primary source materials, articles and extracts from books related to the development of both Saltburns and trying to validate them has offered conflicting information, much of which is often difficult to validate as many sources can prove to be unreliable e.g.newspapers or census data. Every effort has been made to ensure that the information on the history of the town presented here is as accurate as possible.