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Short Holiday Breaks – Whitby

View of Whitby and River Esk from West Cliff

We have been to Whitby many times, but this time we arrived in a very different Whitby.  The buildings and the scenery were as gorgeous and as familiar as ever but there was something very different about its visitors.  Whitby has always attracted a good number of what I shall call (for the want of a better word) ‘characters’.  These include the types of characters it does not deserve – like drunken, shouty blokes on stag parties, feral kids and the dog owners from hell who can’t control their dogs. Other more engaging characters include those of the folk community, the Goths, international visitors and other groups who flock to the many festivals in Whitby’s annual calendar.  This weekend we were introduced to a community straight out of a Victorian England which seemed to have gone futuristic.

There were men (hipsters?) in well-ironed suits with waistcoats, top hats and long, straight coats.  Some wore high leather boots, gloves, and goggles. Others were dressed as engineers, pirates or wore military attire carrying an assortment of old and futuristic weapons, with accessorised cogs, clockwork devices and pipework.

Women were wearing dresses complete with petticoats, corsets, gloves and hats decorated with feathers, flowers and antique jewellery . A few were dressed as pirates, pilots or engineers wearing riding jackets, flight jackets and carriage coats.

We saw children from age 5 dressed in similar attire.  You will have guessed by now that these people were ‘steam punks’.  And they were in Whitby to enjoy a steampunk festival weekend.

We didn’t know this was happening when we booked, but what good luck as it turned out, because it was a fascinating and enjoyable side-show to our trip.  I don’t mean in a derogatory geek-show way.  This was a colourful event enjoyed by an artistic and fun group of really nice people.

If you are like us, you will have some idea what it steampunk is visually, but probably baffled about what it stands for and why it is so popular.

Let me help because I was so fascinated I asked Google to enlighten me and we spoke to a few steam punks for their take on it.

Let me make clear first of all, steampunk does not embrace any particular political standpoint, religion, or music genre. 

But it does embrace:

A love of Victoriana and a fascination with the technological advances of the time – most obviously steam power.  One older couple told us that they loved Victorian fashions, dress sense, manners, societal behaviour and morals. Another said that the world seemed a safer, more secure place then whilst at the same time technological, economical and political progress also made it an exciting time.   

A love of steam power. Their love of steam power and the physical beauty of machines is understandable to me.  Steam power might have had an environmental downside but it is a technology that you can see and understand – unlike microchips, computers and AI.

A love of science fiction.  Technological advancements must have made the average Victorian wonder, what is next?  What else could be powered by steam, and will science soon help to advance air flight and ocean and space travel? Steam Punkers are drawn to early science fiction novels by Jules Verne, H G Wells but also later novels written between the 1950s and 1980’s (by authors such as Michael Moorcock, K. W. Jeter and Edmund Cooper).

A love of dressing up – particularly in the Victorian style and in styles reflecting the Belle Epoque in France (1871-1914) and the Civil War era in the United States (1861-1865). I was amazed at the variety of styles and the individuality of the costumes and accessories.  It is clear that many steam punkers are flamboyant and very artistic people and so even those outfits intended to reflect the austere and strict Victorian styles were often playful, decadent and amazing works of art.  Some of the ladies’ creations were quite sexy, taking influences from Goth fashion,  French dancers and post apocalyptic warriors – but not, from what I saw, rude or over-suggestive.  I did notice that for some gay participants it provided an opportunity for cross-dressing.  Each to their own.

I hope that helps a bit. 

During the weekend we called at ‘The Pavillion’ where the Steampunk convention HQ and retail emporium was based.  Anyone could enter free of charge to browse the many stalls selling all sorts of steam punk clothing, art and accessories.  You could buy metal clocks, dials, cogs, goggles, flying hats, customised steampunk mobile phone covers and radios, gin and steam punk books and novels.  Outside there were musicians playing Beatles songs, punk rock, folk, sea shanties and vaudeville. We were also entertained by steampunk folk and Morris dancers.  All along West Cliff, steampunkers perambulated up and down, only too pleased to be photographed and to chat.

The organiser Andy Dolan was quoted in the Yorkshire Post.  He said, “Steampunk is a future that never was and it explodes people’s imaginations and the only limit is your own. It gives people a new lease of life. It is a great thing to be involved in, people come for the weekend, forget every day troubles, let their hair down and be who they want to be.

We would have enjoyed Whitby without Steampunk.  It is a wonderful place to explore, walk, eat out, drink and relax.  But the Steampunk festival certainly added to our weekend.  Steampunk is good fun and I totally get it.  Have I bought my hat and goggles yet?  Well, let’s not get carried away.

Author: Paul

I am a retired, married bloke, dad and grandad - growing old with attitude.

8 thoughts on “Short Holiday Breaks – Whitby”

  1. Sounds fantastic, Paul. I’ve seen steampunk used as the theme for episodes of tv series – Castle and Brokenwood Mysteries spring to mind – and it always looks like fun. I really hope you did get yourself a flying helmet and goggles, but be careful with the wet celery…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would have enjoyed that.I love Whitby and that would have been a bonus. Luckily our youngest writers’ group member enlightens us on such things as Steam Punk. I would have loved to be in that brief period of history when one went by horse carriage to catch a steam train and ladies enjoyed the new freedom of bicycles.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s a fascinating period if you look further than just the history books. I believe Steampunk/retro Sci fi novels are becoming popular. I might give them a try. Could your writer friends recommend any?

    Liked by 1 person

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