Artist and Polar Bear at Staithes Festival of Arts and Heritage

East Coast Culture

A new book about Staithes written by Festival founder to be launched at next weekend's Festival of Arts and Heritage
September 12, 2023

A new book, written as a personal account bringing to life the village of Staithes in the North York Moors National Park, will be launched at this year’s Staithes Festival of Arts and Heritage (15-17 September).

Documentary maker and journalist Grant McKee, who was one of the founders of the Staithes Festival, spent six years writing Staithes: A Life Story before his death in 2019. He had a deep interest in the heritage of the village and affection for the people who live and work there, having divided his time between Staithes and York for over 20 years. He had previously written Stronger than the Storm about the Staithes lifeboat station which was published by the RNLI.

Evening sky at Staithes Festival of Arts and Heritage
Sunset At Staithes Festival (Image: Visit Britain/Melody Thornton)

Now, his wife and fellow journalist Jill Turton, has published Grant’s meticulously researched work which, across 19 chapters, opens a window into how life was for residents throughout the village’s turbulent history. 

The book, which Grant described as a ‘love letter to a remarkable survivor’, details everything from the Roman and Viking occupations; the hardship of the Victorian mining period; the transformation brought about by the advent of the railway; the colonisation by artists; the rise and devastating fall of the fishing industry – right up to the present day’s tourist economy.

Jill, together with Grant’s close friend Andy Blackford, will be presenting readings from the new book during the Festival on 16 September at St Peter’s Community Centre. There will also be an outdoor film show projected onto a gable end of a cottage on the High Street, featuring some of Grant’s photographs and documentary work on Staithes.

Also part of the Festival, which makes a welcome return after a four-year absence, will be an opportunity to view rare, and previously unseen, postcards, photos and model boats collected by the late Willie Wright, a fisherman who Grant referred to in his book as a ‘true man of Staithes’.

As well as the 60 pop-up galleries featuring the work of over 100 artists, other fixtures in the programme include an appearance by Yorkshire antiques auctioneer and TV presenter Caroline Hawley who will be valuing items brought along by ticketholders while sharing stories of her career.

There will be workshops run by Outlaw printmaker Sean Starwars, who is flying in from Mississippi, together with his host, Ian Burke, former art master at Eton College who now co-runs Staithes Gallery; plus demonstrations by local craftspeople including blacksmith and sculptor Katie Ventress, and lobster pot-making by fisherman John Cole.

Panoramic view of Staithes, North Yorkshire
Beautiful Staithes in North Yorkshire (Image: Paul Kent)

On the heritage-front, leading archaeologist Dr Stephen Smith will describe how he discovered 600-year-old Neolithic saltworks on Boulby Cliffs while experts from the Land of Iron museum will share the history of mining.

There’s plenty of entertainment, including a Friday evening session by the village’s own rock band Dire Staithes, afternoon jazz and Irish folk at the lifeboat house, and a Saturday night in the company of renowned comic, poet and musician John Hegley.

As night falls, there’s the added spectacle of the light show with the cliffs on both sides of the village being lit up for the first time this year while the footbridge becomes a tunnel of light.

The Staithes Festival of Arts and Heritage, supported by the North York Moors National Park, is free to attend; some events will be ticketed. For further information go to Staithes Festival - Arts and Heritage Festival on the Yorkshire Coast.