A visit to Whitby Steampunk Weekend

Statue of Captain James Cook

Despite it’s relatively isolated location in the North East of England providing no large primary transportation links, Whitby has been one of the most popular places for steampunks, Goths and Vampires to visit for several years now. Immortalised in the works of Bram Stoker, the small fishing town already hosts two major events in the shape of Bram Stoker Film Festival and, of course, Whitby Goth Weekend. If that wasn’t enough, February 2017 saw the very first dedicated steampunk weekend held at the Pavilion, which is located at the top of a ridiculous amount of steps.

View of the bay and Abbey

It took me just over two hours to get there from my home in Sheffield. As I dropped down past the intriguing RAF Fylingdales building, I started my approach to the town. The sprawl of Whitby is contained at the mouth of the River Esk. It’s split into two sections which are the Old Town and the New Town (these aren’t official designations, just something I call them). The new side has all the modern shops and larger chains as well as the amusement arcades. The old side has cobbled streets, fascinating architecture and tea shops. They’re both very interesting to explore in their own right.

In fact, while wandering around I found two lovely antique shops. Den of Antiquity is a treasure trove of jewellery and oddments. There are some rare pieces in there as well as more easily found items. They sell silver topped Victorian era canes for £20 and have some great designs. The other shop is called Picfair and is slightly different. It sells many hand made items that are the owner’s own creations. They range from 1920s jewellery to potion bottles with amusing names. Some of them had me chuckling, such as “Slushed Puppies” and “Virgin Blood”.

After the walk up the steps at Khyber Pass and nearly passing out at the top, I ventured down to the Pavilion. I was met at the front door by an incredible VolksWagen Camper that had been steampunk modified all over. It was the brainchild and work of Steve Kay who was visiting with his partner Laura Caradonna. Steve has a custom bodywork company but has made this as a separate project in his spare time. And what a project! Every inch of the van is covered with wood, brass and copper. Surfing signs and stickers retain an element of the Campervan’s legacy. I loved the earthy colours of the van but with the occasional glimpse of pop culture. Such as the brown golf ball with an 8 ball painted on it smashed into the windscreen or the Area 51 sign on the front roof rack.

Steve and Laura are a lovely couple and I had a nice chat with them about the project, which – despite the fact that it’s covered in stuff, isn’t complete. In fact, Laura was saying that the lamps at the front on the roof were added only recently and Steve is planning more additions.

Exquisitely Vintage
Katie-O at work

After I took a few photographs, I headed inside. The market was split onto two levels with more stalls spilling out into the foyer of the Pavilion. I took a look around the upper level first. The room was rammed with stalls and people.

A large stage to the left of the room was home to Thomas Willeford and Amy Wilder who were signing books and images as well as Thomas selling his wares. I picked up a fabulous set of goggles for my Top Hat (which have now replaced the cheap eBay plastic ones I had on there). They were pricey, but I feel that with a lifetime guarantee and actually owning a BruteForce product, it was worth it. Out in the foyer next to the bar and stairs was Exquisitely Vintage. There, Katie-O was creating illustrations in such amazing detail, it was incredible to watch them come to life.

Downstairs was a smaller room but similarly packed with traders. The stall that greeted us was the Pointless Creations of Dr Chillo and Professor Baz. Their creations were simply made because they wanted to make them. They resembled Rube Goldberg devices – complex automated machines that performed extremely simple or mundane tasks via lengthy sequences.

Jenna Whyte

Whitby Steampunk Weekend Familiar Names

I saw many names that I’d seen before, such as Verne Industries who I’d met at A Splendid Day Out, Hilary was out on force from Lilac Moon Designs, looking lovely and being very busy. The gorgeous Jenna Whyte was selling her incredible self published illustrated books The Illustrated Guide to the Elements vol I & II  as well as various stunning artwork. I also noticed the peculiar offerings of Frau Totty Knochenspeil’s Animal Curiosities. I’d previously noticed this bizarre collection of skeletons and taxidermy at A Splendid Day Out. The stall is crammed with all manner of oddities, shrunken remains and jewellery. I do wonder if any readers of Steampunk Journal know who Frau Totty Knochenspeil is. There’s absolutely nothing online about the company.

Dark Flights hand crafted pewter jewellery

And new faces…

There were also a number of stalls that I’d not seen before, such as Dark Flights. They make hand crafted pewter jewellery and I bought a lovely Octopus badge. I stumbled across Stewart Dives. He’s an Artist Blacksmith and makes incredible sculptures. On display he had some amazing lamps with Edison bulbs that looked like vehicles from War of the Worlds.

I also had an interesting chat with Clive Frayne. He’s an artist from the North of England and works with the Hive Gallery and Upcycle Workshop. Clive describes himself as a steampunk graffiti artist. We discussed the fine line between painting graffiti of steampunk and being an actual steampunk graffiti artist. We agreed that they’re two different things, which I found very interesting. He explained to me his project called the Clockwork Revolution. In his alternate universe a Tyrant has taken control and imposed his will on the people. The Emperor – in exile – employs the skills of two people. One of those is a low born artist who’s job is it to start the Clockwork Revolution. Steampunk graffiti is something I’ve never seen anything like that before. I like seeing new and innovative and creative ideas.

Plopski Doodles’ hats are crocheted

I have to make a special mention of Plopski Doodles and Poppies & Past Times. Plopski Doodles hasn’t even existed for more than a year, they’re that new! They specialise in crocheted hatwear including top hats and fascinators. Such a wonderful idea and something I’ve not seen before. I noticed them on the Sunday and was suffering from a migraine that was completely unrelated to the evening entertainment the night before. They gave me a painkiller and sip of water. Plopski Doodles shared space with Poppies and Past Times who make bespoke wedding bouquets with steampunk accents, you really should check their products.

Whitby Steampunk Weekend was home to Freyja the Faery for the duration
Freyja Faery
Freyja’s stall had coloured sand for children to use.

Along the way Freyja the Faery was entertaining children with coloured sand that they could decorate pictures with. It’s always nice to see some kind of provision made for kids and Freyja does this kind of work all the time. Go and see her Facebook page for more information.

Whitby Steampunk Weekend by day Summary

What surprised me the most about the entire weekend wasn’t just how well organised and run it was, but also how many people turned up. Considering that this is the first Whitby Steampunk Weekend ever, hundreds of steampunks came to visit. There were noticeable differences between Whitby Steampunk Weekend and Whitby Goth Weekend. Notably the distinct lack of steampunks walking around the town. I surmised it was due to the fact that the Goth Weekend incorporates the Abbey as a point of interest due to the link to Bram Stoker’s story. Steampunks don’t have that link, so there was little point in them venturing into Whitby town.

As I meandered around the shops I did see cafes and bars with a few top hats and fascinators silhouetted in the window. Getting the town involved may be something for the organisers to work on in the future. Once the event is bedded into the town’s yearly schedule.

For a first effort, Whitby Steampunk Weekend was an incredible experience. From the people to the stalls, merchandise, layout and provisions. It was planned with precision and executed perfectly. I think the only problem I can really see now is how they’re going to top this one.

I’ll be writing an article about the evening entertainment, so bookmark Steampunk Journal to hear about how that went.

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